Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
by Tim DiFazio (English), published April 11th 2017
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
A Crow Looked At Me is nothing short of heart-wrenching. Recorded in the months following the premature loss of his wife to pancreatic cancer, Phil Elverum (recording as Mount Eerie) takes the listener through the full process of loss, grieving, and reluctant recovery. Needless to say, this is not an album to approach lightly. It is, however, an album that everybody should hear.
From Elverum’s first admission that death is “not something to sing about”, it is clear that this is not an album that he wanted to make. But he did make it, and he did so while mourning his dead wife and raising his infant daughter. As barely-rhyming stories tumble from the singer’s mouth over beyond-minimal instrumentals, one realizes that he did this because he needed to. We are listening to him process his grief in real time.
This catharsis pervades the album on many levels. A first playthrough is likely to leave an impression primarily through the events depicted: Geneviève’s death. A backpack for their daughter arriving in the mail a week later. The death of the couple’s grief counselor. But each subsequent listen highlights different aspects of Elverum’s deceptively complex lyricism. Maybe this time it’s how he stresses the inescapability of grief by associating his wife’s memory with massive natural phenomena like the ocean, the sunset, or a forest fire. Maybe later it will be the complex temporality of the album, as the listener learns to deduce the timeframe of each story based on clues like whether or not Elverum’s windows are open. Thanks to details like these, the second and third listens are likely to be even more distressing than the first. In my case, the emotional impact didn’t start to wane until about the eighth play, and even then it was only because I had more or less memorized the words. That Elverum was able to craft such a rewarding piece of music during such a draining time is nothing short of miraculous.
As much as A Crow Looked At Me seems to be an album about death, it is at its core about the process of moving on. Moving on, however, is portrayed not as a choice but as a heartbreaking inevitability. “But slowly sovereignty reasserts itself / I don’t want it, though / and betrayal winds / who and how could I / live?” he ponders at the end of “Forest Fire”, setting up the act of living as an insult to his wife’s memory. Crushingly, he admits in “Toothbrush/Trash” that “these photographs we have of you / Are slowly replacing the subtle familiar / Memory of what it’s like to have you in the other room”. Wracked with guilt, Elverum moves forward with his life not because he wants to, but because it is unavoidable.
A Crow Looked At Me is a difficult album to get through. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to record. It is likely of little consolation to Elverum, but this is the greatest accomplishment of his two decade career. The naturalistic music he produced with The Microphones will continue to astound listeners with its ethereal, collage-based sound, but with A Crow Looked At Me he has produced something far more human. To be dragged through the process of grief is to come out stronger on the other side, and the experience, though harrowing, is well worth it.
Recommended Tracks: “Real Death”, “Seaweed”, “Forest Fire”
Check out our trip through Phil Elverum’s discography here.