Geneviéve Castree was an author, illustrator and musician (Woelv, Ô PAON) as well as a contributor to her husband, Phil Elverum’s band Mount Eerie. Her and Phil were married for thirteen years in which they created art in a kind of quiet personal bubble that only the two of them could enter. But shortly after the birth of their daughter in 2015 that bubble burst as Geneviéve was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
A GoFundMe was set up to help pay for her medical treatments, but only a little over a year after her diagnoses Geneviéve died leaving behind Phil and her daughter to pick up the pieces. For Phil this grief manifested itself in the newest release from his Mount Eerie project, A Crow Looked At Me, which details his life after Geneviéve died as well as their final months together. Across eleven tracks A Crow Looked At Me goes over every painful moment in heartbreaking detail, making for album that serves as a wonderful tribute to Geneviéve’s life.
Structured almost like a journal, the lyrics start only two months after Geneviéve’s death with the song, ‘Real Death’ which has Phil mulling over if he even wants to be making music about this:
“Death is real,
Someoness there and then they’re not,
And it’s not for singing about,
It’s not for making into art.”
In the end he claims he, “doesn’t want to learn anything from this” before declaring his love for his wife one final time. It’s a devastating opener, made all the more raw with its quaint piano and drum backing, but it feels true. That feeling is permeated throughout the album as Phil’s unflinching lyrics detail every brutal moment in those last months with Geneviéve.
On the next track ‘Seaweed’ Phil worries he’s starting to forget the tiny details about her as he can’t recall her favorite flowers or what kind of geese she admires most, while ‘Toothbrush/Trash’ has Phil seeing his wife in every tissue she left behind. Album highlight ‘Ravens’ details the final days of Geneviéve’s life as well as the plans she and Phil had to move to a nearby island after their daughter was born.
And when Phil brings his daughter into the songs things begin to feel even tougher, like on the song ‘Swim’ which has this lovely passage:
“Today our daughter asked me if mama swims?
And I told her, “Yes she does,
and that’s probably all she does now.”
His daughter returns on album closer, ‘Crow’ which is one of the few tracks to offer up any kind of light as she falls asleep on a trip with Phil in the woods shortly after Geneviéve’s death. If there is one thing tethering this album to the Earth it’s her and Phil’s undying love for their late mother and wife.
In fact for as much as A Crow Looked At Me is about despair it’s equally an album bursting with love. That might be hard to pick up on at first, but it’s through that pain that you can tell that Geneviéve and his daughter, mean everything to Phil. I keep returning to the song ‘Soria Moria’ in which Phil talks about meeting Geneviéve for the first time; “it didn’t matter where we lived as long as we were together.”
In every word spoken and every note played you can hear how much Geneviéve mattered. For Phil Elverum music is the way to cope with such a loss, and while this album might be very difficult for people to listen to, it’s a very important one. So if you think you’re ready for it, I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
A Crow Looked At Me is out now on P. W. Elverum & Sun.