Mount Eerie’s Now Only opens with the line “I sing to you / I sing to you, Geneviève,” as if it were a dedication in a book. As a hypnotic combination of guitar and muffled vocals follow, the lasting pain in artist and widower Phil Elverum, better known as Mount Eerie, is immediately felt. This latest tear-jerker makes a decisive statement about the effect of grief on those who remain after loved ones pass away — specifically, Elverum’s wife Geneviève Castrée.
Now Only is Elverum’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2017 album A Crow Looked at Me. Conceptualized and created in the days after his wife’s death, Now Only is a contemplative rock concept album that vocalizes Elverum’s immediate grief. Delivered with the same somber tone and barren soundscape as much of A Crow Looked at Me, Now Only explores its creator’s mind in the face of a deeply personal loss. Although marketed as a rock album, Now Only defies genre convention by sounding more like personal letters backed by soft guitar riffs rather than full-fledged music.
Standard components of songs include rhyme schemes, instrumentation and lyrical metaphor. Now Only is almost completely devoid of the three. Its straightforward tone and minimalist delivery underscore the deeply personal, sentimental lyrics that sound like letters to Castrée. Whereas some albums with similar subject matter — such as Arcade Fire’s Funeral — still stay true to the band’s established tone, Elverum’s albums after Castrée’s death do not feature the upbeat drum rhythms or electronic distortion his music is known for.
The central theme of Now Only is revelation. In the lead single “Distortion,” Elverum discusses life events from his childhood and young adulthood that shaped his conception of death. One story he retells within this 11-minute confessional is the existential crisis he experiences following a one-night stand with a woman while on tour. Elverum lucidly describes the possibility of disappointing his dead ancestors, losing his youthful exuberance and having his aspirations rendered futile by the anchor of parenthood.
Almost all of A Crow Looked at Me is backed up by extremely minimal, subdued instrumentation that takes a back seat to Elverum’s soul-crushing words. Now Only continues this theme, save for the unexpected rhythm that appears a minute into the title track. This “beat drop” is accompanied by the first line of the chorus, “But people get cancer and die.” This strange juxtaposition reads and sounds like Elverum’s acceptance of his wife’s passing through song.
Where A Crow Looked at Me painted Elverum as desolate and hopeless, Now Only depicts him as a widower whose life continues to move forward as he raises the daughter he had with Castrée. Still, he centralizes his thoughts and feelings around his late wife in a beautifully poetic way, such as on “Crow, Pt. 2” — “We were skeletally intertwined once / But now I notice ravens instead / I don’t see you anywhere.”
In fact, each of the six songs in Now Only addresses Castrée directly. The lyrics read like direct conversations between Elverum and his late wife, although they are delivered entirely from his perspective. The subject matter of these sonic letters includes his actions after Castrée passing — ”I went and wrote a check / And got a cardboard box full of your ashes / And a little plastic bag with your necklace / And I drove back home truly alone”. These lines from “Earth” are a standout example of Elverum’s idiosyncratic style, and it works here to great effect. From the beginning of the album to its closing, the artist creates an atmosphere of transparency. Elverum is unafraid to stray away from any topic regarding his wife’s death and his life after the fact.
Like its predecessor, Now Only is not a conventionally listenable or replayable album. Its songs are not easy to digest — although the lyrics are simple, they coalesce to create a picture of Elverum as an incredibly reflective man since Castrée’s passing. The result is a poignant work of art that touches the heart with an honest, undisguised feeling that is not easily found in contemporary music. With Now Only, Mount Eerie continues to develop a woefully brilliant emotional palette while maintaining a living reminder of Elverum’s muse.