On Mount Eerie’s 2017 record ‘A Crow Looked At Me’ and its 2018 follow-up ‘Now Only’, Phil Elverum’s examination of his wife Geneviève Castrée’s death was so devastatingly direct that it was almost painful to digest. He later married the actor Michelle Williams, before they separated after less than a year.
A songwriter who dives deeper than almost any other into personal experience, it is difficult to view Mount Eerie’s new album – recorded with Canadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron – as anything other than a rumination on the aftermath.
Opener ‘Belief’ takes up almost a third of the slender record’s run time, and paints a vivid picture of where things stand. Elverum shares a complicated and conflicted headspace with masterful simplicity, conveying a mood that sways from calmness to anxiety, from warm nostalgia to stinging regret. The music veers from quietude to big, frightening electronic crescendo. His lyrics move, daydream-like, from one image to another. Eventually Elverum lands in a state of “discomfort and uncertainty / The true state of all things.”
It’s from that state that ‘Lost Wisdom Pt. 2’ begins: “Now I’m back where I was when I was 20,” he sings. The first ‘Lost Wisdom’ was released over a decade ago, and also featured Doiron. It’s nothing knew that this artists’ record out across the Mount Eerie discography – more often than not a song on one album will receive a ‘part 2’ on another along the line – but this time it feels particularly significant, creating a grounding point from which he can grow and progress, not only musically but emotionally.
Lyrically, this album conveys happy and sad memories, a moment of otherworldly stillness on ‘Pink Light’ and a burst of rage at the “inhumane, delirious, absurd” tabloid press who pried into his relationship with Williams. The music joins him on his uneven wandering, plunging into anger, sorrow and occasional joy. Doiron’s vocals are crucial too, sometimes as fragile as Elverum’s, sometimes a source of comfort and strength.
By the time ‘Belief’ receives its second half at the end of the record, Elverum seems to be on his way towards a relief from tumult. “I believed in love and I still do / I’m not going to seal up my heart,” he sings in a tone that’s soft yet defiant. Though not quite closure, ‘Lost Wisdom Pt. 2’ is the sound of Mount Eerie reaching clarity.
- Release date: November 8
- Record label: P.W. Elverum & Sun