An expression of love and loss
There’s an old cliché that says there’s a fine line between genius and madness. Phil Elverum doesn’t just tip-toe this line in Now Only; he struts with a melancholy confidence.
Now Only is the ninth album of Elverum’s solo project, Mount Eerie, and was released on March 16. The album was written and recorded over the course of nearly seven months from March 14 to October 9, 2017 in Elverum’s home in Anacortes, Washington. Similar to 2017’s A Crow Looked at Me, Elverum continues to create a cathartic expression of grief and remembrance for his departed wife Geneviève Castrée. The opening lines of the album heard on the slow and minimalist “Tintin in Tibet” are an emotional plea of “I sing to you / I sing to you / Geneviève.” The lyrics read like a confession and a remembrance of the first time they hung out together and embraced, the genesis of their relationship.
“Tintin in Tibet” starts off the album in a very slow and very minimal-sounding fashion. Like other tracks on the album, there are multiple tempo and instrument changes, such as going from fading guitar chords to melodic riffs on a classical guitar. The album as a whole seems similar to a coffee-house spoken-word jam with a heavy influence of avant-garde experimentalism. Each track explores musical structures and cadences in an effort to find reason and sanity.
“Distortion” begins with a very fuzzy, dense guitar chord that rings out full of noise and commotion. This transitions into a more classical guitar riff and speak-singing like on the previous song, with harmonies that are reminiscent of “The Boxer” from Simon and Garfunkel. It’s a very melancholic exploration of the thoughts of mortality, which Elverum refers to as “the final inescapable feral scream.” Elverum’s lyrics show that he has a narrator’s knowledge of his own life and feelings. Many great novelists couldn’t come up with the descriptive detail and empathetic mindsets he introduces to his listeners.
Whereas A Crow Looked at Me featured 11 songs of varying length, Now Only features only six, although the album extends to a longer length than its predecessor by roughly two minutes. The shortest song on the album clocks in at 4:37, with the longest journey extending two seconds shy of 11 minutes. While this can make the longer songs a bit of an exhaustive listen, each track feels like Elverum crams as much content into it as possible.
The whole album is a cloudy, still day, not exactly raining or dark, but just still and empty—one man shining a light in a universe that is now smaller and less meaningful to him. This is none more apparent than on “Earth,” which heavily focuses on Elverum fixating on the burial of his wife and laying her to rest, all while he has hallucinations of finding her bones in the ground. It’s arguably the darkest and most depressing song on Now Only, featuring lyrics like “I don’t want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to / But also I don’t want you to be gone.”
The album is a thoughtful exploration and a bearing of the soul. Elverum’s lyrics and delivery often sound like he is rambling, taking the listener on a journey of his thoughts, memories and feelings. But the poetry of his prose is heartbreakingly beautiful and a fitting tribute to a woman he obviously loved dearly. Not the happiest of listens, but a phenomenal work of art in of itself.