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Early in the new year, Phil Elverum pledged his return: “I will re-enter the world and go on tour and everything,” he wrote, promising fans attempting to squeeze into a small show intended only for fifty that he’d be around. “You will have a million opportunities to see me play.” The pronouncement was significant: Last July, Elverum’s wife and close collaborator, Geneviève, died after being diagnosed with cancer. The long-prolific Elverum was now a single father to their one-year-old daughter. He had bigger concerns than the Mount Eerie catalogue.
But on the first song from his forthcoming Mount Eerie album—the sweetly sung but raw nerved “Real Death”—he deals unapologetically and unflinchingly with her death and his life after. Elverum seems to be jotting down the observations that arrived in the days and weeks after Geneviève’s death: the emptiness of a room she once occupied or the occasional failure of his mental and physical faculties. In one of the most devastating moments you’ll ever hear on tape, Elverum checks the mail to find a gift Geneviève ordered for their daughter before she died—a school backpack, which she won’t use for years to come. “You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you, though you clawed at the cliff,” he sings. You can picture the moment through his words, but—in his voice, clinched and anxious—you feel it.
A few lines into “Real Death,” Elverum even scorns the song itself—the act of writing, singing, recording, and releasing music about death and the voyeuristic morbidity the process entails: “It’s not for singing about,” he offers. “It’s not for making into art.” “Real Death” is a private confession gone public, a signal sent out in hopes of finding support and comfort in a world full of people that have dealt before with pain that’s so fresh to him. It’s mourning, broadcast as a means of necessary connection.Share