Mount Eerie is touring for the first time since he lost his wife to cancer. His painfully direct new album, “A Crow Looked at Me,” offers no easy conclusions.
In early 2015, musician Phil Elverum and his wife, the artist and illustrator Geneviéve Castrée, had their first child, a daughter. Five months later, Castrée was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. In July 2016, she died at the couple’s home in Anacortes.
Now Elverum, who makes music under the name Mount Eerie, is touring for the first time since her death and will play the Neptune Theatre on Wednesday, April 19.
Elverum wrote a new album, “A Crow Looked at Me,” in the months that followed Castrée’s death and recorded it with her instruments in the room where she died. The arrangements are sparse, the lyrics painfully direct. It’s as much spoken-word poetry or an auditory diary as it is a collection of songs.
8 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $16.50 (ticketmaster.com)
There’s recently been what seems like an unusual number of death-centered albums by celebrated songwriters. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, two of the most famous musicians to die last year, both released albums that acknowledged their fate. Sufjan Stevens and Sun Kil Moon have in recent years put out stark material focused on the deaths of loved ones.
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“A Crow Looked at Me,” however, is unique in how plainly it explores grief and whether art can play a role in learning to live with it. Can music do justice to memory of a loved one? Should it even attempt to? From the album’s opening lines, Elverum is conflicted: “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.”
Elverum has been a fixture in the Northwest’s DIY music community — particularly in Anacortes, his longtime residence — for two decades. His output has been prolific and wide-ranging, from homespun folk balladry to noisy, droning reveries that border on black metal. Both are present on “The Glow Pt. 2,” the album he released as The Microphones in 2001 that’s widely considered a Pacific Northwest indie-rock classic.
In contrast to his sprawling past work, the smaller scale of Elverum’s new songs emphasize intimate details: the delivery of a package Geneviève ordered before her death, the guilt he felt upon giving away her clothes, his daughter asking if her mother can swim. There are no easy conclusions or larger meanings; life goes on, defined by his wife’s absence.
When Elverum debuted these songs live in January at a small record store in Anacortes, the crowd was moved to tears. In a large room, playing such personal songs to hundreds of people, the effect will be devastating. It could also be cathartic — a very public way for Elverum to share and remember. As he put it in a recent interview to Pitchfork, “This new album is barely music. It’s just me speaking her name out loud, her memory.”