When death enters a home, it steals a part of your identity. It rips your insides apart, and forces you to pick up your innards as they slip between your hands and fall off the cliff where you stand one foot away from the precipice of devastation. Echoing screams bounce alone in your empty home with sunlight glowing through each window. The smell of dust compliments the creaking of each step you take while dragging your feet across the warped floorboard. Death steals your home to replace its warmth with illusions of love, loss and the pursuit of acceptance.
Paying homage to the fresh expiration of human life burns our personal convictions into contorted ashes under the pressure of new found vacuous spaces in our mind. TV tends to paint love as a sappy potluck of miscellaneous mischief, but love, after sliced thin with Occam’s Razor, turns out to be a more primal form of worry. Living empty of the ability to worry for someone thought to be next to you until your final days plagued Phil Elverum as the warm reverberations of a west-coast summer fell from dusk to pitch black.
On July 9, 2016, Elvrum’s wife Geneviève Castrée died in their home in Anacortes, Washington of a surprise pancreatic cancer diagnosed only two months earlier. Her transformation from porcelain into something jaundiced and fucked wrangled his cornea and tore his perception of the world until he could only hear his dead wife’s singing swim through the halls of their home in his dreams.
From August 31st of that year to December 6th, he placed himself in the room where she died, and while using mostly her instruments wrote and recorded an 11 track, 42-minute album titled A Crow Looked At Me (March 24, 2017). Her guitar unlatched his soul and allowed the free flow of softly screaming chords to tear out of his hands. The pick she used unlocked his blood-soaked mind and convinced his tears to run rampant throughout his sound. Her amp translated this mix-match of loose emotions into a coherent masterpiece.
Under the pseudonym Mount Eerie, Elvrum released this not as his way to cope with loss, but to show the world how much he loves his wife. His process for writing this album was through grief. This album stretched his definition of love until its elasticity bounced onto the other side of the spectrum, which tore his heart with stinging passion.
“My internal moments felt like public property,” said Elvrum on his Bandcamp listing for this album. “The idea that I could have a self or personal preferences or songs eroded down into an absurd old idea leftover from a more self-indulgent time before I was a hospital-driver, a caregiver, a child-raiser, a griever. I am open now, and these songs poured out quickly in the fall, watching the days grey over and watching the neighbors across the alley teardown and rebuild their house.”
“I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known.”
His grief filled aching was buried, dreaming, aging, reaching for an idea of somewhere other than this place that haunted his daily life. From beginning to end, this album forced more tears out of my eyes than in any other instance of my life. My personal meaning of loss transcended toward a deeper, darker hole where emotion couldn’t begin to surface without snot rolling down my upper lip. I took Elvrum’s journey, staring down black feathers tinted in the sunset as my ears consumed his reality.
Breaking down any of these tracks for you would not only disrespect the meaning behind this album, but force you to swallow my interpretation of his words into a silence that is bottomless and real. He wields the power to transform a grocery store aisle into a canyon of pity and confusion, and to lessen that blow onto you is to cause a cleansing devastation burning the understory of his words.
Every track in this collection holds the potential to twist you into a downward spiral as his words shatter your myopic scope of the world to see the darkness in each corner. These songs that describe his emotional hurdles, from taking his daughter out for a walk in “Crow” to finally throwing out the bloodied rags of his deceased wife in “Toothbrush/Trash,” not only showcase his deep anguish, but the skill of a masterful artist.
Not all music is entertainment. This album, describing a journey soaked in a twisted mixture of tears and blood, drips its metallic taste onto your tongue and redefines modern art.
I sit alone in my empty office with no light on as I ponder where to go next not only with this review, but with the notion that human life is borne across waves and silenced with refuge in the dust. Elvrum’s music has not only altered my personal path’s trajectory, but smothered it with the smell of smoke as his sound set ablaze my previous gravel walkway, billowing just on the edge of my mind with ferocious consequence.
This album taught me the importance of caring and worrying about loved ones, before and after they begin their death march aching, wanting not to die. Their pain is a testament to humanity and our constant starvation for consistency in company. In the hazy light of forest fire smoke gouging my thoughts, Elvrum has taught me that death is real like nothing else.
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cover © Mount Eerie