An epilogue to A Crow Looked at Me — Phil Elverum’s devastated tribute to his late wife Geneviève Castrée — Now Only contains six sprawling reflections on his new life as a widowed single father.
April 10, 2018 | by Dan Alvarez
P.W. Elverum & Sun
After the shock wears off, after the arraignments are made, the eulogy is delivered, and the family and friends go home. After you start getting back to your life, then it sets in. The understanding that she’s gone and not coming back. And as weird as it seems, your life must continue without her.
That’s what Now Only is about. An epilogue to A Crow Looked at Me — Phil Elverum’s devastated tribute to his late wife Geneviève Castrée — the disc contains six sprawling reflections on his new life as a widowed single father. Alone, he chronicles raising their young daughter on his own, carrying on Castrée’s legacy, and singing “death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs” at festivals with Skrillex and Father John Misty. Where 2017's Crow was embedded journalism reporting live from the frontline of an unimaginable tragedy, Now Only is the story of the early days of a massive rebuilding effort.
We don’t know exactly when he started writing these songs, but they feel further away from the tragedy than those of their predecessor. Of course, all roads still lead back to Castrée, but there’s more balance between reportage and analysis here. Tracks like “Earth” and “Crow, Pt. 2” maintain his commitment to truth in its starkest, most unsettling form (“You don't even have a dead body anymore, it was taken away”). But Elverum occasionally allows his thoughts to drift to metaphors about neo-romantic Norwegian painters, youthful pregnancy scares, and documentaries about Jack Kerouac. And as certain as he is that there’s no deeper meaning to find here, he can’t help but uncover insight about the way we remember the ones we love and how we carry them around long after their gone.
Though the lyrical shift is subtle, musically the difference is clear. The arrangements are fuller and less utilitarian here — the songs are no longer just conduits to deliver hard truths. From the distorted power chords and crashing drums of “Earth” to the swelling, affecting beds of clean guitar in “Two Paintings by Nikolai Astrup,” the sonic versatility and engaging songwriting provides a welcome reprieve from the painful subject matter, making the disc an easier listen than its predecessor.
Perhaps, that’s the reason why Elverum’s recent setlists have tended to favor songs from Now Only. I wonder if the rambling asides, pretty melodies, and sweet memories of reading Tintin with his wife are offering him some nightly relief from the brutal reality that he dutifully chronicled on A Crow Looked At Me. Maybe not, but I sincerely hope they are.
Listen to Now Only in its entirety