'Now Only' by Mount Eerie is a poignant meditation on grief, memory and mortality
Wednesday 21st March 2018 | David
In July 2016, Canadian musician and cartoonist Geneviève Castrée died from pancreatic cancer, survived by her daughter and her reclusive singer-songwriter husband Phil Elverum. In the months that followed, Elverum set about documenting his grief in a series of sparse, lo-fi recordings under the Mount Eerie name. The resulting album was A Crow Looked at Me, a stark, emotionally crushing vision of death that sought to drain this oft-romanticised subject of all poetry and whimsy.
Less than a year later, Elverum continues in this challenging vein with an album that moves beyond the initial shock of Castrée’s passing to capture the complex feelings that emerge as Elverum returns to the wider world and figures out where to go from here. Consequently, while Now Only may not be the devastating gut-punch that its predecessor was, it’s also a more layered, musically rich and accessible work that offers a little more optimism amidst the sorrow and confusion.
“To be still alive felt so absurd,” Elverum laments on the title track, summing up the ambivalent mood of a song that sees him performing next to Skrillex’s tour bus and jumping on the bed with Weyes Blood and Father John Misty in between surprisingly catchy choruses about the randomness of death. Elsewhere, like on the 10-minute ‘Distortion’, Elverum delves into his past, from his first time seeing a dead body at his great-grandfather’s funeral to a brief pregnancy scare with a former lover back in 2001 that caused him to momentarily reassess his place in the world.
But whether Elverum is singing about old relationships, a Jack Kerouac documentary he once saw on a plane or having breakfast with his young daughter, it all unfailingly comes back to his late wife. There is a central conflict in Now Only between the feeling of finding Castrée everywhere (his dreams, her music, his music, their own backyard…) and the belief that she is actually nowhere. It’s a deeply personal conundrum, yet its relevance is of cosmic proportions. Naturally, Now Only doesn’t offer any easy answers but to share in Elverum’s day-to-day life as he wrestles with the big questions is an experience that’s as warmly reassuring as it is heartbreaking.