Sometimes an album is more than just a collection of songs. A Crow Looked at Me, the latest full-length release from Mount Eerie, is part tribute, part memoir, and part startlingly blunt chronicle of human grief that comes with loss. From beginning to end, the entire record works as a cathartic expression of raw emotions delivered through gentle music and sincere lyrics.
Phil Elverum, Mount Eerie’s founder, lost his wife, cartoonist Geneviève Castrée, to cancer in July of 2016. Utilizing a penchant for indie folk, along with a matter-of-fact vocal style and extremely frank lyrics, Elverum vividly recalls the impactful moments surrounding what he at one point appropriately refers to as the “crushing absurdity” that was Castrée’s death.
The stories Elverum relates are made doubly painful by the inclusion of he and his wife’s baby daughter who was born shortly before Geneviève’s passing. “Real Death,” the album’s opening song, has Elverum finding a child’s backpack in the mail, a purchase made by his wife for their daughter to use for her first year of school, which Geneviève would never live to see. It’s a jarringly honest and profoundly touching moment that sneaks up so quickly, you’re given no time to compose yourself before it wallops you in the heart.
Elverum struggles to remember whether his wife loved certain flowers or animals, wondering if seeing them after her passing is an omen. At one point, he admits that his wife did most of his remembering for him. Elverum sings about going through Geneviève’s intimate belongings. He sings about answering his daughter’s questions about her departed mother. He sings about the plans the family was making as well as the therapist he and his wife were seeing who died just weeks after Geneviève. Elverum sees symbolism in everything, and he’s positive the spirit of his deceased spouse is never far away.
A Crow Looked at Me is a stunning autobiographical achievement for having taken place at a time in one’s life that is commonly associated with silence and mourning. It’s difficult to compare the record’s heartwrenching sincerity regarding its subject matter to anything previous. In more than one song, Elverum refers to the fact that there’s nothing to be learned from the experience. Listeners may disagree, however, as A Crow Looked at Me proves that the innermost emotions and thoughts regarding the passing of a loved one are a universally shared part of the human experience.