Mount Eerie’s 2017 album A Crow Looked at Me has imprinted itself in my life as the most excruciatingly sad piece of music I have ever heard. Throughout the record, I had the feeling that I was listening in on something deeply private and that I was not supposed to be listening. To some extent, Elverum must have felt the same way. Regardless, the record played on, and what sprang forth was the sonic embodiment of undeniable loss and reluctant solitude. And now there is Now Only.
Before anything else, it is necessary to say that this album, like its predecessor, is almost impossible to review. How is one supposed to give a numerical value to human grief? This is an album about a man attempting to move forward the way Sisyphus moves up that eternal hill. He pushes the heavy pain forward in the hopes of getting past it all, but it rolls down and brings him back to the place where spread his wife’s ashes. This is album is not meant to be rated.
Now Only starts both before and after A Crow Looked at Me with “Tintin in Tibet.” We hear the story of how Elverum and his wife met as well as his continued pain at knowing that this moment exists only as a memory. However, this song is more than a memory: it is a reminder that Elverum’s music is not for us anymore. This is for Genevieve. Not some music reviewer sitting at his laptop at four in the morning.
Across the record Elverum is expressing to Genevieve the unconquerable grief and desire to carry her with him while also wanting to move on. He wants to live in the ‘now only,’ but how can he do that when “the person he loved got killed by a bad disease out of nowhere and for no reason?” “Distortion” and “Now Only” testify to this effect, as the former is a declaration of the ways he carries Genevieve with him while also being an expression of his own views on mortality. The latter delves further into the absurdity of death as well as the absurdity of grief. Elverum reflects on A Crow Looked at Me as well here, and it is this reflection that should answer the question of “why is he telling us all this?” The answer is that it is happening and he does not know.
The second half of the record heads out of the tunnel of grief into the blinding sunlight of moving on with life. The beginning of “Earth” puts it simply: “I don’t want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to.” The issue for Elverum, as the songs description of his wife’s ashes mixed with the bones of animals seem to suggest, is that he does not know how long that is. He is in limbo, carrying his wife with him and afraid to put her down in order to return to life. “Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup” expresses this, as Elverum sees his dead wife everywhere but cannot see a way back to his own life. It all ends with “Crow, Pt. 2.” Phil Elverum feels his wife’s absence in a way that paradoxically makes him feel her presence. She is gone but she is here but she is not but he is. And there is just now only. I’m sorry, Phil, from a music reviewer sitting at his laptop at four in the morning.