On July 9th, 2016, Geneviève Castrée passed away from pancreatic cancer, only a little more than a year after her diagnosis. She was the mother of a child just barely a year old, and she was the husband of musician Phil Elverum, who is most famous for the lo-fi indie folk band the Microphones. Since the Microphones’ seminal 2001 album The Glow Pt. 2, Elverum has mostly been making music under the moniker Mount Eerie. After the unfortunate passing of both his wife and his grief counselor, Mount Eerie has released A Crow Looked at Me, one of the most emotionally charged and sincere records ever recorded.
The music on A Crow Looked at Me is not particularly complex. Most of the songs follow a very basic structure of melancholy acoustic guitar supported by laid back percussions. While simplistic on first listen, this music gives Elverum the perfect backdrop for what the album is really about: the lyrics.
Rich with dark imagery and honesty, Elverum’s lyrics on A Crow Looked at Me bring to mind the recent work of Sun Kil Moon, only Elverum dares to take the listener into his most personal grief-ridden thoughts. The themes surely echo Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, but Elverum opts for a more blunt route. There is little room for flowery metaphors; throughout the record, we simply hear descriptions of life after loss. In this sense, the album feels very anecdotal, like you’re listening to a close friend lamenting to you about their loss.
On “Real Death”: I go downstairs and outside and you still get mail / A week after you died a package with your name on it came / And inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret / And collapsed there on the front steps I wailed / A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now / You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you.
On “Ravens”: But when we came home you were pregnant / And then our life together was not long / You had cancer and you were killed / And I’m left living like this.
On “Swims”: Today our daughter asked me if mama swims / I told her, “Yes, she does / And that’s probably all she does now.”
Elverum reminiscences about life “back before he knew his way around hospitals”, and we reminiscence along with him. A Crow Looked at Me is not just an “in memoriam” LP for a dead person. It’s a meditation on what loss is like in general, and it questions how we soldier on. This music recorded in the room where Geneviève died, on the instruments that she owned, will likely end up being the most haunting and heartbreaking record of the year. Anyone who has ever lost someone should listen.
Key Tracks: “Real Death”, “Seaweed”, “Ravens”, “Forest Fire”, “Swims”, “Soria Moria”, “Crow”
Photo from P.W. Elverum and Sun