The Act of Grieving: “A Crow Looked At Me” by Mount Eerie

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Rating: 8/10

On the second song of “A Crow Looked At Me,” Phil Elverum, aka Mount Eerie, wonders aloud about whether or not his wife had liked a certain kind of flower:

 

“What about foxgloves

Is that a flower you liked?

I can’t remember

You did most of my remembering for me”

 

In the song, called “Seaweed,” Elverum addresses questions to his wife, asking her things that pop up in his head shortly after her death, as he wanders around the landscape near their home in Anacortes, Washington. Directly after asking her if she had liked a certain flower, he seems to realize the ridiculousness of asking such a question:

 

“And now I stand untethered

In a field full of wild foxgloves

Wondering if you’re there

Or if a flower means anything

And what could anything mean

In this crushing absurdity”

 

And so Elverum gives us a peek into his mind as he grieves his wife, the cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée Elverum, who passed away in July of 2016 of cancer. Throughout “A Crow Looked At Me,” we encounter a version of Mount Eerie that has been bared to the world, his most personal and cycling thoughts painted in stream-of-consciousness onto the lyrics of the songs. Among the tracks, we watch Elverum travel across the landscape with his daughter (“Ravens”), find difficulty in everyday tasks (“When I Take the Garbage Out at Night”), and contemplate emptiness on “Emptiness, Pt. 2,” where he exposes the contrast between intellectualizing death and actually experiencing it:

 

Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about

Before I knew my way around these hospitals

I would like to forget and go back into imagining

The snow shining permanently alone could say something to me true and comforting”

 

In every song on the album, we encounter a man experiencing the ache and emptiness of loss, manifesting itself in the day to day process of both remembering and forgetting a loved one. Elverum documents this unforgettably on the song “Toothbrush/Trash,” where the narrator quietly realizes that photographs of his wife are slowly replacing the memory of her, as he forgets what it’s like just to feel her presence, even if she’s in the other room. Like the famous French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, who found that his engravings of towns from his past had replaced the images he’d formed from actual memories, Elverum laments the speed at which his past experiences begin to slip away:

 

“I can feel these memories escaping

Colonized by photos narrowed down and told my mind erasing

The echo of you in the house dies down”

 

By the album’s end, Elverum and the listener have confronted the strange horror of grief and come to no discernible end. The singer seems highly aware that the process of living and the flow of time forces us to move on, even if we’re not ready for what’s coming. In the last song, “Crow,” the narrator takes his daughter on a walk in the forest, experiencing a moment of magic among the confusion and loss of the last year: A crow follows them through the woods, prompting a moment of transcendence to occur. Like the music that accompanies the album, the moment’s simplicity is quiet, tender, and undoubtedly beautiful.

 

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