Album Review: “A Crow Looked At Me”

Photo Credit: Pitchfork

Paige Welch, Staff Writer |

“A Crow Looked At Me” is indie folk artist Mount Eerie’s latest album, released on March 24, 2017. Phil Elverum, the mastermind behind the project, is also known for his membership in The Microphones, an indie rock group formed in the midst of the 90’s. Today, Elverum only performs under the moniker Mount Eerie, the very same title of The Microphones’ 2003 album, their final studio release under that name.

Mount Eerie’s earlier releases, such as their debut album “No Flashlight,” have similar, electronically tinged acoustic rhythms, which are supported by Elverum’s deep and somber vocals. The lyrics function as a softening poetic aspect while deep bass and static fill the background. When listening to Mount Eerie’s antecedent works, I can’t help but compare them to the early music put out by Radiohead, though Mount Eerie has more distinguishable lyricism. One might even draw comparisons between Mount Eerie and the band Death Cab for Cutie in terms of voice and song concepts. Elverum’s songwriting deals a lot with the abstraction of death and the sadness of longing.

Yet “A Crow Looked At Me” is arguably one of the most heartbreaking records produced. It is the result of Elverum’s experimental nature while mourning the death of his wife from pancreatic cancer shortly after she gave birth to their daughter. He began to create music within her workspace, utilizing her own musical instruments and observing the feeling of a room once it is no longer occupied. This, in part, is what gives the record such an overwhelming cathartic feeling; the relatable knowledge that death is real and we will encounter it throughout life.

The first track, “Real Death,” is somewhat self-reflective. It opens: “Death is real/ Someone’s there and then they’re not/ and it’s not for singing about/ it’s not for making into art/ When real death enters the house all poetry is dumb.”

He criticizes how artists profit off the idea of death, though he is not excluding himself from that category.

Listening to the album straight through feels like listening to a momento mori, or a warning/reminder of death. “A Crow Looked At Me” is incredibly intimate; after the first song I felt deep emotions that music had not invoked in me in a very long time.

Elverum mentions specific dates in many of the songs, allowing the listener to enter his vivid memories of watching his wife die, which he reflects on with dark nostalgia. The emptiness of the spaces in his life, specifically in his home, manifests throughout these homemade recordings.

In the track “Ravens,” he explores nature, how it grows, and then decays.

“Surrounded by growth/ Nurse logs with layers of moss and life/ Beyond the cedars, the sound of water/ Thick salal/ And God-like huckleberries/ The ground absorbs and remakes whatever falls/ Nothing dies here/ But here is where I came to grieve/ To dive into it with you.”

Here, the lyrics combine seamlessly with the opening of the next track, “Forest Fires.” This song painfully visits cycles of life and seasons, as he “rejects nature” and watches time go by slowly, counting the days that she has been gone.

For fans of indie music, specifically experimental music that is heavy with beautiful lyricism, I recommend listening to “A Crow Looked At Me.” It is simultaneously soothing and heartbreaking. Be sure to have a box of tissues on hand while listening, because you never know when the tears will fall.

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