Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked at Me (2017)

P.W. Elverum & Sun

I started and stopped this album multiple times before finally getting all the way through it, almost a year and a half after it was released. It took me the better part of a year to listen to this for the first time, and when I did everything about it was too immediate for me to finish the album in one sitting. My paternal grandfather passed away in February of this year, followed by my mother in April after battling cancer for almost two years, and my uncle on my dad’s side passed away earlier this month. If you’re familiar with the album, you likely have an idea of why this wasn’t something I could digest in one sitting. If you’re not, I’m going to give you some background before I dive into the album. Phil Elverum, who was the entirety of Mount Eerie for this release, was married to Genevieve Castree and had a child with her. Shortly after the birth of their child in 2015, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She would die in July of the following year. This album chronicles him mourning the loss of his wife. And I don’t know, honestly, if this is a review or more of a listener’s diary I’m trying to pass off as a review.

The album opens with the lyrics, “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. When real death enters the house all poetry is dumb.” The first time I listened to this album, I didn’t make it past this track. As someone who is active in their local slam poetry scene, it just hit too hard. There wasn’t anything I could write that could make sense of what happened in the first four months of this year.

Nothing about this album says the lyrics or music were wrought over days and weeks. Everything about this album seems like an immediate catharsis, like one of those albums that needed to be made. And it’s all so unflinchingly honest, on “Ravens” when Elverum sings, “I watched you die in this room, then I gave your clothes away. I’m sorry, I had to. And now I’ll move, I will move with our daughter. We will ride over water. With your ghost underneath the boat. What was you is now burnt bones. And I cannot be at home. I’m running, grief flailing.” You almost feel like you aren’t supposed to hear this. It’s like he didn’t realize the recorder was running, someone found these songs, and then released them.

Perhaps, no track hit me harder than “Chasm” which occurs at the near midpoint of the album and took me multiple listens to even get to. The song is about going back into public again after his wife died, and he so perfectly captures the tragedy in the lines “But when I’m in public I down what’s that look in their eyes. I now wield the power to transform a grocery store aisle into a canyon of pity and confusion and mutual aching to leave.” And I’ll be damned if he isn’t right. Those tiny moments that you never see coming, and never arrive in an appropriate location. You’re at the grocery store and something as subtle as a smell that you subconsciously associate with the person you lost or something as obvious as someone who doesn’t know that your loved one passed away asks how they’re doing … and you lose it. You try and keep it together, and sometimes you can until you get to your car or somewhere more private. And sometimes, you just can’t. When the song closes with, “This loss in my life a chasm I take into town and I don’t want to close it. Look at me. Death is real.” He’s too right. It gets easier, and sometimes it gets so easy you feel bad about it later.

Everything about this album is personal, it’s raw, and it’s unflinchingly honest. And for the life of me, I don’t know if it’s good in the most general sense of that word. If we’re talking about it as a piece of music … it might not. There’s nothing, musically, memorable about this. There aren’t any hooks and these certainly aren’t the kinds of songs you find yourself singing in the shower each morning because they’re stuck in your head. But, as art … it’s simply amazing. It’s unflinchingly honest. There’s no fear of how this will be perceived. This was created out of necessity to get these feelings out of his system. I don’t know if I’ll ever listen to this album again, I’ve made it all the way through it once. I know this isn’t going to change the face of music, regardless of whether it’s mainstream or underground. But, I think as far albums about losing someone close to you go … it might be one of the best.