Posts Tagged ‘A Crow Looked at Me’

mount eerie a crow Top 50 Albums of 2017

Anyone familiar with Mount Eerie is likely to know that songwriter Phil Elverum’s wife, Geneviève Gosselin, died of cancer last July and that the album “A Crow Looked at Me” documents the ongoing aftermath of that loss.

It’s enough to break your heart before you even drop the needle, and that’s kind of the point. After that type of sudden, life-shattering blow, what good could listening to records, jotting down thoughts, or figuring out chords really do? “Ravens”, for instance, finds Elverum a month on after his wife’s death, very certain of the fact that she’s gone and yet still picking her berries and reminding himself of things to tell her when she gets back. In these deeply intimate moments, we doubt that anything will lift his grief and restore the normalcy we all depend upon, and yet the record ultimately acts as a journey that reveals how art can help the soul and heart begin to mend. Through painstaking reflection and unfathomable honesty, Elverum has crafted indie’s answer to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. It’s not beautiful because he shares his pain; it’s beautiful because he shares the hope he finds through his pain.

Essential Tracks: “Ravens”, “Seaweed”, and “Swims”

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Mount Eerie A Crow Looked at Me cover

How do you turn a shocking personal tragedy into fuel for your next record, It has been said suffering is required for great art, but Phil Elverum seems to disagree. Last year, he lost his wife Geneviève Castrée, a noted artist and musician, to pancreatic cancer at the age of 35. “A Crow Looked at Me” is about Castrée’s death, yes, but more than that, it is about her absence.

Elverum makes this clear in the record’s opening moments: “Someone is there and then they’re not/And it’s not for singing about/It’s not for making into art.” He wants you to take him at his word here. A Crow Looked at Me is not a particularly imaginative, poetic or tuneful album, but pierces with its intimacy and honesty, as gripping and deep as any 10-piece overture. This is not a meticulous thoughtfully curated, poured-over album; this is Elverum sorting through the wreckage in real time.

A Crow Looked at Me is an unflinching examination of death in all of its crushing absurdity. It’s an exceedingly difficult listen, a piece with Benji and Skeleton Tree. Dates and events are recorded with precision, each track a dutifully, objectively detailed chapter of the months before and after Castrée’s death. Sadness emanates from every aspect of the production. “Death is real,” which functions as the album’s subtitle, makes its presence felt with every creaking note. The context is significant as well. Crow was also recorded in the room where Castrée died, with her instruments.

Crow is explicit. It does not dodge, evade or tiptoe, but the delivery is paced and smoothed out. There’s no tragedy to unspool; the circumstances are laid to bear in stark terms again and again. “Your transformed dying face will recede with time/Is what our counselor said,” sings Elverum on “Swims”, which is to say it hasn’t yet. Not even close. A Crow Looked at Me is an open wound, so fresh that shock and numbness still stand in the place of the pain. There are moments of escape, like on “When I Take Out the Garbage at Night”, where Elverum loses himself in the night sky; but they are fleeting, and followed by the devastation of tracks like “Toothbrush/Trash”.

When he’s not staring emptily at his wife’s belongings, Elverum reckons with what to do with her memories and his new life as a widower and a father. “I am a container of stories about you,” he croaks on “My Chasm”. He’s unsure how many to share and how many to keep to himself, but he unloads as many as he can onto Crow, giving each the space it deserves. The semi-self-titled closer shifts the focus to Elverum’s daughter, born only months before Castrée’s diagnosis. This is not exactly a hopeful moment, more a pause. An acknowledgment that for all of the isolation and empty space, time will press on, however slowly.

For anyone who was ever remotely interested in Mount Eerie or the Microphones, A Crow Looked at Me is a must-listen. For these reasons, it didn’t strike me that Crow is part of the healing process but a prerequisite to it, like packing a bag before a long journey. The weight of the tragedy has not dissipated. It may never, certainly not completely.

thanks Paste

If you’ve have heard any of the songs from “A Crow Looked at Me” already, you’ll know that this is almost certainly the most heartbreaking, harrowing, beautiful album that will be released this year (and quite possibly any other year.) It’s about the loss of Mount Eerie main man Phil Elverum’s wife Geneviève, who died last year of pancreatic cancer, and the long, empty days that followed. Elverum explained the choice to release these songs in a long statement , which concludes thus: “There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why.”

WRITTEN AND RECORDED
August 31st to Dec. 6th, 2016 in the same room where Geneviève died, using mostly her instruments, her guitar, her bass, her pick, her amp, her old family accordion, writing the words on her paper, looking out the same window.
Why share this much? Why open up like this? Why tell you, stranger, about these personal moments, the devastation and the hanging love? Our little family bubble was so sacred for so long. We carefully held it behind a curtain of privacy when we’d go out and do our art and music selves, too special to share, especially in our hyper-shared imbalanced times. Then we had a baby and this barrier felt even more important. (I still don’t want to tell you our daughter’s name.) Then in May 2015 they told us Geneviève had a surprise bad cancer, advanced pancreatic, and the ground opened up. What matters now? we thought. Then on July 9th 2016 she died at home and I belonged to nobody anymore. My internal moments felt like public property. The idea that I could have a self or personal preferences or songs eroded down into an absurd old idea leftover from a more self-indulgent time before I was a hospital-driver, a caregiver, a child-raiser, a griever. I am open now, and these songs poured out quickly in the fall, watching the days grey over and watching the neighbors across the alley tear down and rebuild their house. I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known.
“Death Is Real” could be the name of this album. These cold mechanics of sickness and loss are real and inescapable, and can bring an alienating, detached sharpness. But it is not the thing I want to remember. A crow did look at me. There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why.