In high school in Anacortes Washington in 1996 Phil Elverum started calling his tapes of self-recorded noise and songs "The Microphones". Since then he's produced two decades worth of records that span a wide spectrum from studio heavy atmospheric landscaping to simple raw songs.
The Microphones project was nourished by and located within the community of artists around K Records in Olympia in the late 90s/early 2000s, and Phil Elverum's musical ideas were clearly the product of the flood of independent music in the NW during those years.
After five albums the project was renamed Mount Eerie just as the Microphones were getting some unexpected attention from the widespread acclaim of "the Glow pt. 2" (2001). The Mount Eerie recordings got weirder and broader, and Elverum left K Records and began releasing everything himself, ultimately building a self-contained small town operation in Anacortes called P.W. Elverum & Sun. Radical self-sufficiency has been a theme and obsession; all all ages shows and never though a manager or booking agent, always self-recorded, hands on in all details.
Mount Eerie's albums have always aimed to push into new territory, both in sound and idea, but the thread of Elverum's voice has remained constant throughout, soft and human amid the wide range of textures and worlds. Often the lyrics have attempted to grapple with big questions, the briefness and the smallness of human life being a running theme. On occasion the music has been called "black metal" ("Wind's Poem," 2009), "dream landscape" ("Clear Moon," 2012), and "raw and direct" ("Lost Wisdom," 2008).
The new album, "A Crow Looked At Me", sounds closer to the latter; minimal instrumentation, no production, clear and heavy words right up front. The difference here is the subject matter. In 2015 Elverum's wife, the French Canadian cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée, was diagnosed with a bad cancer just after giving birth to their first child. She died a year later. Elverum wrote and recored the album throughout the fall of 2016 in the same room where Geneviève died, using mostly her instruments; her guitar, her bass, her pick, her amp, her old family accordion, writing the words on her paper.
The songs are about the brutal details of that experience, from the hospitalizations to the grieving, the specific domestic banalities that become existential in the context of such huge and abrupt loss. These songs are not fun. They are pretty and they are deep, and they find a love that prevails beneath the overwhelming and real sorrow. It is unlike anything else in the Mount Eerie catalog in its unvarnished expressions of personal grief, metaphor-free.
The writing draws inspiration from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Julie Doiron, Gary Snyder, Sun Kil Moon, and Joanne Kyger (whose poem "Night Palace" is on the album's cover). The sound was influenced by the spare production of the 1996 Will Oldham album "Arise Therefore".