Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me
Oct 22, 2019 (updated Oct 23, 2019)
94
My longest review...

You who are going to read this review, allow me to take you as this album has put me down and gradually suffocated me in its inevitable reality. I won't force you to undergo the same treatment, I just need someone with whom I will have the illusion of being able to talk. I don't want to write alone on... this thing. Don't let me face it alone.

I'll start by telling you the context. That's reassuring, the context is fixed, it's objective. In February 2015, Geneviève Elvrum, Phil Elvrum's wife, gave birth to their little girl. A few months later, an X-ray revealed a cancer already well established in Geneviève's pancreas. In June 2016, a fundraising campaign was organized on the web to finance treatment. The results are amazing, the dollars are breaking the ceiling, but all the good will of all the indie heads in the world will do nothing about it: Genevieve dies a month later, on July 9, leaving a widower Phil father of a little child. A stunned Phil, who will grieve as he has lived the rest of his life: through songs. Less than 9 months later, an album is already ready, it is called "A Crow Looked at Me" and talks about Geneviève's death, the events that preceded and followed it.

That's how it's clearly stated. Since the release of the disc, many people report that they never want to listen to it again. Some even confessed that they did not dare to listen to it/not manage to finish it. Phil is not the first to sing about death. But no one I know has ever sung it that way. It is not Genevieve's death that devastates us, it is Phil, it is his presence too close, too intimate, too raw, too indecent. "A Crow Looked at Me" is sad, yes, among all the feelings you will feel when you are listening to it, there will certainly be sadness. But it is certainly not normal sadness. I listened to some sad albums, you probably did too, I liked a lot of them, but none of them put me in such a state. Phil does not sublimate, he no longer sublimates - all his career he has sung about loneliness, melancholy, death. Stunned by the omnipresence of this absence, confronted with the evidence of the unspeakable; he can do nothing more than attach himself to the facts. Facts delivered without these shadows which are the common lot of any artistic production and which are called metaphors, symbols, analogy, allegories... poetry. "Death is real, Someone's there and then they're not. It's not for singing about, it's not for making into art".

The album is also hard because we are crushed by the proximity of someone else's pain, we are placed in a position of pure voyeurism - Phil certainly implicitly invites us from the moment he chooses to publish the album - because Phil refused to include us in it; it is essentially addressed to Geneviève. We are not part of this painting too intimate, too raw. And there is no escape. Because Phil can't find any either. Since July 9, he had to deal with an unthinkable absence, which he describes in painfully simple and direct words: someone is there, then he is no longer there. We are stuck with Phil, in the most merciless of the abysses: reality. This reality that allows no turning back, no retreat, no poetry. Your wife is dead. Period. This reality from which we must detach ourselves in order to continue to live, to find a meaning to all this bullshits. But Phil can't get rid of it, he is deeply entangled in the reality of this empty space, which is incarnated in the room where Genevieve died. On "Seaweed", Phil and his daughter go to the island where the couple had planned to move, and pour Genevieve's ashes into a chair facing the sunset.

Phil's music has always had this paradoxical quality of knowing how to be both intimate and immense, letting us visualize forest landscapes as far as the eye can see in which a frail little man sings timidly. But there is nothing huge in "A Crow Looked at Me" anymore, just a staggering, confused, jaded, monotonous Phil. Phil's voice is no longer comforting, this time it won't rock me. The first to discover the gap between his songs and the reality of this experience is Phil himself, who tells us this several times. Here, on "Emptiness pt.2": "Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about, back before I knew my way around the hospitals. I would like to forget and go back into imagining." The distance between the death of his previous songs and this real death is immeasurable. He, who has always sung and philosophized about nature, finds himself confronted with his own belonging to this cycle where everything disintegrates to be reborn in another form.

