“Death is real. Someone’s there and then they’re not.” is the soul-crushingly blunt opening line to Phil Elverum’s latest project as Mount Eerie, “A Crow Looked at Me.” On July 9, 2016, Elverum’s wife, artist and musician Genevieve Castree passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer, less than a year after the birth of their daughter.
“A Crow Looked at Me” is as sparse and raw as a record can get. Each track constitutes simple, layered guitar beneath Elverum’s intensely personal, train-of-thought lyrics. There’s no dressing up here. No intricate songwriting, no lush atmospherics. Just the thoughts of a man practically paralyzed with sadness.
With an almost voyeuristic sensibility, this can hardly be deemed an “enjoyable” album. Elverum frequently notes how much time has passed since Castree’s death, and provides heartbreaking accounts of his turmoil, such as throwing away bloody “end of life” tissues from his bathroom. Stories Elverum tells of encounters with his infant daughter, and therapist are wrought with pain. Nonetheless, “A Crow Looked a Me” stuns with its harsh, yet beautiful and sincere coldness. It’s clear due to that close proximity to Castree’s death and extremely loose structure of the record that Elverum has no desire to make a grand statement on life, death or really anything. But a theme of loving memory manages to peak through the blackness, however far in the distance it may be.
There’s not likely to be an album like “A Crow Looked at Me” again anytime soon. Its chilling intimacy, and pure emotionally magnitude lie in a realm of their own. A rating out of ten for what’s clearly a man’s bared suffering seems inappropriate, so I will not be providing one. But make no mistake, “A Crow Looked at Me” provides a glimpse at real sorrow you will not experience on any other record this year.
Hang in there, Phil.