“A Crow Looked at Me,” the new album by Mount Eerie, the solo project of Washington based singer-songwriter/producer Phil Elverum, was written in the wake of his late wife’s death, as he processed the tragic loss and began to come to terms with his new reality as a single father. Geneviève Castrée, the mother of Elverum’s child and a talented artist and musician in her own right, died of pancreatic cancer shortly after their daughter was born. The tracks on “A Crow Looked At Me” follow a timeline of grief that begins with Castrée’s death.
In “Seaweed,” the album’s second song, Elverum sings: “Our daughter is one-and-a-half. You have been dead 11 days.” From there, the album chronicles the songwriter’s journey through the stupor of grief and ends with the track “Crow.” In it, Elverum describes walking through the forest on a cold day in November with his daughter:
Sweet kid, we were watched and followed and I thought of Geneviève
Sweet kid, I heard you murmur in your sleep
“Crow,” you said, “Crow”
And I asked, “Are you dreaming about a crow?”
And there she was
Elverum began recording “A Crow Looked at Me” two months after his wife’s death. He recorded in the room where she died, using her instruments. He used mostly just one microphone and a laptop, evoking an intimacy and an immediacy that’s palpable throughout the album. Those feelings are enhanced by the conversational and confessional tone in which he sings. Elverum achieves a rawness that is rare, an honesty that is so engaging that the album demands to be heard all the way through in one sitting.
In an article for MTV, Elverum said, “Making the record, diving deep into these feelings and writing down and organizing all of the thoughts and details, it felt good. It felt like hanging out with her, really.”
Listening to the record feels like hanging out with them both — author and subject. One gets a sense of the depth of their relationship as well as the creative dedication of Castrée to her art and Elverum’s gift for musically articulating his emotional experience. He is deft in the art of vulnerability.
For 20 years Phil Elverum has released disarmingly intimate, vulnerable music, but “A Crow Looked At Me” reaches new heights of raw expression, showing a willingness to crack open his breastbone and expose the most private corners of his heart.
Listen to Phil Elverum perform “Real Death,” a track from “A Crow Looked at Me” in the video below. Or if you’d like to experience the album in its entirety, you can do so here.