Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
Phil Elverum is the creative force behind the music group, “Mount Eerie.” He has been recording a mix of lo-fi hip hop and rock music for more than a decade out of his home recording studio in Anacortes, Washington. In May of 2015, Elverum’s wife, Geneviève, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Despite Elverum’s persistent efforts to help his wife, Geneviève passed away in spring of 2016. Out of this tragic death of a wife and mother of a one-year-old daughter emerged the greatest artistic culmination of Elverum to date.
Many of Mount Eerie’s releases have focused on ambience and heavy reverb. But “A Crow Looked at Me,” their latest album, stripped away many of these elements, leaving a guitar, a simple 4/4 percussion, and a rare piano. Such a musical landscape dramatically altered the tone of Everum’s work. “A Crow Looked At Me” offers a secular view of death in the fully materialized world of the 21st century.
While the album is not especially notable by any metric, its eminence instead lies in Elverum’s emotionally raw, vocal poetry. Elverum’s voice conveys his sincerity of feeling: his sound is exposed, somber, and vulnerable. With vivid and concise imagery Elverum demonstrates the unchanged nature of the outside world, which now seems to be collapsing through his internal lens. Elverum explores the current state of his life as he enters a period of severe distress, all brought on by his wife’s passing. This offers listener a vivid, poignant portrayal of his grief and a glimpse into his personal life.
Elverum’s songwriting ability is further evident in the detailed, yet pithy and emotive imagery he paints. In his song “Toothbrush/Trash,” he flawlessly portrays himself becoming familiar with the memory of his late wife, rather than her actual human figure: “I realized that these photographs we have of you/ Are slowly replacing the subtle familiar/ Memory of what it's like to know you're in the other room.” Elverum compares a living person who may not be physically present to someone who is not present because they have died.
Elverum continues to put to use his songwriting expertise as he describes in the song “Swims” that after death, one can only look back with nostalgia upon loved ones who have transferred from the physical realm into the mental: “I can't get the image out of my head/ Of when I held you right there/ And watched you die/…Your last gasping breaths…”
Through these anecdotes, images, and details Elverum perfectly articulates his burden as the sole vessel of a loved one’s legacy. Elverum questions the very purpose of his own art with the bluntness of the line: “Do the people around me want to keep hearing about my dead wife?/ Or does the room go silent when I mention you, shining alive?” These natural, human worries are what make Elverum’s lyrics so relatable.
With Elverum’s six months of writing, recording, and honest grappling with his grief, he produced one of the most cohesive projects of the year and one of the most sincere albums in the decade. As Elverum and his motherless daughter pour his wife’s ashes out onto the beach, he says, “the truth is I don't think of that dust as you.” This lyric is a sincere, painful acceptance of his wife’s death.
Taking on the concept of “death” can be an overwhelming task for an artist, but by handling such a somber topic with profound bluntness and deft, Elverum’s album is sure to resonate with any listener.