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When trying to figure out Phil Elverum, you wind up with a bunch of contradictions. It seems like he wants nobody to know much about him, yet at the same time he's willing to bear all in his music. His music is deadly serious, yet on Twitter and elsewhere online he has no trouble cracking jokes. In a piece he wrote about how he spent 2014 he claimed to be putting his music aside in favour of jet-skiing, rolling coal and practicing martial arts. We can be sure that he's joking - or can we? Nobody really knows. At least we know that he's not been neglecting his music, as he has produced Sauna, the latest in a string of great albums as Mount Eerie. Although, he's been doing it in cavernous halls, all by himself, as far as we can tell from the teasers he released from the album. Maybe he needs to be solitary to produce music as dark and deeply personal as this.

Elverum writes and records on the fairly remote island of Anacortes, Washington, surrounded by all sorts of wildlife and natural scenery, and it's these images that he infuses into his music, to combine with his emotions. This creates more than simple metaphors; if you engross yourself in Sauna you feel like you're inhabiting a sphere of his psyche that lives and breathes through nature. The album starts in a natural sauna where he intones "I don't think the world still exists / only this room in the snow, and the light from the coals," and over its hour-long run time takes you to places where "unending thoughts obscure the only moon" and you "travel mentally wild through a million thoughts the mind sings."

Although it starts in a relaxing atmosphere, there is certainly an unease the underscores the album. 'Dragon' features gentle singing from a gathering of females, trading off lines with Elverum beautifully, until they are gradually drowned out by what sounds like a field recording of a jet overhead. This seems like a commentary on the inescapability of the modern world, even in remote Anacortes, but deeper meaning aside, it's undoubtedly unsettling. Throughout, Elverum seems unwilling to let the listener settle. 'Books' starts out as a bright and colourful collage of plucked sounds, until suddenly the song gets audibly torn in half and you're suddenly plunged into a bleak and dark new soundscape. 'Boat' is two minutes of scorching shoegaze that falls on the spectrum between Slowdive and Deafheaven. 'Emptiness' is the most overtly disturbing song in the collection, employing layers of vampiric organ and hypnotically droning synth. Elverum emotionlessly intones "someone asked me what's in my bag, and I said 'more emptiness'" before finishing the song sounding like he's possessed as he tells the listener about inexplicably standing next to a river and throwing a large sheet of glass as far as he could. No emotion is explicitly given in the song, but dissatisfaction and depression linger over it, ghoulishly.

Then there's the 13-minute 'Spring', which would be impossible to capture in words, but with its near-constant fraught strings and bells, moments of extended harsh feedback and cathedral-size organs, a comparison to Swans' grandiosity seems apt. But when it gets to the ominous final verses we are undoubtedly on Elverum's own turf, unsound as it may seem, and we're gripped.

Elverum's knack for beauty is certainly not absent here either. 'Pumpkin' is the album's centerpiece, mainly using his plucked acoustic and delicate falsetto to describe a simple walk to town and back, interrupted by his spotting a dash of orange amongst the rocks down by the water. The astounding attention to detail in this song is captivating and engrossing. 'Planets' is the most immediately catchy and heartwarming song on the collection, but unfortunately barely lasts a minute and a half. You could happily listen to it for three times that length, but considering that it's about the brevity of human life, its pointedness is appropriate - and probably even planned that way.

The album ends with the colossal 'Youth', which finds Elverum for the first time talking about being somewhere busy, as he "looks through the big windows at the airport - again," and ponders whether his youth has escaped him. In it Elverum is restless and disaffected, and this manifests itself in a firework display of screaming guitars midway through. He wants to get back to his wilderness, to escape into his musical mindspace. When it's as gloriously complex, grandiose and naturally magnificent as what he's presented on Sauna and the couplet of albums that preceded it, you can entirely empathise. For us, listening to the albums will have to suffice, and fortunately for us Elverum has brought the place into almost-breathable existence in his inimitable music.

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