“Death is real.” This refrain repeats itself three times on Phil Elverum’s latest album as Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me. The first time comprises the opening line of the opening song, the first thing listeners will hear, followed by ” Someone’s there, and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art.” Out of all the times he says the line, this is the least emotional on its face, an objective observation, the start of an argument or persuasion.The rest of the album is a counter-argument to that sentiment, as A Crow Looked at Me is one of the more compelling and emotional albums and works of art in recent memory, a guaranteed tear-jerker and long-look-into-the-distance generator.
The second time listeners will hear the call is during one of the album highlights, “Ravens.” “You had cancer, and you were killed, and I’m left here living like this; crying on the logging roads, with your ashes in a jar, thinking about the things I’ll tell you, when you come back from where ever it is that you’ve gone. And then I remember death is real.” This time it is not just a reflection or an observation but a crushing reminder of the permanence of loss, the sound of hope for things somehow turning out differently being dashed.
The third and final time listeners are reminded by Elverum about the realness of death is in “My Chasm.” It is the most raw and heartbreaking utterance, as he strains and his voice cracks to deliver the lines. “The loss in my life, is a chasm I take into town. And I don’t want to close it. Look at me. Death is real.”
Elverum comes to Portland twice in April, the first time on Monday, April 11 at Mississippi Studios and the second for Amp Fest at Portland State on April 27. From preliminary set lists it appears that the new album will be played in its entirety, book-ended by some new material. For those who missed the chance to see him at Mississippi Studios (the show is sold out), there is at least some respite, though the material, combined with the comforting confines of one of the best rooms in Portland, will mean that there will not be a single dry eye in the house next Monday.
Opener Lori Goldston is not to be missed, a cellist of remarkable talent and experience. For those who are unfamiliar, she has tons of PNW cred as one of the performers on Nirvana‘s MTV: Unplugged In New York as well as a member and touring bassist for Earth. Fans of The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull will instantly recognize the juxtaposition between sharp stabs and thick, droning textures and all the emotions that can be generated in-between.