Phil Elverum and his wife’s passing

An elegant, desperately sad piece by Jayson Greene in Pitchfork about Phil Elverum (The Microphones, Mt. Eerie) and his wife Geneviève’s death from cancer last year.

On the effect of the disease on their mutual creative outlook:

The sickness cast a similar pall on Geneviève’s creative urges. “When she lived, our house was very much taken over by both of our projects all the time,” Elverum says. “Neither of us had real jobs, so we just stayed up late and spread our crazy art things all over the place. But when she got sick, it all seemed so shallow all of a sudden. She didn’t care so much about her previously sacred practice of drawing all those hours. Music and art was very far from our minds for the past couple years. It still is. This new album is barely music. It’s just me speaking her name out loud, her memory.”

Elverum began writing and recording only two months after she passed away in their house. His work is traditionally hushed and introspective—albeit often punctuated with extreme noise—and his new work, unsurprisingly, continues in this vein:

The resulting album, A Crow Looked at Me, sounds like an Elverum work. The music is low and murmuring. His voice is hushed and conversational. The theme of impermanence can still be felt. But the difference between this album and everything else he’s done is the difference between charting a voyage around the earth and undertaking it. It is a profoundly detailed dispatch from grief’s rawest place—the moments still inside the blast radius, when your ears are ringing and you feel the shock of mortification slowly spreading to new corners of your existence every day.

Unlike many works about grief, though, there is no glance towards redemptive larger meaning, which makes it all the more bracing. “Your absence is a scream saying nothing,” Elverum sings on a song called “Emptiness Pt. 2,” drawing the word “scream” out until it is a more like an ambient hum, the buzz of a newly barren existence. Listening to it is like pressing your hand against ice and leaving it there.

On Elverum’s new life with his two-year-old daughter:

“My default mode right now is to throw open the doors and windows. I don’t know where to draw the line. Even just having you here, upstairs, showing you Geneviève’s journals: Is that over a line? But that’s how the songs are written, too: ‘Here’s everything. Look in here. Look at me. Death is real.’”

“My daughter is like a tether back to the functional world, and I’m aware of how helpful that is,” he says. “I have to cut up the broccoli; I can’t be weeping. And yet, sometimes I am weeping, and she’ll come up to me and say, ‘Papa crying!’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’m crying right now, I’m sad. It’s fine.’ And she laughs and goes back to her Legos.” With that, he heads upstairs and goes to sleep. He needs a full night’s rest, because tomorrow is another full day.

I’m yet to listen to the new album (if this were a Kottke post, it’d be tagged with ‘crying at work‘). Some of Elverum’s earlier work had a pronounced emotional effect on the younger me, particularly the album The Glow, Pt. 2:

Grief and trauma have always been themes in Elverum’s work. The lyrics of the song above stand out to me, some 10 years after first hearing them:

I could not get through September without a battle
I faced death
I went in with my arms swinging
But I heard my own breath
And I had to face that I’m still living
I’m still flesh
I hold on to awful feelings

My friend Kevin has the right idea: