words by jordan gorsuch
Following a written letter to his fans pledging his return in the New Year, Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter Phil Elverum has announced a new album and shared a track centering on his late wife Geneviève Castrée.
“Nothing really matters, nothing really matters when the one you love is gone,” Nick Cave sang with a quiver on last year’s devastating Skeleton Tree. “Real Death” echoes this sentiment and doubles down on the naturalistic grief. Cave utilized allegorical images to express his sadness, while Elverum elects to broadcast his pain in the simplest of terms. His lyrics read as if they were ripped from his private journal during the immediate wake of his wife’s passing.
Mount Eeerie has accrued a massive catalogue over the years, featuring a diverse and expansive catalogue that transcends lo-fi and pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved in the genre. 2013’s Sauna was a massive shift in sound for Elverum, with an enhanced focus on atmosphere and droning textures. If this first taste of A Crow Looked At Me is an accurate representation of the album, Elverum will be shifting focus to simple instrumental compositions much more in line with 2008’s fantastic Lost Wisdom.
The space in the room is palpable in the recording, but it soon fills out when the instruments slowly flutter to life. According to the press release for the album, most of the instruments used were Geneviève’s, and it was recorded in the room that she died. Her own accordion makes a welcome appearance in the album, painting a contrast against the woeful guitar strums and Elverum’s dry and detached delivery. I can provide no insight into the lyrics of this song. They defy a poetic interpretation. The song challenges the notion of making art based around death, claiming that it is pointless – yet, through his pointed attacks against art that attempts to romanticise death, he makes a resounding piece of art that will throttle the listener.
Phil sings with a Kozelekian approach, both in lyrical content and vocal delivery. It sounds like the hole in his heart is expanding when he delivers the crushing simplicity of this line: “When I walk in to the room where you were and looked into the emptiness instead…” he takes a breath and the accordion acts as connective tissue before he continues: “All fails. My knees fail. My brain fails. Words Fail.”
There’s really nothing else to be said about a track that stands against the glorification of death. Phil recounts a specific occurrence of where, after his wife died, a backpack she ordered for their daughter came in the mail. It blindsides the listener because of how plain and raw the image is – this could happen to you, this could be your life. Phil guts the listener with this simple revelation: “You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you.”
Death is real. If you are ever unlucky enough to lose someone that you belong to, I am sure that the final the two final lines in this fantastically somber song will resonate resoundingly so.
“I don’t want to learn anything from this. I love you.”
There’s nothing more to say.
A Crow Looked At Me releases March 24, you can preorder it here.