By: Haley Huffman
The first time I listened to this album I was grocery shopping when I was reminded that everyone I love is going to die. I am going to die. We have this microscopic amount of time on this planet and here I am trying to figure out whether I want spaghetti or farfalle shaped noodles tonight.
Phil Elverum released this album on March 24, 2017. He is a Washington-based artist, and lost his wife/life partner and the mother of his child to pancreatic cancer last year on July 9, 2016. Her name was Geneviève and she was thirty-six years old. Their daughter had been born a year and a half before she died. On his Bandcamp he writes, “I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known… There is an echo of Geneviève that still rings, a reminder of the love and infinity beneath all of this obliteration. That’s why.”
The first track on this album starts by Elverum singing, “Death is real.” It’s not poetic or artistic; it’s just this empty and cruel realization that you will never see that person you love again. After death all you have is this mess of memories that you’re trying to integrate into the present, while also knowing that each new day distances you farther from them. In the song “Seaweed,” he travels with their daughter to a place where they were planning to build a home. As he observes his surroundings he begins to question the possible significance or insignificance of it all. Wondering if she is there with them, he searches for clues and meaning and writes, “And what could anything mean in this crushing absurdity.” (Like the absurdity of finding your deceased partner’s toothbrush that still exists in the toothbrush holder after you come home from their funeral.)
The song “Forest Fire” expresses how unnatural letting go feels. His sobering feelings of grief, incomprehension, and loneliness are somewhat reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell. Elverum writes what it looks and feels like to persist after someone’s absence, while also trying to connect with this disquieting sense that there is no meaning to be found in loss. He held her when she had her last breath and then suddenly she no longer exists. This record makes you feel like you are a friend who just stopped by to bring over a casserole when you hear him playing her guitar upstairs in the now empty room that she used to sleep in.
Elverum writes in the song “Swims,” “We are all always so close to not existing at all.” It reminds me of Caden Cotard’s soliloquy in Synecdoche, New York when he says, “We’re all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we’re going to die, each of us secretly believing we won’t.” Patterns of human nature reveal throughout history how susceptible we are to desensitization and apathy. This album is remarkably intimate and has a sincere nature about it that nudges you in an uncomfortable but helpful way.