Review Summary: Blinders
One of the most common sentiments in the weeks leading up to A Crow Looked At Me
’s release is one of apprehension; fans of Mount Eerie
don’t seem to want to hear Phil Elverum’s newest effort, at least not in a conventionally excited way. This might be explained best in Phil’s own words on opener “Real Death”: “[…] I don’t want to learn anything from this.
” One gets a sense that there’s incoming lessons that we’d rather not have to interpret, and realizations about ourselves that couldn’t possibly be positive. The album is full of cases where Elverum self-awarely contradicts himself. At times, he thinks of his deceased wife, Geneviève, as a physical symbol worthy of intense poetic musings, only to quickly reject ever thinking of her in exactly those term (at the end of “Seaweed”). Elsewhere in “Ravens", he refers to her as an enduring ghost-like vanguard, but then reduces her presence to “but bones.
” Worse, there is a constant inadequacy in sharing his feelings. Each song feels like he has more words on the tip of his tongue, but is forced to recede, and allow the narrative to shift into the next song’s inevitable progress. On “My Chasm”, he disparages his own memories of Geneviève, asking “Do people around me want to keep hearing about my dead wife?,
” and jokes at his newfound ability to turn innocuous rooms into uncomfortable pits out of which to crawl. Maybe Mount Eerie listeners predict the same thing: that serious discussions of A Crow Looked At Me
couldn’t possibly end well; that a failure to extrapolate anything from the album negates you from the conversation just like not knowing someone in an obituary negates you from speaking at their funeral; or that, conversely, learning too much from the album in an introspective sense would reveal things about ourselves that we’d rather not share.
The album exudes a lack of preparedness, and that will probably be the biggest love-or-hate factor here. Many of the vocal melodies seem to accompany a stream-of-consciousness lyrical approach, as though Elverum is coping in real time (he even notes the specific dates tied to his thoughts, making them serve as impromptu journal entries). This album couldn't exist in this form under any other circumstances. It isn’t very catchy, which probably wouldn’t lend well to its tastefulness anyway, and the musicality often feels like little more than trademark Elverum lo-fi fare. But, these choices are essential, and A Crow Looked At Me
would be significantly less special otherwise. By choosing to use his wife’s instruments in the compositions, and focusing on a lyric-heavy delivery, Elverum succeeds in creating a series of painfully realistic dirges that, at times, are calmly romantic. He accomplishes an awful lot with a modest arsenal. “Dense with easy words
” (from a recent interview). Some songs capture multiple flavours, temperatures, physical speeds, and levels of introspection. “Swims” sounds like it’s being sung on a rickety chair with the paint peeling off, sedentary, but also seems to hover over a landscape at impossible speeds to mimic his wife’s spiritual omnipresence. On “Seaweed”, he struggles to assign his wife to the most appropriate simulacrum, rejecting her scattered ashes in favour of a sunset. In “Soria Moria”, he rather brilliantly associates a foggy, impassable distance with the taut sense of limbo associated with plain-facedly dealing with hospital chores. There aren’t many moments that don’t feel expository, and it’s never comfortable.
A Crow Looked At Me
is one of those
albums that probably should be an era-defining bastion for solidarity. Death should be easy to bond over; it’s prevalent, to use a colossal understatement, and Elverum has a way of illustrating the after-effects that feels shockingly relatable. But, it probably shouldn’t be this decade’s Either/Or
. It’s difficult to think of it in terms of communal navel-gazing, or pleasant camaraderie. And one can’t possibly picture Phil sharing these thoughts in person, face-to-face. I’ve intentionally avoided interjecting myself into this review for similar reasons. I had to pause many times while writing this, and it wasn’t for lack of words. I hit ‘delete' many times. There’s very little this album tells me about myself that I want to acknowledge, much less divulge. Many (inferior) emotionally transportive albums tend to flick on and off like a light switch, granting the listener freedom to dip in and out with little consequence. You know? A Crow Looked At Me
doesn’t grant this freedom. It illuminates very real, very constricting emotions that you know you’ll have to either deal with in true form, or kindle within someone you love upon your own passing. It makes poetry seem dumb. We can imagine Phil humbly occupying himself with menial tasks amidst his grieving process, whether it’s chopping wood or picking berries or taking out the trash, and there’s something dignified in this persona. He holds these activities, which are no more likely to bring his wife back, in higher regard than his pursuit of artistic release. A Crow Looked At Me
is as pure an elegy as you might ever hear, and you’re better off not listening.