It’s been a fleeting year since Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie released the unembellished A Crow Looked At Me. His new record, Now Only, resumes the dialogue and space left open since the passing of his wife, Geneviève, and what holding that space means.
If Crow was heard as raw and immediate, Now Only is refined and ambitious. Elverum’s detailed journaling with and without his wife is oddly more voyeuristic this time around, yet he offers his past and present without hesitation. He sings about a childhood funeral, boyish freedoms, meeting Geneviève for the first time, and the fatherly chores of folding laundry. He has granted the listener an all-access pass.
The cover art is first to address this admission. The images and holding metaphors spring forth balance, vibrant colors, and a very readable, thick font. This is a discernible departure from the darker brushstrokes and haunted forests adorning past Mount Eerie records. Elverum’s inclusion of wildlife, inanimate stills, portraits and group photos provides glimpses into what was once a very private marriage and life.
Elverum initiates an avalanche of questions and statements on “Tintin in Tibet”. Cymbals wash and snare rims click as guitar strums echo his voice. Then, his guitar speeds up linking his retell of how he and Geneviève met. His word choice is unhurried, natural, and poetic. Two minutes later, a sly drone appears, followed by two suspended guitar notes; the first high and lifting, the second deep, and a shade mournful. “Distortion” follows in an explosion of darkness and waits purposefully for Elverum’s finger picking to arise before admitting ‘to not believe in ghosts’. He ruminates on his purpose and the totality of death. His voice doubles as he embarks on an engaging recap of his early twenties. Muddy, ugly guitar awakens, as Elverum recounts the possibility of early fatherhood.
“Now Only” traverses melodic acoustic songsmith-ing as it unfastens into a harrowing piano led, sing-a-long chorus of ‘people get cancer and die’. “Earth” fires feedback squalls, open hi-hat youthfulness, and cinematic stills, distancing itself from the exposed cracks leftover from Crow. The instrumentation continues to run parallel towards Elverum’s imagery, albeit leaning heavier into an array of instruments seeming to be off limits on its predecessor. “Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup” and the finale, “Crow Pt. 2”, lift dynamically through lived out patches, providing gentle tugs back into the nearby.
As Elverum continues holding space as father and widow, his art leeches into areas void of cryptic artifice and bookish synthetics. His unadorned approach resonates deeply as his sobering participation and wrestling with the unknown endures. He longs for what can’t be and with this has created something to be shared: the unfathomable.