by Alexis Jais ’18
If our loved ones cannot live forever, at least their memory can exist in the form of our favorite songs or poems. This attitude has ensured that death remains a favorite and popular muse for artists. Artists can imply a lack of understanding of the severity and finality of death, or possibly a sort of numbness that has yet to evolve into true understanding and mourning.
Either way, the tendency for people to use art as an opportunity to personally process death is something that Phil Elverum of the band Mount Eerie and the Microphones was prompted to address in his most recent album. A Crow Looked at Me was released after Elverum suffered the traumatic loss of his wife of 13 years to pancreatic cancer in July 2016.
Elverum and his late wife Geneviève Castrée, who was an illustrator and musician, have a now 3-year-old daughter who is present in some songs on the album as a painful yet precious reminder of Castrée’s existence in their lives. A Crow Looked At Me, which Elverum released this past March, features 11 lo-fi songs recorded primarily in the family’s home in Anacortes, Washington. Elverum set up a microphone in his and Castrée’s bedroom and used no instruments other than an acoustic guitar and his voice to record the simple yet heart-wrenching tracks.
The songs themselves feel more like a spoken-word eulogy to his wife. The result is a provocative and highly personal commentary on the true horror and numbness which comes with the death of a loved one. The first of the album is a track called “Real Death” which highlights the inherent permanence of death with strikingly plain descriptions of the last few days and weeks of Castrée’s life.
The songs seem to imply that Elverum is frustrated with a common trend to romanticize death and make it seem easier and more beautiful than perhaps it really is. One might venture to ask whether the existence or lack of art could mean the death is yet too fresh, and once the mourning process enters a stage slightly less raw, words might flow more easily.
Regardless, Elverum earnestly shares intimate thoughts, stories, and opinions depicting the extent of his sadness. He quietly and non-invasively urges the listener to truly feel death deeply when it happens.
Maybe Elverum would not want this album to be dissected too closely, but rather taken as it is: unembellished and highly candid. It is a new way to experience death through art in that it takes the ability to see death for what it really is. Though fans can hope the mourning period is not too drawn out for Elverum, an integration of this newfound pain and passion will likely appear in his future music for some time to come.