“Death is real, someone’s there and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art”. These are the first words sung by Phil Elverum, better known by project name Mount Eerie, on new album ‘A Crow Looked at Me’. The album is a journal of thoughts regarding the recent passing of Elverum’s wife, Genevière Castrée, from pancreatic cancer. The aforementioned statement made in opening track ‘Real Death’ asks that question of how a musician or an artist could or should be reacting to this, the most real and heartbreaking of sorrows. Elverum responded simply by making the most real and heartbreaking album.
Despite being a very adept musician, it’s difficult to focus on any other element of ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ other than its lyrics. Elverum occasionally tells stories, he occasionally pens his current emotions, pretty much thinking out loud. The phrase “death is real” is frequented, highlighting the terrifying struggle of coping with being reminded of the mortality of those you love.
‘Saddening’ isn’t the word, to describe how Elverum manages to switch between professing his mood and paying tribute to his wife. The final lines of ‘Seaweed’ detail how he placed his wife’s ashes onto a chair on a hill, facing west and north to watch the sunset, before confessing “I don’t think of that dust as you, you are the sunset”. This sentiment is turned on its head in ‘My Chasm’ with an unwillingness to accept what has happened, ending the song by describing his loss as a chasm he takes into town, not wanting to close it, before signing off with “look at me, death is real”.
On ‘Emptiness pt. 2’, Elverum scarily elucidates the change that an artist or a thinker will go through in circumstances of death, with the surreal lyric “conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about, back before I knew my way around these hospitals”. It’s a context so powerful, it’ll make you wish the album didn’t exist, despite the fact that this is art in its most pure, human form. ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is incredible.
One of the most heartbreaking things about ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ would be the frequent mentions of Elverum’s daughter. On ‘Swims’, he recounts his daughter asking “if mama swims”, and with the acknowledgment of her ashes now released into the ocean, he responds “yes she does, and that’s probably all she does…now”. Back to ‘Real Death’, Elverum talks about a backpack that his wife had ordered in secret for their daughter, as he realises she was “thinking ahead” to a time that she knew wouldn’t be a part of.
This entire album is a natural reaction to death, even when questioned by Elverum wondering “do the people around me want to keep hearing about my dead wife?” on ‘My Chasm’. ‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is a showcase of weakness and cruel reality, prose of lost love, and perhaps the saddest album ever made, and a statement of that magnitude still feels like a disservice.
‘A Crow Looked at Me’ is out now via P.W. Elverum & Sun.