Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

What came before is absolute history. It is defined by an ending.


92f1582013383cd1dfa259fa86468a10.1000x1000x1 Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked At Me
P.W. Elverum & Sun

I’m not even sure I am fully prepared to talk about this album, but this story is all I can think about lately. In the wake and waves of so much tragedy, horror, terrifying prospects that linger on the horizon it is Phil Elverum’s story of loss and the attempt to move on from that loss that hangs over my head. I seem too, unable to move forward, because here in an album, Elverum captures the exact fear of trying to use the tools we know best to cope and still finding it too difficult. A Crow Looked at Me asks that question, when the motions for getting through this life become so bare and honest, what else do we do to move fowrad?

Last year, master musician Nick Cave dropped Skeleton Tree which contained his misery and longing about loss and relationships not just in the wake of that loss but leading up to that loss. I remember walking under a bridge, graffiti covered and filled with the remnants of vagrancy – empty beer cans, needles, discarded clothes too worn away and dirty – where that album really hit me. I sought a place of solitude to deal with it. I returned to a similar space with A Crow Looked at Me, driving my car north towards Taos. Halfway between Espanola and my destination, I pulled to the side of the road. I placed the vehicle in park, rolled down the windows and sat in the rear, hatchback open. The sun was trying to warm the atmosphere. Looking at the waters of the Rio Grande and eating a lukewarm cup of soup I listened. But for the sound of a few cars passing and the waters flowing away from me, I was alone with Phil and his loss.

When musicians and artists tackle death they often try to make it more poetic and violent than it often is. But nothing in the lyrics of the songs contained within are anything less than stark, honest and straight forward. They are not formed to fit pretty melodies or personify some kind of meaning or mataphor. Instead they are the musings of a person left to live in the despair of losing what they loved. Here, Elvurum’s child seems to pull at his shirt tail, asking him questions, snapping him into a reality he’s so absorbed in that he’s lost. He remembers the birds, the birds all around him that speak to him as omens, as fortune tellers, as creatures that commune with the dead. Ravens and crows sit and watch him work, haunt his daughter’s dreams, show him of a future he will never have, remind him of his wife who is no longer there.

Elvurum takes us through his life, plain and simple. Every moment is a reminder of her, his wife, his lover, the mother of their new child. It’s hard to imagine that this album came with thought and purpose, because the actions and words are almost mundane and resigned. Rather, it feels like this just came to be, through the purpose of motion, the same inertia that propels his mourning life to go on.

I feel extremely guilty too. When art is this striking, it’s only natural to want to explore more work by the creator. But here, with this stark album about death, this absolute truth, what else could exist outside it? Elvurum has a long, well-regarded career and I am sure his music and poetry and art is stunning. But what could reach these levels, for this is a world he’s only lived once and will now live forever? This is not a starting point, at least not yet. What came before is absolute history. It is defined by an ending. Only what comes next seems relevant, but the possibility of what that could be is no more clear than the end of life that gave us such a beautiful coping mechanism.

Dark Brooding Sexy Violence

Grinderman 2

Back in 1994, I wasn’t cool. I was 17 and didn’t know shit about the world. I knew I grew up in some bored paradise, had access to some cool shit, but had a feeling there was a much more dangerous and exciting world out there. That summer, I saw something at a field in West Virginia with thousands of suburbanite white people a lot like me. Before my eyes was a skinny, heroin sheik Nick Cave and his mighty Bad Seeds creating a terrible and caustic sound parade. It was pretty fucking incredible. People don’t give Lollapaloza it’s due, but that specific year introduced so many kids to Cave and George Clinton, that it’s influence can not be understated or written off.

Let Love In came out in 1994 and it’s been one of my consistent favorites from the decade. Oddly enough it did not promote me to delve into much other Nick Cave since. Not surprising, the man had a solo career ten years in the making at that point and had been a snarling rocker for ten years previous to that. That’s a legacy even then that’s pretty dense. Since then, I have kept tabs on his career. Cave and Co are fairly prolific, mostly because they don’t do long, extensive US tours like many artists which lends time for creation. I love the music that Cave and the Seeds have made, but I am not a completest, not yet anyway.

Because of this, I skipped Grinderman in 2007. Lots of music comes out and it’s impossible, no matter how much a junky wants to, to inject all of the aural candy that’s produced and created. But three years later, Grinderman have unleashed 2 upon the world and for whatever kinetic energy produced, I gave it a listen. While the other pundits and professionals seem surprised of the energy, recalling The Birthday Party, the Pre-Bad Seeds band of Cave’s youth, I can’t comment. I’ve never heard The Birthday Party. So this call to arms of a more stripped down version of Cave’s work sort of doesn’t really do it for me. It still sounds just like a Nick Cave album to me. You could plop this sucker into any part of his career since 1994 as far as I am concerned and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. It’s sounds like Nick Cave singing, feels like songs he would and could write and is pretty much awesome as anything I have ever heard.

Yes, we’ve got some gritty bass, and Jim Sclavunos is killing the drums like a man possessed.  And sure, the guitar parts are not nearly as refined and sexy as when Blixa Bargeld was cracking out the electric bends and breaks. It’s unrefined and unencumbered sure, but the vivid memories I have of that one live set over 15 years from this very moment come blazing back. I would argue that the difference between the Bad Seeds and Grinderman is not a difference in approach but allowing the energy of creation to be sustained through the writing and recording process.

The first half of the album is a blow out of chaos and tripped out shit. “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” pretty much sticks you in the face with a left hook and then spits on you while yr realing from the sucker punch. It’s got that wild west feel you know and love. The album then de-evolves into more sonic violence with a kick to the shins in “Worm Tamer” and the sexy fuck “When My Baby Comes”.

Right in the center of the album is “What I Know,” a back porch, late night sexy ballad. A consistent kick drop stomp anchors the sunburnt crackles of guitar as Cave croons sexily over the spacious sounds. There is nothing raucous or heroic or hedonistic about this song. It’s a quiet moment that splits up the fray and maybe one of the sweetest laments Cave has ever penned, despite it’s predatory demands at the end.

The second half is gross old guy sex with “Kitchenette” where Cave attempts to lure a post-cougar house frou into his den of inquity. Yet the anxiety of her everyday life throws him off his stride and he can’t really relax and get down to give the WAG the snake. Slightly defeated, 2 winds down with  the contextually apropo, Rolling Stones-eque “Palaces of Montezuma”. The album starts off strong and roaring and settles into the sunset with two slow numbers that settles all the kicked up shit and dust nicely. Maybe it’s not a peacful resolution, but the frustration is settled none the less.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are more dark and brooding where as the “Grinderman” are more angry and violent. But really this isn’t all that surprising as depresion often gives birth to anger and the wallowing in self pity eventually manifests itself into some outward, destructive expression. Cave and co, however have decided to take it out on the world rather than internalize it like so many piss poor emo hipster shitheads that have polluted the internet and thus young, impressionable minds. Almost 40 years in the game, Cave is a master of stage and sound. His themes never really sway that far from the core, but it never gets old or boring. Grinderman is just a label, this is classic Cave music, there is no doubt about that.