Some albums require a little context, a brief background of the artist, their style, their motives. Phil Elverum, performing under the pseudonym Mount Eerie deserves more than this.
In 2015, Geneviève Elverum, Phil’s wife and collaborator was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, shortly after giving birth to their first and only child. With crippling medical bills, in June 2016 a GoFundMe account was established to assist with the financial difficulties brought with such tragic illness in America.
Unfortunately, it was too late. The following month, Genevieve passed away at the humble age of 35. The inoperable cancer took a life too soon, heart-achingly leaving Elverum alone, a single father aged just 38.
In his latest release, A Crow Looked At Me, Elverum looks Death straight in the eye and explicitly discusses the heartache, pain and tragedy he brings. Bringing his agonising story to the world, Elverum’s lyricism provides both hopelessness and gratitude.
Real Death, the first song to be released from Elverum’s eighth album, sets the unapologetic rawness of the album. With no time for metaphor or disguise, Elverum lyrically breaks your heart as his does, as his explicitly honest story makes you relive a moment of catastrophe in detail that no other artist will achieve. Elverum tentatively sings:
“Three months and one day after you died
I realized that these photographs we have of you
Are slowly replacing the subtle familiar
Memory of what it’s like to know you’re in the other room
To hear you singing on the stairs.”
I unashamedly include a large section of lyrics from Toothbrush/Trash and will include no more, or else this whole review would merely be a CTRL+C/CTRL+V exercise, as quite simply, trying to showcase the ‘best’ lyrics here is near impossible. The whole album is a beautiful articulation from Elverum straight from his heart, mind and soul. Elverum isn’t exploiting death, he’s expressing it.
Bringing the most private of stories so explicitly public, one can envisage Elverum beckoning for comfort and support in an ever growing isolated world, looking for relief through music. But more than this, there will be thousands of people going through similar, albeit not identical, situations every day, looking for an arm around their shoulder. And whilst the intimate pain of Elverums lyricism and vocal may appear isolating, the bravery in vocalising his circumstance I hope will encourage people to support each other in serious times of hardship.
Ravens and Swims in particular are painfully unnerving. All I wanted to do whilst listening to the trembling vocal of Elverum was reach out my hand, and let him know that everything will be okay. But what adds to this, is that the songs are sonically as raw as Elverum feels; a technically gifted musician, most of the tracks exclusively feature grievingly delicate vocals and a tentative humming guitar, though at times Elverum himself is so captivating that the music behind can get lost. Whilst decoration is added in places, such as the inclusion of an inconsequential piano and the subtle sounds of reality, the details of the story itself adds all the complimentary embellishment that most songs would need; the hallucinations, supermarket visits, toothbrushes add all the ‘subtle familiars’ are all that are needed.
Before I sign this off, I must add, that by the second song of this album, I found my self staring out of the window, absorbed in Elverum’s story, trying not to cry. At times the specificity and personal nature of the story makes parts of the album uncomfortable to listen to, but Elverum delivers universally understandable and direct lines that will hit you like no other musical idea, leaving no space for imagination.
I wish this album didn’t have to exist, but whilst lives are taken unnecessarily, I sincerely hope that poignant legacies like this emerge. I urge you to listen to this album. Maybe not now, maybe not even this year, but when the time is right.
And whilst this might be my album of the year, I don’t want to listen to it again, not just yet.