Phil Elverum's wife, artist Geneviève Castrée, died of pancreatic cancer in July 2016, leaving Elverum with the couple's 18-month-old daughter and an otherwise empty house. Two months later, the indie rock musician, who uses the moniker Mount Eerie and was once the man behind the band the Microphones, picked up his wife's instruments and recorded an album in the room where she died.
Elverum's work has always been brooding and experimental and difficult. A Crow Looked At Me is at once an insane magnification of his past work and a significant departure. You can hardly call it an album at all—it feels more like capital-A Art, or a sonic diary, or a grief workbook. It's beautiful but hard to listen to, loving but at times completely hopeless, heartening and heartbreaking.
Elverum seems to be dealing with his wife's death in real time, and the album is filled with emotionally wrenching moments: A package arriving from his wife, after her death, containing a backpack for their daughter. Elverum throwing away his wife's underwear. The couple's grief counselor dying just two months after Castrée, leaving Elverum peeking into the dark windows of her office.
This album is not about finding joy or acceptance or peace. It's simply about losing a loved one. As he sings on the opening track, "Death is real/Someone's there and then they're not/It's not for singing about/It's not for making into art." It's a disclaimer, perhaps, for the raw, painful 41 minutes to come. But it's also untrue: Elverum has made a striking piece of art, just by sharing his experience and his love for his wife and his daughter.