by Ryan Bollenbach (@SilentAsIAm)
(After) is a live recording of a performance between the release of Mount Eerie's previous two albums, the first, A Crow Looked At Me, an album-length elegy recounting the time surrounding the passing of his wife Geneviève Castrée, and the subsequent Now Only, which hits more as a collection of vignettes and meditations about his life with his wife before, during, and after his time with her.
Though my favorite Mount Eerie songs are the most maximal and noisy, or aggressively minimal (the metal-heavy multi-minute organ intro from "Sauna" comes to mind), I was on board for the change in sound for these new albums when they came out. There is an accessibility in the more conventional song structures and (relatively) sparse instrumentation that complements the intensity of the occasion and the uncompromising specificity of Elverum's lyrics. As soon as the first song in (After) started playing and I correctly guessed that this would be a recording of still more stripped-down versions of these songs played on an acoustic guitar, I was a little worried about what the live format would add to these songs, especially songs that were already recorded with performances permeated by a specific kind of love, so devoted to an almost incantatory kind of mourning.
One of the earliest lines in the opening song "Real Death" struck me (just as they did the first time I heard them opening the studio album): "When real death enters the house all poetry is dumb." If these songs are Elverum's poetry, my concern seemed echoed by Elverum himself. Of course, one reason to listen to any live album is the song selection, and this album does include performances of nearly all of my favorite songs from both: "Real Death," "Ravens," "Distortion," "Tintin in Tibet" to name a few. As for the performances: Elverum's guitar rattles a little more and the occasional flubbed pick gives the whole endeavor a slightly more visceral urgency, and, like in the recordings, Elverum's voice is a beautiful and controlled hum, his diction is pure. Even the tempos of the songs remains nearly the same, but without the backing instrumentation the songs are given just a bit more breath than they enjoy in the studio versions.
It's not that the recording isn't beautiful (it is), or that the songs aren't nuanced and worthy of revisiting in any format (they are), it's just with songs so deeply personal, listening to a live recording from the comfort of my bedroom can feel more like being a voyeur than an audience member. It wasn't until Elverum gently crooned the lines "my complex intentions and aspirations do not matter at all in the face of the crushing flow of actual time" from "Distortion" that I really come to terms with my own misgivings. Like both albums, this album marks a point in Elverum's story, a moment of interaction between the audience and Elverum and these arresting songs he wrote about and for his wife, another moment in the flow of actual time for a musician like him. A moment after. If you are a fan of his music like me, then it's lucky for us, because we have this moment on record and we can enjoy it.