Last summer Québécois artist and musician Geneviève Castrée died of pancreatic cancer. Now her husband, Washington state musician Phil Elverum, known for work with indie band Microphones and under the moniker Mount Eerie, has released A Crow Looked at Me. The album is part musical project, part personal memoir; it chronicles Elverum’s experience with Castrée’s illness and death and raising the couple’s only child. The record is also one of the most shockingly ‘ever attempted by an artist, certainly in the medium of songwriting. If you’ve ever sat quietly with the cold blue flame of loss, and all of us have or will at some point, this is tough stuff to take. Like encountering a stranger on a crying jag, the raw emotion aggravates your own damage, and you want to help but you’re unsure how you avert your eyes and keep walking. The album’s advance single, “Ravens,” is delicately plucked, indie-folk acoustic guitar under Elverum’s trademark muttering singing voice and conversational melodies. “I watched you die in this room,” he sings. “Then I gave your clothes away — I’m sorry.” It’s hard to think of better words to express the shock experienced when a loved one passes, whether it’s unexpected or prepared for: a brutal vacuum left by a soul exiting the world, and a long to-do list to clean up what’s left behind. It’s not a new idea to say death is hardest on those who survive, and Elverum’s work paints this truth in stark, Northwestern colors. From the album’s leadoff track “Death is Real,” he sings: “Death is real, someone’s there and then they’re not/It’s not for singing about/It’s not for making into art.” In the middle of grief, it’s understandable Elverum feels this way. But sometimes in the face of inexplicable tragedy, making art is all you can do.
Mount Eerie plays with Lori Goldston 8 pm Tuesday, April 4 at WOW Hall; $13 advance, $15 door, all-ages.