Beyond death, "A Crow Looked at Me" is united under a major theme, transformation. A transformation that is not accepted. First, the transformation of Geneviève's body, described through some disturbing images ("But chemo had ravaged and transformed your porcelain into some other thing, something jaundiced and fucked", "Your transformed, dying face will recede with time, is what our counselor said", "You were probably aching, wanting not to die. Your body transformed, I couldn't bear to look so I turned my head"), and then, especially, the transformation of Phil's understanding. The evolution of his journey. Written from August to December 2016, from late summer to early winter, the album shows us with a sometimes simply moving precision, Phil's road from hopelessness to progressive acceptance. Stunned by the depths of the first half of the album, you will probably be tempted to see it only as a well of grief. That would be a terrible mistake, because Phil is also talking about when he starts to turn the page. It's even the most beautiful part of the album. Oh, he doesn't want to change, he forces himself to stay stuck in a perpetual present, until he manages to make sense of it, so that he can continue to imagine that she is still there with him, in order to clumsily cherish his last moments spent with her. On "My Chasm", perhaps the most terrible song, Phil describes himself as a container of history about his wife. Phil is forced to accept this movement at some point. For several reasons, but the main one is this baby he has to take care of. A child who has not experienced the death of her mother as he has experienced the death of his wife, a child who needs to be cared for. Among the decisive transitional movements of "A Crow Looked at Me", many of them originate from Phil's daughter.

