Of all the albums to come out in 2017, none hit listeners the way Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me did. It's the musical equivalent of the days either side of a funeral - it's grief turned into art, in all its painful, stark, honest glory. It is a tragic package of sounds and words that are bound to reduce you to tears because it gives you nowhere to hide from its sad truth.
The consensus on the album is that it's beautiful, moving and honest, but it's so good at what it does that no one wants to hear it more than twice. We humans don't deal with death very well as a general rule, so Phil Elverum AKA Mount Eerie's raw sonic exploration of his partner Geneviève Castrée's passing from cancer is uncomfortable and confronting. Nothing is hidden, no punches are pulled. A Crow Looked At Me hits you where Elverum is hurting, and you feel it.
Take this verse from the opening track Real Death:
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
The first time I heard that, I wasn't prepared, and I burst into tears at my desk. That is a narrative of very heavy duty proportions. Throughout this song and many others, you can hear Elverum's voice crack under the weight of it all. The album is the sound of someone trying valiantly to keep it all together in the face of incredible emotional turmoil, purely because they have to.
But enough from me. The reason I wanted to post this blog about the album is because I want people to hear this album, but also because I wanted to share some words written by my good friend Gus Franklin. Gus travelled from Australia to the US in 2008 to record an album and ended up living with Phil and his partner Geneviève. He later produced Geneviève's 2013 album Fleuve. For people that didn't know these guys, A Crow Looked At Me is devastating. I can't even begin to contemplate what it was like for friends of Phil and Geneviève - for people like Gus - to hear the record.
But here is Gus, trying to put all that into words:
"On A Crow Looked At Me he goes on his deepest dive to exorcise something unfathomable from a most terrible personal experience; that of losing your closest friend and life partner to cancer merely a year after parenting your first child with that person.
"Phil’s partner’s name was Geneviève Castrée (herself a formidable illustrator and musical artist), and in this album he uses her instruments and records occupying the void left in the room she died in, quietly documenting his days and moments in the months leading up to and following her death. The record is like a diary of grief without platitude, as he scrambles to remember the wild moments leading up to her leaving and the subsequent attempts to make any sense of the vicious new reality he now faces without her.
"Having become friends with Phil & Geneviève in 2008, this album is all too real and sad for me, though the absolute beauty of the observations and his way with words over seemingly simplistic musical arrangements sewn tightly with deft phrasing and great chord changes are amazing renderings of memory and experiences with Geneviève in her final moments in our world, and her absence, once she was gone.
"The album is a detailed look inside an unimaginable personal experience unlike any to be expressed in this way ever again. Thank you Phil, and sleep soundly, dear Geneviève."
- Gus Franklin, December 2017
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