“Death is real,” Phil Elverum sang on the first song from his upcoming Mount Eerie album, A Crow Looked at Me. It’s a thought that occurs to him again in “Ravens.” “You were killed and I’m left living,” he sings. “Thinking about the things I’ll tell you/When you get back from wherever it is that you’ve gone.” But then it hits him: “I’m still here, and that’s it.”
While “Ravens,” like “Real Death,” is a love song for Elverum’s late wife, Genevieve, it’s also a song about memory and trauma—the ways we change, both physically and mentally, in the wake of unthinkable sadness. Elverum spends the song finding ways to rationalize his grief: methodically counting the days since his wife’s death, selling her clothes, apologizing for selling her clothes, moving out of their home, seeing her in dreams. Each lyric seems to snowball into another, like he’s just now saying them out loud for the first time.
Elverum makes no attempts to find metaphor or meaning; when he sees two ravens flying overhead, he knows it’s an omen, but he can’t say what for. On his earlier releases, a song passing the five-minute mark usually indicated an attempt to transcend our world entirely—from 2003’s “The Sun” to 2015’s “Spring.” Like an indie rock Dale Cooper, Elverum had a way of reminding us of the natural beauty of the world, navigating its darkness and making its mysteries a little clearer. Here, that presence seems light years away. In “Ravens,” you feel the destruction in Elverum’s every breath. It’s a seven-minute exploration of the horrors of this world: how real they are, how vast and inescapable.