Fantastic songs and albums revolving around relationships have been a staple of music since legends such as Buddy Holly picked up the guitar, giving listeners something they can relate and vibe with. In comparison, Mount Eerie’s latest album concerning Phil Elverum’s deceased wife provides little respite to reality, shocking listeners to the core with its detailed content and cold-as-ice delivery.
Mount Eerie is the music project of Washington singer-songwriter Phil Elverum. Taking on the moniker from his former band The Microphones’ Mount Eerie, Elverum is the only permanent member of the group, often teaming up with collaborators to craft his records and live performances. After the loss of his wife Geneviève Castrèe to cancer, Elverum retreated into solitude, emerging earlier this year to announce his return to music with his latest record A Crow Looked at Me, a heart-breaking retelling of his journey coping with his wife’s death.
Sounding like Elverum’s personal journal entries, A Crow Looked at Me is difficult to listen to, yet oddly comforting when it comes to what it takes to keep going after a loss. Confronting his pain head on, Elverum doesn’t hesitate in diving into some dark emotions with the album’s first track and lead single “Real Death,” detailing how he feels when he gets mail with his wife’s name on it. A particular package he gets a week after her death tells the listener everything they need to know about his wife’s compassionate character — inside the packaging was a backpack for their one and a half-year-old daughter when she’s old enough to go to school.
In the same song, Elverum begins by telling his audience, “Death is real, Someone’s there and then they’re not, And it’s not for singing about, It’s not for making into art.” That might sound a bit hypocritical coming from a man who has made a record centered around his wife’s death. But really, Elverum has crafted an album that doesn’t mourn his wife but rather bears his soul by honoring her memory through striking vulnerability and intimacy.
“Real Death” is an incredibly powerful piece of music compacted into two minutes, it’s impossible not to put the album down and take a deep breath. Penning something that comes close to the opening song’s magnitude might seem to be an impossible task, but Elverum manages to do it 10 more times, forming a fantastic and wholesome listening experience.
Throughout the album, Elverum does a fantastic job of remembering his wife while reminding his audience how personal death can be. In “My Chasm,” Elverum recounts some of his first public outings after his wife’s death, and how he could transform grocery aisles in his town into “a canyon of pity and confusion, And mutual aching to leave,” with just his appearance. Even the small things easily get to him. During “When I Take Out the Garbage at Night,” Elverum lets the listener experience the minor but significant pains he experiences from seemingly insignificant tasks.
A Crow Looked at Me is a beautifully crafted work of art because of its genuine sincerity and blunt approach, serving as a reminder to the impact death can have on someone. It’s certainly a dense record, but not something insurmountable or cumbersome. In a time when many feel desensitized and lost, this record hits the nail on the head by bringing focus back to reality and personal loss.