“A Crow Looked at Me”

A review of Mount Eerie’s new record on death and the lives we live in its wake

Illustrator: Mary Radford

Illustrator: Mary Radford

Beside her in their secluded home in Washington State, Phil Elverum lost his wife Geneviève to pancreatic cancer last summer. In the following months, Elverum coped by retreating to his second-floor office. There, he began work on a collection of songs, while learning to live a new life alone with his four-month-old daughter. The result was “A Crow Looked at Me,” a sparse and overwhelmingly melancholic retrospective of his wife’s life and death, and the eighth release of his solo project Mount Eerie.

“Death is real.” These are Elverum’s first three words on “A Crow Looked at Me.” Against scant instrumentation with a lone guitar, Elverum spends the next 11 tracks considering this immovable fact and the futility of art’s mission to capture it. “Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about,” he warbles softly on “Emptiness pt. 2,” “Back before I knew my way around these hospitals.” On “My Chasm,” his chasm is the one she created in dying, one he “doesn’t want to close.” He doesn’t seek redemption or closure. Geneviève is forever gone, and Elverum forever refuses this, as he declares on “Forest Fire,” “You do belong here / I reject nature, I disagree.”

“A Crow Looked at Me” is a lo-fi masterpiece; it is conversational yet profound, sparing yet infinite. For 41 minutes, a splinter of Elverum’s reality is shared with us. As we move forward, he lives on without her, with their only daughter, his fading memories, and a lingering pain, impossible to truly share.