Review Summary: But now I notice ravens instead.
"The night palace, the ocean blurring," Phil Elvrum sings at the end of "Distortion". It's like the fragile, desperate nature obsession which defined his earlier works has echoed across his discography and bled onto the tapes of Now Only
. This moment is so far away from the lyrics on the rest of the album, the un-romanticised bluntness of it all, and it puts the rest into context in a way that's absolutely essential to grappling with the album's themes. Like the castle fantasy of "Soria Moria", it's the lone marker of the places Mount Eerie came from, albums and lyrics now lifetimes away.
The titular distortion only occurs twice in "Distortion", at the beginning and to punctuate perhaps the album's most vital lyric halfway through. "Though my life is a galaxy of subtleties, my complex intentions and aspirations do not matter at all/in the face of the crushing flow of actual time". A snarl of guitar builds up and gnashes its teeth, soundtracking something very akin to an existential crisis, then recedes as quickly as it came with the blackly hilarious, Kozelekian punchline to the verse: "but she had her period and I went back to being 23". It's a masterpiece of music reflecting mood, and proof positive of the increased thoughtfulness put into the composition of Now Only
's instrumentals. There's one other notable moment of humour here, the disturbingly toe-tappable melody which bounces behind "people get cancer and die/people get hit by trucks and die" on the title track. A jarring piano thump takes us back into the verse, and the joke is almost as funny as it is bleakly horrifying, looking you in the eyes and daring you to find it funny.
There's no great catharsis or climax here, naturally, but the songs are longer and more deliberately composed than A Crow Looked at Me
. "Tintin in Tibet" fashions a link to the preceding album, a guitar-led ballad lurching along on a very simple percussive beat, but the other songs just as quickly set themselves apart. Of the best two, "Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup" pivots between acoustic and clean electric guitar in a manner that approaches conventionally beautiful music more so than anything else on these two albums, and "Crow Pt. 2" rides a lilting guitar melody in defiance of the first part's static instruments. "Earth" is the weakest track, with a fairly unremarkable melody bolstered by guitar with a garage rock grimace. But there's a moment of beauty to be found in the gruesome lyrics, literally among the bones of Geneviève Elvrum: "against my will I felt a little bit of solace creeping in". The light sits alongside the dark more obviously on Now Only
in general. Geneviève is full of life far more often in these lyrics than she was on Crow
, feeding Phil oranges and sending letters to his cabin so they could meet for the first time. This only adds to the impact as we quickly realise we're listening to the chronicle of a whole life, not just a death, and that means there's so much more to reckon with.
was ruthlessly focused on building a timeline of the world post-Geneviève, recounting minutiae with mathematical precision, marking time with that synthesised drum like a metronome, how many days and minutes it had been since the death. Contrary to its predecessor and its title, Now Only
drifts backwards along Phil's ancestral family tree and forward to the future, far away as it may seem; it meanders to conversations with Father John Misty and Skrillex concerts, colouring in the entire story to better communicate the weight of its ending. If the crow was the spectre of mortality, a symbol of death re-shaping Mount Eerie's respect for and awe of nature in the harshest possible way, maybe the ravens stand for something marginally more hopeful. Maybe seeing the ravens instead is the smallest of steps towards something better. Or, more likely, Phil Elvrum saw some ravens and wrote it down and put it in his song because that's the way he writes. If you choose to look for the metaphors, there's beauty and even redemption to be found in Now Only
; if you don't, there's a kind of quiet acceptance in the numbness.