Mount Eerie, Now Only
Mount Eerie, Now Only
John Fisher, September 8, 2018
I sit here with writer’s block trying to get this review started, and I feel a bit of pressure to make sure this album review is not about me. I want to write about how this album struck me too, so I’ll do my best to find the right balance. Focusing on one album per month forces a deeper dive in an era where new music is so readily available. I’m happy to see that the full length album has not gone away as an expression of art. This year I’ve been forced to go outside of my foundation of bands to find the right album each month, and as a result I have found many new bands I had never heard, Mount Eerie being one of them. I’ll cheat sometimes and Google the highest rated album reviews across genres when I need to go on a search. Now Only kept coming up as a critical album so I gave it a shot. I guess you could call it indie or folk, but I think Now Only may deserve its own genre.
This album is a continuation of A Crow Looked at Me by Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie). Now Only is an autobiographical album that picks up where ACLAM left off, addressing Phil’s grief in losing his wife unexpectedly to cancer, Genevieve Castree, four months after their daughter was born. Having a young daughter myself, this album floored me. Genevieve Castree was a successful illustrator, writer, musician, and artist, and I felt in order to do this review right, I needed to see some of her work. I bought A Bubble and Susceptible. My dog Cody ate the cover off Susceptible but I look forward to reading it (other than the cover missing, everything is still in place, but damn it Cody, stop eating all my shit). I’ve read A Bubble to my daughter Claire many times before bed and although Claire does not know the story behind it, she likes when I read her the book and loves the illustrations. I hope she will come to appreciate the real life story behind it when she gets a little older.
Phil Elverum does not hold back in communicating his innermost thoughts about the loss of his wife and the challenge in raising his young daughter alone without the woman he loved. I have never before been able to read such devastating and personal lyrics related to another person’s real life loss. This album does not strike me as one that would likely be played in a group with your friends. Now Only is best listened to alone with careful attention to the lyrics. “Tintin in Tibet” has a crushing lyrical finish where my own introspective thoughts tend to replace the music when the song ends. My reaction to his songs is a sort of deadpan astonishment. I have noticed that when I listen to this album, a certain calm and kindness can replace the unrelenting daily pressures of life for a few minutes. It is a nice escape when in the right mood. Phil Elverum is a talented lyricist. His command of the language is beyond impressive, and I am happy to see that such a talented writer is an equally talented musician.
“Distortion” opens with three thunderous electric guitar riffs fading away to Phil’s gifted lyricism paired with acoustic guitar. It sounds like Phil created a thunderstorm for us. I look forward to one day sitting on a porch drinking coffee on a rainy day in Portland and zoning out to this song. Phil’s lyrics discuss his perspective on death as a kid, a pregnancy scare he had in his early 20s on a one-night stand, and the fear of giving up the “independence and solitude” that defined him then. Another thunderous guitar riff segues the change in the lyrical subject matter to the recent past, with simple and pleasant piano notes adding to the familiar acoustic guitar that remains consistent throughout the song. Phil fast forwards 11 years to reflect on his own thoughts on a flight from New Zealand to Australia after his wife had died. He crushingly reflects in the next verse the final moments holding his wife in his arms. The reality of that moment puts the listener in the room with Phil. And he ends the song with a line revealing a potential for moving on with his life, where he sings… “but in my tears, light gleams.”
The song “Now Only” will be remembered for that warm and pleasant guitar riff at both the start and finish. The song transitions from that riff in the beginning to an almost comical chorus (in the sense that the lyrics do not match the upbeat music), but rightfully done. It is a great song and uniquely creative. A heavy emotional part follows the chorus (repeated twice). At the end of the second pass through, that warm and pleasant guitar riff reappears for a memorable ending.
“Earth” almost has a sort of black metal feel (it’s not black metal), and Phil even references the black metal band, Wolves in The Throne Room, with a brief recording of one of their songs in the background toward the end. His transitions in this song are pretty somber and enduring, in particular the riff paired with the line “everybody who used to know us…seems concerned” and again when he says “I saw actual chunks of your bones, bleached and weathered.” The finish to this song (right after Wolves in the Throne Room in the background) had a lyrical theme that reminded me of the lyrics to Deafheaven’s “Gifts for the Earth.” It is sad that Phil’s song describes his desire to be reunited with his wife. Words don’t do this song justice but it is a standout on the album for me.
I’ll briefly describe the last two songs for length’s sake. “Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup” connects two paintings by artist Nikolai Astrup to Phil’s memories of his wife, and Phil’s reality of having to move on alone as a father to their young daughter. “That’s why I’m not waiting around anymore” provides a tinge of inspiration to the listener, and to me may allude to Phil being able to move past his grief. Phil is connecting foxgloves springing up in the painting to where he will build his future house, alone, and ends the song with “now you will recede into the paintings.”
The song “A Crow pt. 2” painfully describes Phil’s daily routine of life without Genevieve, as he sees her everywhere. The ending is sublime. At times, it can be tough to dive into this record, as these lyrics are real. It’s an astonishing finish to a one-of a-kind, essential album.
The final verse appears like this in the lyric sheet:
in the branches
I will go out beneath
and run my fingers through the air
touching your last breath,
reaching through to the world of the gone
with my hand empty.”