ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
I hate to say it, but when news broke earlier this year that actress Michelle Williams and singer-songwriter Phil Elverum were getting divorced, you just knew that an album would soon surface from deep, sad depths of Elverum’s broken heart. And what do you know, the “eternally heartbroken” Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie returns with a record that’ll once again, bring listeners to tears: Lost Wisdom Pt. 2.
Almost 12 years after the release of Lost Wisdom, Elverum once again joins forces with fellow singer-songwriter and kindred spirit, Julie Doiron. However, the duo moves further away from the weird, bold arrangements of their 2008 record and instead, offers a record cut musically from the same fabric of Elverum’s more recent material like A Crow Looked At Me and Now Only. Aside from the added narrative of Phil’s brief marriage with Williams, Elverum once again zeroes his wandering heart on the struggles of single-parenting, mortality, sentimental love found & love lost, and of course, the ceaseless grieving process that has come with the 2016 death of his first wife, Geneviève Castrée.
Though much of the aforementioned subject matter—which Elverum has been exploring the past half-decade—wears heavily throughout his latest record, <em>Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 is less of an intimate portrait of deep-seated emotions and recollections of happier times, which A Crow Looked At Me and Now Only did so affectingly. Now, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 doesn’t completely avoid reliving vivid memories, however, it is a record that keeps listeners in mind, attempting to make sense of all of these painful feelings and moments in order to offer all-encompassing advice on life’s fleeting nature and on whether or not it’s still worth investing in love.
In the opening track ‘Belief’, Elverum sets the stage for the lamenting to come with the following lines: “Out of nowhere love returned/ I saw what looked like a god who walks among us/ I met her, we fell so in love/ She is angelic, miraculous, I totally lost my mind/ And poured everything into this sea, this ocean/ And when I came to I saw my face in a store window's reflection/ And there was fear behind those eyes/ Now I'm back where I was when I was 20/ Trying to stop clinging to a dream/ And let an old idea of love dissipate/ Back into formless rolling waves/ Of discomfort and uncertainty.”
Here, Elverum moves from a joyful high to a depressing low, from a disjointed present to an equally uncertain past—back to when he was 20 years of age—a time he has continually referenced throughout his entire musical career, as a period of reckoning and confusion. Using his marriage with Wiliams as an initial talking point, Elverum recognizes that this moment offered itself as a hopeful conclusion to a life that once seemed littered with tragedy. But of course, clarity would soon give way to confusion with the couple separating, causing Elverum to toss and toil with his beloved Geneviève in mind: “Now I'm back where I was when I was 20/ Trying to stop clinging to a dream/ And let an old idea of love dissipate/ Back into formless rolling waves/ Of discomfort and uncertainty.”
Considering Elverum’s recent tragedies, it’d be difficult to damn him if he lost all hope in love. But miraculously, the 41-year-old pushes on. Instead of completely wallowing in sadness, he picks up the broken, scattered pieces of his heart and attempts to piece them together for listeners so they may continue to always believe in love.
Not to be forgotten within the emotional pillage of this resounding record, Doiron lends an element of warmth and comfort. Just as she did with Lost Wisdom (Pt. 1), Doiron’s voice exists in harmony next to Elverum’s, ebbing and flowing as the two swim in tearful pools of heartbreak: “What would be the use in becoming/ A symbol of walking desolation?/ Awash in multiple griefs/ Elaborating on anguish…’ Doiron sings on the album’s lead single ‘Love Without Possession’. With the Eric’s Trip’s frontwoman taking a commanding lead on vocals, ample room is left for Elverum to frankly reflect on the notion that he’s become synonymous with sadness and “a symbol of walking desolation.” So he gets down to the root of it all; his understanding of and experience with love. Even before his marriage with Geneviève, Elverum has always been deftly terrified of the idea of love and how it should exist within him and from him.
Keeping in mind the death of Geneviève and now his divorce with Michelle, 'Love Without Possession’ witnesses the same question flash its claws, “What’s this new version of love that intrudes/ Into the peace I thought I had?” With this question, visions of Elverum spiraling deeper into desolation surface, but we’re wrong. In fact, Elverum has come to terms with how it’ll transpire in his life moving forward. He continues, “This love has no recipient/ But still lies there smoldering/ Indifferent stars in the night sky.” Elverum concludes that though heartbreak will threaten to surmount the idea of love, it’ll always exist, push you outward, move you inward and cause you to make beautiful art, and move you in ways least expected. Thank you Phil Elverum, for reminding us that even in the face of the most unbearable tragedy, love will always prevail.
THE 405 RATING: 8/10