This is probably the most intimate, personal album that you’ll ever hear. It’s desolate, heartwrenching, unputdownable, and beautiful. I’m talking about A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie. The album’s getting five star reviews all over the place, and is likely to feature strongly in peoples best of year lists, but unlike some of the albums in those lists this is one that you’ll want to keep with you for a very long time.
On 25th October 2014 my wonderful cousin Josie Camus died of cancer at the age of 35. On 9th July 2016 Phil Elverum’s wife Geneviève died of cancer too, and she was also just 35. Phil, who is Mount Eerie (Geneviève had a separate musical career), and also now a single parent to his young daughter, began writing in the weeks following her death what would become the eleven songs on A Crow Looked At Me. The songs read like his own personal diary, and that’s pretty much how they were composed. Phil confides that they were written and recorded “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.” They’re full of little vignettes of his life, questions that he asks himself, his reflections, his feelings. They’re not a tribute in any conventional sense. They’re about him rather than her as he goes through his own form of self-therapy. Somehow though in ruminating on her absence and his own sense of loss Phil has created the most heartfelt of tributes.
The album begins memorably with the words Someone’s there and then they’re not / And it’s not for singing about / It’s not for making into art. Critics have puzzled over this. What’s he trying to say to us ? Phil, who’s been recording music for 20 years, has written elsewhere that the goal of all his music is to explore his own mind. So this album, perhaps more than any other, is like a personal testament, and by implication artistic judgements are irrelevant. Certainly this is not an album with any of the usual artistic flourishes. It has its own place : a quietness, stillness, solitude, which doesn’t vary from track to track. It’s one man telling his story in a hushed voice somewhere between speaking and singing, set to music.
The standard of writing is so high throughout, and the quality of music so consistent, that my selection of tracks feels more arbitrary than usual. There is so much to discover, to admire, to weep about, and to reflect on in every song. Those seeking answers and closure in their own grieving won’t find this here, but for anyone seeking to understand and come to terms with their own feelings about losing a loved one, I can’t recommend this album highly enough.
Mount Eerie – Real Death
Mount Eerie – Swims
Mount Eerie – Toothbrush / Trash
Mount Eerie – Soria Moria
Mount Eerie – Crow