Release Date: Mar 16, 2018
Record label: P.W. Elverum & Sun Ltd.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
In 2016, the artist Geneviève Castrée died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Barely 35, she was survived by her husband, Phil Elverum, and their one year-old daughter. Long known for his work as The Microphones and later Mount Eerie, Elverum set about capturing the toxic shock of this loss in a collection of spare, harrowing songs that documented, in vivid detail, the later days of Geneviève's life, the chasm left by her absence, and the grief he felt through it all.
Many years ago, a girlfriend and I spent some time in a cemetery that overlooked Pullman, Washington. We smoked cigarettes and ate some food, fancying ourselves serious, sensitive people even though we hadn't really experienced much yet. Out of nowhere, she said to me, gesturing to the headstones surrounding us, "They are so lucky." I was taken aback by the sentiment, not being able to understand how anyone could deem a dead person as "lucky." I asked what she meant and she said, simply, "Because they know." I have thought about that afternoon frequently over the last couple of years as I've seen artists that I admire grieve publicly over the loss of a loved one, taken from them and their families far too soon.
But now I notice ravens instead. "The night palace, the ocean blurring," Phil Elvrum sings at the end of "Distortion". It's like the fragile, desperate nature obsession which defined his earlier works has echoed across his discography and bled onto the tapes of Now Only. This moment is so far away from the lyrics on the rest of the album, the un-romanticised bluntness of it all, and it puts the rest into context in a way that's absolutely essential to grappling with the album's themes.
"Death is real," began Phil Elverum on last year's Mount Eerie album A Crow Looked At Me. It was a phrase he returned to a few times throughout the album, as a bottom line to all the memories of his dead wife that he was recalling, a floor he would hit when the visions slipped away. "I sing to you," he begins on that album's companion piece Now Only, released a year on.
Phil Elverum's music feels like a conversation. His songs move at a relaxed pace, quiet and hypnotic, sung in a boyish voice amid passages of near-silence, as if to induce private reflection from both artist and listener. But Elverum also makes records that are in conversation with each other: Lyric sheets come with annotations, songs beget sequels, album titles become band names.
Under his Mount Eerie guise, Phil Elverum released one of the most powerful albums of recent times, A Crow Looked at Me, laying bare unmanageable grief following the loss of his wife Geneviève to cancer. A year on and Now Only mines the same emotions, embracing sadness, maybe purging the pain, perhaps simply documenting it. His lyrical style is as affecting as ever, building simple line on top of simple line until a complete and devastating story emerges.
On A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum masterfully described how the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, changed him. On its follow-up, he expresses how his grief is changing -- whether he wants it to or not -- with just as much skill and tenderness. Written shortly after Crow's release, Now Only finds him mourning the fading of that intense sorrow even as he and his daughter look to what comes next.
Almost a year since its release, A Crow Looked at Me remains a singular crucible. Bluntly diaristic and relatively artless, Phil Elverum's requiem for the late Geneviève Castrée– an illustrator, fellow musician, and his partner, who died of cancer in 2016–sought to strip away any supposedly valiant romance one might want to affix to the ineffable act of mourning. The rest was numbness, stunned desolation, some light magical thinking and the detritus of a life suddenly cut short.