Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie, has mostly been interested in the feeling. Elverum’s deep connection to the natural world has sprouted and informed his art for almost two decades. If one could speak with the trees, I’d wager Elverum has. A Crow Looked at Me, Elverum’s new album (released late March on his own label, P.W. Elverum & Sun) details the recent passing of his wife, Geneviève, to pancreatic cancer. For the first time, Elverum rejects nature; he’s convinced his wife belongs here. He’s interested in the telling.
“Real Death” opens A Crow Looked at Me with warning. Elverum cautions listeners not to enter this outpouring expecting his typical art. He mostly avoids symbolic devices, instrumentation is restrained, and the grief is all too real. Elverum’s incantations, whether vocally pounded into the earth or uttered delicately around tables and chairs, trace Geneviève’s point of contact. Every room visited or path she made dust is recounted and fleshed for residual life. Elverum shrouds the entirety of Crow discerning whether she still occupies these everyday spaces and what to do with the tattered glimpses of hope.
As imagined, Elverum navigates the topography on Crow with brutal honesty. He speaks life into the unimaginable. “Seaweed” links a firm guitar strum and contemplative thought of his wife’s presence/absence as dark bass notes pummel through his memories. At the song’s end, Elverum refers to his wife as the sunset, not the dust of ashes he releases. On “Ravens,” he establishes dates before retelling a day of splitting wood and identifying two big black birds. Elverum acknowledges an omen, but doesn’t pretend to understand it. He repeats, “Death is real” but not without surveying the life around him: berries, mossy covered logs, young cedars and the absorbing ground.
A Crow Looked at Me finds Elverum acknowledging the finality of death, yet battling his calculating, western mind for some deeper truth. The necessity of surviving is aided by resurrecting the delicate moments from his 13 years of marriage with Geneviève. From start to finish, Elverum’s words drift like snowflakes; not necessarily falling straight down but certainly wandering the environment for rest. May he find it.