Musically and lyrically speaking, the turning point comes with "Toothbrush/Trash". Where Phil realizes for the first time, three months later, that he can no longer remember what it feels like to have Genevieve in the house. The memories are now crystallized in photographs displayed throughout the house. "The echo of you in the house dies down." At the end of this verse, the rhythmic suddenly starts, a piano throws an optimistic melodic line, transforming a solemn and leaden song into an almost playful mid-tempo ballad. Phil wonders one last time if Genevieve's ghost is still in this room, incarnated in a passing fly. Finally, he lets the fly pass through the window, at the same time as he finally empties the bathroom of his wife's belongings and waste ("dried-out, bloody, end-of-life tissues") that he hadn't had the courage to dump. No cheerfulness ("It does not feel good"), but he does it anyway. Just after that, on what will remain in my heart as the most beautiful song on the album, "Soria Moria", Phil finally reconnects with his personal story, with his childhood, getting out of this fixed present in time, this paralyzing purgatory where he was stuck since the beginning of the record to find his old melancholy, familiar and warm. Even louder, he ends the piece by comparing his Way of the Cross - to go to the hospital at night to see Genevieve - to that of the child in the painting Soria Moria, who contemplates a sea of fog in the mountains behind which a distant building shines like a sun. Traditionally, Soria Moria Castle in Norwegian folklore is a symbol of perfect happiness, and the journey to get there is different for everyone. Phil then sings: "I have not stopped looking across the water from the few difficult spots where you can see that the distance from this haunted house where I lived to Soria Moria is a real traversable space. I'm an arrow now, mid-air" He confides not to despair that he can achieve happiness. It may be the only positive mark on the album, but it is a powerful statement that almost concludes this challenging journey. Almost? Yes, there is still one more track, tiny, tender, worried, almost anecdotal after the sublime Soria Moria. Except that something decisive is happening there, a reversal: always in the second person, Phil no longer addresses Geneviève but his daughter. Genevieve was greeted in "Toothbrush/Trash", sanctified in "Soria Moria", now Phil has to take care of his little girl. The most beautiful and painful page of his life is turning. Of course, he remains anxious and depressed, wondering what a rotten world he leaves his daughter, a world where Trump has just been elected president and where no mother will be there to raise him. But he shares a very special moment with her. A few magical minutes away from the time when Phil feels like he's being followed and stared at by a crow, while the baby whispers "Crow, crow" in his sleep. "Crow, she said, crow, and I asked: "Are you dreaming about a crow?' And there she was." When you start thinking that this album is a gulf of despair, remember that it is this tender, almost serene anecdote that was chosen for the title. There is hope in "A Crow Looked at Me". I still get into the depressed album, but I come out more and more often with a little melancholic smile.
WhatTheFunk's Tags
13 Comments
Oct 22, 2019
It's almost over, don't worry. It will probably take you longer to read this review than to listen to the record. But I still have a few things to say. If you wander the Internet these days reading reviews on this Mount Eerie album, don't believe everything you're told; some people say that if the album shines with its lyrics, the same can't be said for its music. Phil himself said in an interview: "It's barely music. ". "A Crow Looked at Me" is indeed extremely sober in its arrangements, stripped down, some of the songs stop abruptly, sometimes it's barely if we hear anything other than his voice with a light guitar string. But you can't detach the lyrics from his music. Could we have expected anything else with our Phil Elverum?
Oct 22, 2019
He has always been as concerned with the atmosphere of his albums as with his "content", and the choice to keep only the skeleton of his songs is part of the same approach. "Real Death", with its soft electric guitar, scattered piano notes, small drum machine and discreet accordion drone, is almost the most luxurious in the collection. Each instrumentation adapts to its purpose. "Seaweed" tells the story of the journey to free Genevieve's ashes; a minimal burial melody was necessary. As Phil's confusion increases, a wobbly piano comes to produce disturbing chords. Perhaps the most striking example is "Soria Moria". A superb acoustic fresco, both stripped down and lush in its own way, it comes at a time when Phil is rebuilding himself. Symbolically, this track refers to "The Moon" on "The Glow pt.2", thanks to its acoustic melody and its line directly taken from the original song, pronounced on the same melody with the same intonation: "I went back to feel alone there".
Oct 22, 2019
As this review progresses and I begin to think that "A Crow Looked at Me" is more of a life album than a death album; I would like to try to take you a little further, to think for a moment about how this album can be appreciated, and how it can grow. You will see, as I told you, many people come out of this album sacredizing it while promising that they will never come back to this album. Out of modesty, out of a desire not to suffer. And it's quite respectable, everyone knows their own limits and not everyone wants to take the trouble to suffer to understand the album beyond Phil's only inconsolable pain. But if the first listening only gives access to this unfathomable sadness, let the album grow...
Oct 22, 2019
A parallel can be drawn between Phil's journey from the shock of Geneviève's death and the shock of the listener with the discovery of the album. And just as Phil turns the page, moves on to something else, evolves during the album, so will the listener if he agrees to let the album accompany him. I should rather speak in the first person, my goal is not of course to make my experience a general one. I experienced this album the same way we experience grief, musically. During the first few days, I could not detach myself from this suffocating impotence, from this invasive and contagious emptiness. But "A Crow Looked at Me" deserves to become something else, a different entity for everyone, especially since Phil gives us all the tools we need to achieve it. I refuse to stop at the desolation, the road to the castle of Soria Moria is crossable. There you go.
Oct 22, 2019
Thank you for staying with me all along, even if you are probably just the result of my imagination. « Now A Crow Looked at Me » no longer seems so black to me, its darkness becomes almost comfortable, I have filled the void of my hesitant interpretations. I feel like I can walk alone now. All I have to do now is free you and say goodbye and thank you.
Oct 22, 2019
I am...stunned. Wow, that was a lot lot to digest. Thank you for making this review, Math. Thank you so so much! <3
Oct 22, 2019
Best tracks: "Soria Moria", "Real Death", "Ravens", "Forest Fire", "Seaweed", "Swims", "Toothbrush/Trash".

Worst track: "When I Take Out The Garbage At Night"
Oct 22, 2019
I'm lost with my words. I really don't know what to say. I gladly read through the entire review, it was a really great read, seeing you break down the entire album bit by bit and adding some of your own fascinating thoughts to it too. This album is amazing, but I'd consider it pretty tough to review, yet you nailed it. You had me glued to my chair the entire time! I hope you're doing fine right now, take care. *vitrual hug* :)
Oct 23, 2019
@Inglume Thank you, that's really nice of you! ❤ I'm fine but every time I listen to this album again I'm in a bad mood... I'm glad you enjoyed reading this review. Yes, this album is really complicated to review, it really took me 3 hours and 6 intensive listening to write it.
Oct 23, 2019
[hidden]
Jan 27, 2020
Just wow!
Feb 16, 2020
Unbelievable review!
Feb 16, 2020
Lordie, this was a trip. Holy cow, great stuff
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