Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mount Eerie

  • A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2017] A
  • Now Only [P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2018] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

A Crow Looked at Me [P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2017]
It's essential and not all that difficult to distinguish the persona who sings the song from the person who created both the song and the persona. And then there's this, which begins with a very biographical version of gently depressive Puget Sounder Phil Elverum shakily observing: "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." The someone is Elverum's wife of 13 years, ghosted away from her sickroom by cancer exactly a week before the song was recorded. It's so spare and bleak that it took me a lot longer than a week to notice that Elverum had laid a forthrightly bassy thrum underneath his finger-brushed acoustic guitar, arting death up after all. But what choice did he have if he hoped to expiate the grief that consumed him? And given that, what can it mean when he ends the same song: "I don't want to learn anything from this. I love you." Such autobiographical conundrums are one of this album's achievements whether Elverum is in control of them or not. But they're obliterated by the immediacy and detail of his loss, of his living yet inexorably transmuting love for his dead wife, of their living baby daughter, of the modest domestic arrangements he can hardly bear to recall. Brutal to listen to for all its quiet. Like nothing I've ever heard. A

Now Only [P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2018]
Because you only die once, and also because nothing is as perfect as death, there's no way Phil Elverum can reaccess the stark perfection of A Crow Looked at Me. So at first only his enthralled recollection of his ecstatic and in retrospect doomed first days with Geneviève holds up against the living memory of his death album. But you have to admire the no-fuss complexities of his survival album--in particular his realization that it isn't just the artist's body that can't survive, it's the artist's body of work. Just as admirable is how unironic he is about the time Skrillex's subwoofers were juxtaposed against his frail humanity, and I quote, "At a festival that had paid to fly me in / To play these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs." About what a shitty father Jack Kerouac was. About how cute and smart his and Geneviève's sweet kid is. About how doomed she is too. A