Although I’ve never really noticed this before A Crow Looked at Me, Mount Eerie, a permutation of Phil Elverum’s original band The Microphones, has always really been a showcase of adjusting to one’s own self, as much as it has been adjusting to the world outside. On his last album, the fleetingly promising but often flaccid Pre-Human Ideas, the first song which actually had words was “No Inside, No Out,” which seems to reflect this obsessively introspective disposition Elverum has. He’s definitely somewhat of a loner, apparently, utilizing very little slang, persisting with themes of pastoral isolation musically, over and over. The sing-song tone he adopts is almost always awkward — that is to say, these songs might even be better utilized as spoken-work poetry. Musically, his production is typically pretty creative and fetching, an opinion corroborated pretty much across the board in the critical world, using thick organs, sampling, and warm, twangy guitar nicely pronounced, among other tactics.
Really, his main obstacle on A Crow Looked at Me is the same one it’s ever been for him — his thickly Caucasian Northwest drawl, which makes it almost impossible for him to speak, or sing, and attach himself to any sort of already existing rock music zeitgeist (for instance, Eric Earley’s cowboy yowl sort of benefits Blitzen Trapper’s work). Phil Elverum’s accent sounds like that of a chemistry professor and it’s almost as if he knows he has no chance of being legitimately “cool” in a traditional rock sense (perhaps even less chance than Jeff Mangum, in that right), so he sings about seaweed, fields of foxgloves and building houses, and it comes off as kitschy as you’d think it would, though ethereal and confident, at the same time.
The primary startling lyrical turn that A Crow Looked at Me takes from the rest of Elverum’s work would be the stark shift into personal folk — he details specific images of a newborn child and a deceased lover, and even offers the exact month and year for the vignette “Ravens” (which in no way reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe, just to be clear). Along with the opener’s song title “Read Death,” such unsettlingly exact depictions of these aromatic scenes grants A Crow Looked at Me an undeniable sense of urgency and poignance.
Sure, this album is obstinately mellow, even by Elverum’s standards. As far as I can gather, he’s the only musician on it, and the tactile outplay of the track “Forest Fire” was way more stylistically innocuous than I’d expected it, or hoped it, to be, given the mental images that title had originally conjured. The song does progress bountifully, though, into textural, clamoring piano, bulwarking the chord progression and steering things almost into percussion-less post-punk, which is to say lyrics of catastrophe and hopelessness buoying a stately, chipper major-chord progression. “I reject nature”, proclaims Elverum within this track. Talk about taking on the world.