Phil Elverum and Julie Doiron team up again on darkly beautiful new album 'Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2'

For anyone who hasn't followed the music and life of Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum in recent years, the songwriter doesn't waste time in bringing listeners up to speed on “Belief,” the first track on new album Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2.

“When I was younger and didn't know/I used to walk around basically begging the sky/For some calamity to challenge my foundation/When I was young/So imagine what it was like to watch up close a loved one die,” Elverum sings, accompanied by sparse guitar, intermittent piano and the lovely, unadorned voice of folk singer Julie Doiron, who previously joined Elverum on 2008’s Lost Wisdom; the pair will visit Via Vecchia Winery for a Mount Eerie show on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

The loved one Elverum references is his first wife, artist Geneviève Castrée, who died from cancer in 2016 — a loss he documented in crushing, harrowing and somehow still beautiful detail on 2017’s A Crow Looked at Me and last year’s Now Only. 

But his story takes a few more turns after that. In 2018 he married actress Michelle Williams; the couple filed for divorce less than a year later, which he references on “Widows,” one of the louder, more distorted tracks on Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2: “Today the tabloids told the world you separated me/My phone began dinging more than usual/It was just like the day they found out that we’d gotten married/Unwanted attention from an inhumane, delirious, absurd other world that keeps trying to eat you.”

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Elverum’s singing style is similar to spoken word, with little credence given to rhyme schemes, the syllables loosely stitching themselves to the music with an endearing awkwardness that makes the whole endeavor feel like a hand-sewn diary. Amid the open-wound lyrics, though, are recurring metaphors of fire and water and more general meditations on “formless rolling waves of discomfort and uncertainty,” as Elverum and Doiron sing on “Belief.” “‘The song, not the singer’ is my guide, even while singing inescapably as and about myself,” Elverum has said of the album, which ably balances the personal and the universal. 

A giant bonfire graces the cover of Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2, and a pink blanket resembling a misshapen heart floats above it. Similar flames appear in the opening lines of “Widows,” lending even more gravitas to the pyre: “It’s almost Mother’s Day/Me and the other widows will commiserate/Alone at Montessori again/Straddling two worlds/Between the crush of single parenting/And the need for wailing in the woods around a slash pile burning into the night with tear-crusted eyes.”

In the final verse, Elverum visits a garbage dump with his daughter, crows and ravens circling overhead, and he concludes that “nothing is real, except this one thing,” then follows it with a typically vivid image, equal parts heartbreaking and sweet: “Please remember at the bookstore in the poetry corner upstairs/I slept with my head on your lap.”