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Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked at Me

Written by: MIN on 30/05/2017 12:35:27

In the summer of 2016, Phil Elverum — the force behind the lo-fi/indie-rock project Mount Eerie — lost his wife to cancer. His new album, “A Crow Looked at Me”, is written in the sickness’ aftermath and explores how to cope with loss, longing and raising the couple’s one and a half-year old daughter by himself. The lyrics present are penned down almost like the lines in a diary; intimate, personal and describing small everyday notions normally void of meaning but here more crucial than the music itself. The music throughout is rather sparse, mostly consisting of either strumming a guitar, a piano-score or some added theatrical effects, but the minimalism helps strengthen the sound of mourning, creating an atmosphere that feels as haunting as the empty rooms that Elverum lingers in.

There are so many gut-wrenching and quotable lines in the album that I don’t really know where to start, as picking only a few would do it injustice. Scaffolding through the thoughts of such loss is a tough job, which anyone daring to sit through the record will have to endure. Yet at the same time, the overwhelming sadness is so endearing and warm that you cannot help but stay on through the entire ordeal. It’s a constant ambivalence that occurs to me whenever I listen to the album — because how can something so terrible sound this heartwarming? So alas, I’ll need to do my best to pick the lines reflecting Elverum’s feelings and experiences most accurately.

More often than not, he ponders about the little things, like when he sings about missing the sound of his wife’s squeaking chair (on “Toothbrush / Trash”). More oblique, yet poignant, is when he doesn’t want to close the bedroom window yet, afraid that some scent of their past life together still hasn’t left the room as he tries to move on (on “When I Take Out the Garbage at Night” and “Forest Fires”). The latter is a jaw-dropping piano-piece and is probably the hardest song to digest, partly due to the effect that occurs whenever Elverum finishes a line. The piano sweeps right in and emphasizes his words, making “Forest Fires” a song you reluctantly replay multiple times, as Elverum tries to make sense of the tragedy:

But when I’m kneeling in the heat // Throwing out your underwear // The devastation is not natural or good // You do belong here // I reject nature, I disagree // … And I remember thinking the last time it rained here you were alive still

On the album-opener, “Real Death”, Elverum sings about how his wife had ordered some things from Amazon and how unfair it is to constantly be reminded of what he’s lost, accurately depicting how the experience felt to him:

A week after you died a package with your name on it came // And inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret // And collapsed there on the front steps I wailed // A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now // You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you

On “My Chasm”, Elverum brings up a more social aspect of his loss, as he has trouble figuring out if people are overly polite or if they’ve had just about enough of him talking about his “dead wife”:

I am a container of stories about you // And I bring you up repeatedly, uninvited to // Do the people around me want to keep hearing about my dead wife? // Or does the room go silent when I mention you?

The song is superbly aided by the sound of a respirator pulsing in the back, reminding the listener how soon after his wife’s death Elverum has decided to open up. However, the personal lyrics, the minimalistic approach to song writing and the few added effects might become a bit too much for some people, and I could understand that. The symbolism of the album is often thicker than gravy — especially on the song “Seaweed”, which abruptly ends after Elverum has sung the words, ”you are the sunset”. One wonders: without his wife, will there be another one?

The subjects Elverum brings up throughout the album are all about what’s happened in his world within the last year. It’s about interactions with his daughter, trivial nonsense post-mortem and “conceptual emptiness”, to quote the album’s lyricist. Frankly, I’m not sure how often I’ll revisit “A Crow Looked at Me” after writing this review due to its harsh and honest nature, but I have a feeling that it’s one that I’ll be listening to for a long time. It’s an incredibly important album, and I’d imagine that if you’ve lost someone close to you, the feelings presented throughout are relatable and perhaps even too effective. ”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,” Elverum sings on the album’s first track. Yet, turning death into art is just what he’s done. We’ll see whether or not I’ll feel like putting on this album again in a week or two, but I have a feeling that I will.

Download: Real Death, Forest Fires, Toothbrush / Trash, Soria Moria
For The Fans Of: The Microphones, Sufjan Stevens, Sun Kil Moon, The Mountain Goats
Listen: P. W. Elverum & Sun

Release date 24.03.2017
P.W. Elverum & Sun

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