Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
- Released: 24 March 2017
- Label: P.W. Elverum & Sun
Opening song Real Death is spoken, not really sung – only sung in places. A guitar slowly strums long open chords, the spoken words move to form a melody and Phil Elverum tells a story. It’s very similar to what Mark Kozelek does in Sun Kil Moon, or Bill Callahan has pushed towards more and more since leaving Smog. Musically it’s very similar to early Will Oldham in his Palace days.
Seaweed is the second track and sounds a lot like the 2008 Mount Eerie album “Dawn”. As the whole album plays out “Dawn” comes to mind a lot as the main reflection to previous Mount Eerie releases. “Dawn” was a collection of songs using only guitar and vocals. “A Crow Looked at Me” is a quiet album, very different to more recent Mount Eerie albums like “Clear Moon”, “Ocean Roar” and “Sauna”. Gone is the harmonious drones, electrifying pace and cabin-captured mist.
Up next are Ravens and Forest Fire. They sound a bit like previous Mount Eerie songs, but they’re not. Phil repeatedly returns to old songs, creating new versions. I enjoy this side of his music immensely – the pinnacle perhaps being 2013’s “Pre-human Ideas”. All the songs on “A Crow...” are new. They all concern the death of his wife Genevieve. I was listening to the album for the second time before I realised this. I often listen to new music purely from a music-perspective first. When first listening to “A Crow...” I hadn’t read any reviews so had no preconceptions, so, based on the music made directly before this, I kept expecting the style to change. I registered that he kept repeating dates and phrases, but it was only when returning to the album that I followed what was going on in terms of the narrative Phil is narrating. I think what caused this slow up-take on my part was that I had no idea he was married. Or that he had a child. I’ve been listening to Mount Eerie for years, and Phil’s previous incarnation The Microphones. I know his music really well. I know what themes he returns to in his lyrics. On no song had he ever mentioned a wife or a child. Now he has written an entire album about the death of his wife, and the conversations with/thoughts about their surviving child. (Phil never uses their daughter’s name on this album.)
The peak of the album is the song “Swims”. A quiet piano accompanies the quiet guitar. Phil returns to his previous style of composition by describing the room, the window, the details of where and when his wife physically died... The image of someone swimming in the sky comes from a question his daughter asks... The intangible qualities of this are juxtaposed touchingly on my other favourite song from the album, called “Toothbrush / Trash” which is literally about him throwing away his wife’s toothbrush, 3 months and 1 day after she died. It sounds ridiculous. But it’s handled perfectly, like a painting of dying sunflowers, like a moment in a film where instead of continuing to move, the camera suddenly is a freeze frame and the image of a boy running on the beach is held in black and white on screen, is closed in on, then is gone.
To continue the above comparison, “A Crow...” now seems to be 2017’s “Benji”. But Mount Eerie is nowhere near as popular as Sun Kil Moon. Phil Elverum is such an obscure figure he makes Mark Kozelek seem like John Lennon. I would love to live in a world where “A Crow...” is listened to as much as “Imagine”, but that will never happen. “A Crow...” doesn’t have the music and melody to become as popular as an album like “Benji”, even amongst the more alternative music scene. It’s a slow, dark and sparce album where the words matter immensely. It is a book of poetry. Which makes it a superb, shimmering tribute from one man to the woman he loved.