Matt's Music Corner: Mount Eerie Tackles Grief and Skrillex's Tour Bus on 'Now Only'
Despite the headline, I will not be talking about Mount Eerie’s new album “Now Only.” I will be talking about songs from the album, but not necessarily the album itself. Instead, I’m going to talk about my experience seeing Mount Eerie live a few months ago at Thalia Hall in Chicago.
A quick recap for those not aware, Mount Eerie is the musical project of Washington-based singer/songwriter Phil Elverum. He’s been making music since 1996, first under the name The Microphones before switching over to the Mount Eerie name in 2003. He was married to fellow musician and artist Geneviève Castrée until 2016, as in July of that year she passed away after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed just months after the birth of their daughter.
Castrée’s death has been the focal theme of Elverum’s music since her death, as last year’s “A Crow Looked at Me” saw him diving deep into his life after her death. The songs on that album are barely music, but more or less diary entries that get deeply, brutally honest. Up until the release of “Now Only,” there never really was an album like “A Crow Looked at Me.” It’s closest counterpart was Sun Kil Moon’s “Benji” (which Elverum has cited as an inspiration for his recent work), but “Benji” doesn’t really have a core concept outside its unique approach to songwriting, whereas “ACLAM” does in the death of Elverum’s wife.
So, on the night of Sep. 5, 2017 when I walked into Thalia Hall to see Mount Eerie, I was expecting a unique experience. And that I got, as I watched Elverum play several songs from “A Crow Looked at Me,” and then several unnamed songs that would later go on to be featured in “Now Only.” This separation in the setlist was very smartly done, as it was very obvious that these new songs were different than what we heard on “ACLAM.”
While these songs still see Elverum deep inside a very intense grief, he’s a bit more removed from his wife’s death, as his tales this time around are more long-winded, mundane, but still as compelling as ever. And also, there’s some humor in these new stories, as one of the songs, titled “Now Only,” details his experience playing a music festival in a desert outside of Phoenix “to play death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs.” He sings about talking to Father John Misty and Weyes Blood about songwriting, crying outside of Skrillex’s tour bus, and overconfident dudes in hot vans.
Additionally, these songs feel different in a simple, but hard to explain way: they’re actually songs. While on “ACLAM” it was obvious the lyrics came first before the music, that distinction wasn’t so clear on the new songs I heard back in September, as there was much more focus on the actual songwriting itself. While it still felt like the lyrics were the most important part, it did feel like we were seeing traces of Elverum’s previous work slipping back into view.
So what am I all trying to say here? Honestly, I don’t really know. All I can really tell you guys is that I went through a very unique experience at that concert. I cried quite a bit, I laughed a little, but I mostly just sat there in pure fascination of Phil Elverum. I knew so much about him, and he didn’t know a single thing about me. It was this dynamic that made meeting him after the concert so weird, as I tried to treat him as a normally as possible, buying a record from him and talking about Weyes Blood.
In a very short time, Phil Elverum’s art has made a very deep impact in my life, and I implore you all to explore his work. You can buy “Now Only” through his own label, P.W. Elverum & Sun, now: http://www.pwelverumandsun.com/store#mounteerie