Mount Eerie’s “Now Only” confronts personal tragedy with dry yet remarkably vivid lyrics.
Performing under the moniker “Mount Eerie,” singer and producer Phil Elverum breathes humanity into his lyrics, evoking a tone of sincerity and thoughtfulness unrivaled by most contemporary musicians. Conjuring compelling memories of love and grief alike, Elverum sings to his late wife, Geneviève Elverum, nearly two years after her death from pancreatic cancer.
Elverum’s previous album, “A Crow Looked at Me,” chronicled his immediate mourning process, but on “Now Only,” he contemplates how his memories of Geneviève fit into his current life, crafting remarkably vivid and evocative imagery in the process.
The six-song album is mostly comprised of Elverum’s waning acoustic guitar and soft-spoken lyrics, but the occasional piano, drum line and electric guitar sneak onto the record as well. Fittingly, the song “Distortion” features a distorted electric guitar which lends a heavy atmospheric tone to the nearly 11-minute track.
While the tone of the previous album was consistent throughout, “Now Only” experiments with layers of sound and varying rhythms. However, Elverum never quite approaches the level of instrumental complexity of his early discography, opting instead for powerful and moving lyrical imagery.
The opening track, “Tintin in Tibet,” sounds like a continuation of Elverum’s previous album, flashing between his memories and his present grief. The song recalls a fond memory of a trip with Geneviève on Meares Island in Canada, where Elverum and his wife fell in love while reading a “Tintin” book on the rocks together. Throughout the song, he repeats “I sing to you”, making the lyrics feel more personal, as if the listener is hearing a private message from Elverum to his wife.
On “Distortion,” Elverum wonders if he ought to re-enact Geneviève’s life for their daughter, and if so, how to approach the daunting task. In the following verses, Elverum chronicles impactful events in his life before concluding that his memories, along with Geneviève’s and his daughter’s, will eventually fade into distortion.
Elverum’s realization may sound somber and bleak, but the track ends with Elverum crooning, “in my tears right now, light gleams,” while his repetitive picking pattern fades out. The simple yet arresting lyrics paint a hopeful picture of Elverum and his daughter’s future, however temporary it may be.
On the title track, “Now Only,” Elverum introduces an unlikely yet charming melody for the chorus. The lyrics join an upbeat guitar riff, drum line and piano, speaking to the fact that everyone passes away at some point. The uncharacteristically hopeful tone feels as though Elverum is forcing closure upon himself, and succeeds in pulling the listener into Elverum’s state of mind.
Between the choruses, he slows down to his usual tempo to recall his experience flying to a Phoenix music festival last year “to play death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs.” Elverum’s description of the music festival is profound yet unadorned, accentuating the quiet absurdity of the situation.
The powerful electric opening on “Earth” feels disorienting after the quiet contemplative end of “Now Only,” and the subject matter evokes a similar reaction. In unabashed and nearly disturbing detail, Elverum describes his experience spreading Geneviève’s ashes, singing “compost and memory, there’s nothing else” over incessant guitar strumming and a muted sample from a heavy metal track.
The album incorporates more abstract poetic elements with “Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup,” a 10-minute track that maintains a quiet intensity from beginning to end. Throughout the song, Elverum describes the paintings in exceptional detail, and finds within them, as in most things, a poignant allegory for his present catastrophe.
The album ends with a sequel to the last track on “A Crow Looked at Me” entitled “Crow, pt. 2,” a song where Elverum seems to find some closure in regard to his wife’s absence. On “Crow, pt. 2,” Elverum showcases a cadence in his words that is noticeably absent on previous songs, and serves as a welcome repose from the usual agitated rhythm.
While previous songs grappled with the difficulties of a world that keeps spinning after tragedy, Elverum discovers a strange solace in the procedural parts of life with his daughter. He sings clearly and swiftly, “talking about school, making food, just surviving and still containing love,” before describing his morning habits in detail and alternating between high and low chords on his guitar.
The vivid imagery on the album drags the listener into Elverum’s chaotic world, for better or worse. Although “Now Only” occasionally feels repetitive acoustically, Elverum’s lyrical proficiency and sincerity allow him to create a record that is both moving and insightful.