Phil Elverum almost never writes a song that’s entirely its own thing. His body of work, initially as the Microphones and more recently as Mount Eerie, is full of missing twins, separated partners, self-pastiches and negative space. Clear Moon is itself a twin (he made another album, the forthcoming Ocean Roar, at the same time). It begins with “Through the Trees Pt. 2,” a sequel to a song from 2009′s Wind’s Poem. That’s followed by (different!) songs called “The Place Lives” and “The Place I Live,” both of which appeared in drastically different versions on a recent single. As usual, Elverum’s lyrics draw on a tightly circumscribed vocabulary of phrases and nature images; the closest thing to a conventional song here is “House Shape,” which resolves into My Bloody Valentine-style dream-pop after a couple of minutes of squinty drone-and-beat, as if he’s finally worked out its shape.
But Clear Moon is also just about the darkest recording Elverum has ever made — he’s talked about how he was inspired by Werner Herzog’s soundtrack composers Popol Vuh and black-metal band Burzum. Most of these songs are dominated by menacing, echoing synthesizer drones, punctuated by occasional terrifying shifts, like the blast-beat barrage of drums that crushes the final 30 seconds of “Over Dark Water.” Elverum’s voice is as naked and subdued as ever, and in the context of the slow, thunderous tracks here, it sounds as if he’s pacing helplessly toward a final judgment.