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Mount Eerie - Now Only (Album Review)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 Written by Olivia Tambini

Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum is a musician unlike almost any other. His music, lacking in any perceptible pop structure, plays like a stream of consciousness; raw, without embellishment, and completely devastating. Following the death of his wife, Geneviève, Elverum explored his grief through his work, resulting in the release of a critically acclaimed album, ‘A Crow Looked At Me’.

Precisely one year later comes its follow up, ‘Now Only’, which finds Elverum investigating his evolving relationship with his late wife, the passing of time, and the cyclical nature of life and death. Whereas ‘A Crow Looked At Me’ documented fresh pain, the new album allows little glimmers of hope to pierce through the shroud of grief.

Opening track Tintin in Tibet begins with the mantra "I sing to you" as Elverum discusses talking to his wife even though he knows she "doesn’t exist". It’s a theme that continues throughout the album, which feels as though it is addressed to Geneviève.

Elverum recounts memories from their courtship, allowing us to learn more about their relationship before she became ill. We also learn about Elverum’s early life and, on Distortion, he describes the first time he saw a dead body, a pregnancy scare in his early 20s, and conversations with his mother.

Musically, ‘Now Only’ is very similar to ‘A Crow Looked At Me’, with continually flowing lyrics and meandering song structures. But Elverum has built upon the previously sparse instrumentation with sweeping synth drones, cymbal crashes, and pounding percussion.

And, while the new album is just as heartbreaking as its predecessor, there are also moments of genuine humour. The title track pairs upbeat pop guitar chords with lyrics like "people get cancer and die" and recounts playing his "songs about death" to a crowd next to Skrillex’s tour bus.

Elverum also seems to discover value in creativity once more. Last time out he sang "death is not for making art about", but on Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup we see him finding solace or meaning in the paintings Geneviève put up around their home.

Yet, these lighter moments are short lived as the realities of death hit hard, particularly on Earth. In what may be the most devastating moment on the album, Elverum recounts rolling around in the grass with their daughter and seeing fragments of bone from where he scattered Genevieve’s ashes in the garden.

The final track, Crow Pt II, serves as a kind of recapitulation, in which dissonant guitar chords rush in like waves and fall about Elverum’s monotone vocal. He describes seeing Geneviève in everything he does and, with the repetitive form of the song, it’s easy to fall into a sense of comfort. Then, though, it ends abruptly and without warning.

This album, like ‘A Crow Looked At Me’, is not easy listening, but although the grief is evidently still excruciating, ‘Now Only’ suggests that Elverum is beginning to make sense of his pain. He can see the value in art again. He feels hopeful when he looks at his daughter. He still sobs when he eats breakfast sometimes. Death is final, and sudden, and frightening, but this family’s story isn’t over. Time, ultimately, goes on.

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