“Death is real/ someone’s there and then they’re not”-are the first opening lyrics to A Crow Looked At Me. ‘A Crow Looked At Me’ is the latest project of former indie relic Microphone’s front man Phil Elverum; a morbid narrative of loss and grief from the introverted pioneer. This album at eleven tracks strong is a collection of short narratives, and bits and pieces of memorial lullabies over the passing of Phil’s wife Genevieve Elverum. Genevieve was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2015 and it’s been haunting Phil ever since. A record of tear-jerking songs, each in it’s own way dedicated to tear on your heartstrings. An embodiment of love lost with every note.
The album starts off straight to the point with its’ lead single ‘Real Death’. Aside from contrary belief, this track is a proper introduction to the album. The gentile harmonic tune of Phil’s guitar pressed against his lifeless vocals provides an almost comforting, but spacey atmosphere. He introduces the listeners to his ghostly vision of empty rooms and most of all…Genevieve. Phil makes it rather obvious that Genevieve is the main centerpiece of the album, the main protagonist of the stories Phil conjures through his strings. Phil sings, “When real death enters the house, all poetry is dumb”, as a clear memo of no artistic medium can embody the true value of death. What death means is different for everyone; and for Phil, death is the loss of Genevieve.
Traditionally Mount Eerie has always kept a linear pattern to their songs. A lot of comparisons to trees, waterfalls, rain. The same patterns continue on ‘A Crow’, but instead, its crows, seaweed, and shores. Under the ‘Mount Eerie’ label, Phil has had over a decade of influence and records carrying the ‘Microphones’-like aesthetic. The clashing guitar rifts plus harmonic yells are replaced by space and bare acoustic strings on ‘A Crow Looked At Me.’ This record is as skeletal as it gets. Just bare bones to any standards really. Besides a gentile bass pedal and a couple bass strings, it’s just Phil and his guitar. The ambience fuzz is replaced by empty space like an oath of silence for Genevieve. Such a diverse album set apart from albums like ‘Sauna’, and ‘Clear moon’. Nobody saw it coming, not even Phil.
It is pointless for me to dissect this album track by track, but that doesn’t mean they are not worth listening to. Each track carries its’ own luminosity. Each song has its own depressing catalogue of poetic triumph I believe that everyone who listens to this album should take time to read into.
On the track ‘Swims’, Phil takes time to illustrate his last days with Genevieve. He mentions how he watched her die in her bedroom, and her last gasping breaths. “The room I still don’t go in at night/because I see you”, set a tone I couldn’t shake off. He talks about walks to their counselor every Monday holding hands. Each week, the walk grew slower until they had to drive because of Genevieve’s cancer. Ironically, that same counselor passed away two months after Genevieve died. And all that was left was her empty office, “As if her work was done.” Towards the end of the track Phil recounts of when his daughter asked, “If mama swims/I told her, yes she does/And that’s probably all she does.” At that point I was convinced this album couldn’t get more depressing…safe to say I was wrong.
Songs like ‘When I Take out the Garbage at Night’ and ‘Toothbrush/trash’ are deathly anthems that captivate the escaping memories in even the simplest household objects and tasks. Phil goes even beyond to compare flies to his wife. Even taking out trash served as a painstaking reminder of his loss. Everything that was part of Genevieve: from her bloody tissues to toothbrushes, everything proved too difficult to get rid of. The final track is directed to Phil and Genevieve’s daughter. “Sweet kid/what is this world we’re leaving you,” a sentimental message no parent ever wants to say to his or her kid.
The same house that Phil and his wife lived in still haunts him. Not a single moment goes by throughout this album where her presence was not there. In the after life, Genevieve lives on. At the end of the day this album is delicate. It is not for everyone. It is a difficult listen and obviously it is not the most uplifting record to come out this year. But that isn’t the point. This album means more to Phil than any other person on this planet. This project captivates what art sometimes fails to. With just melodies and bare vocals, Phil pours his heart out. He feels the room where Genevieve died with life. The same room where Phil recorded this record was her sarcophagus. As Phil’s guitar gently wept, Genevieve’s soul listened. Their daughter listened, I listened, and death listened.
Recorded in the bedroom where his wife passed away, Microphone's Phil Elverum challenges grief and death with this year's most depressing release to date.