Release Date: Apr 27, 2018
Record label: Kranky
The sunless beach is a powerful image for the same reason that suicide rates spike at Christmas: from early childhood, we are inundated with words and pictures reinforcing the idea that happiness is something to be manually allocated, that weekends and holidays are the ecstatic reprieves that we deserve from our institutional labor, and that these times and places represent our best shot at real joy. When reality doesn’t match the picture, our first assumption is never that the picture needs fixing, but that our lives are out of sync. The map supersedes the territory.
Over the course of her career, Liz Harris' music has grown more diffuse, almost as if the passing of time has been gradually wearing away at its foundation. When she began recording as Grouper twelve years ago, her songs were often wrapped in numerous layers of effects pedals and usually with guitar placed front and center. But starting four years ago with Ruins, she began peeling those layers back, reducing them to just voice and piano with a few spare effects.
As Grouper, Liz Harris has managed to occupy a curious space in experimental music. She's amassed a cult following over the course of ten solo studio albums and various shorter projects, with fans that hang on to her every reverberation. Yet despite being a prolific artist, she manages to remain an elusive figure. "I honestly feel I move way too quickly most of the time," Harris once explained.
dropping the dead deer at the top of the hill and descending For most, Liz Harris' hill is lush, isolated, and one we listeners are willing to die on. She's never changed the basic formula -- one she's maintained since her eponymous 2005 EP -- out of, I think, necessity; one that illuminates Grouper's ambient-folk journal as the thing that speaks to the spaces in between. Harris, through dabbling in the ethereal, positioning the dream world so close to the mundane, has landed herself in a rather auspicious spot: her aesthetic, as lovely and incorporeal as it is, is coveted no matter the iteration.
For anyone requiring hints about how Kanye West's new material might sound, Grouper's 'Grid of Points' could provide the answer. It's a mismatch on paper - Kanye's scream-into-the-void maximalism is in stark contrast to the spacious quiet of Liz Harris' work - but both artists appear to have found creative inspiration from western U.S. state Wyoming.
Liz Harris - aka Grouper - strips her latest album back to the bare bones, producing seven songs created with her piano and voice alone. The tracks are intertwined; as a listener it is hard to determine where each song ends and the next one begins - the only thing holding each composition together is the light crackle of ambience that runs throughout the record. Harris' voice is a thread that is pulled between each piano note, her vocals so drenched in reverb that it makes it hard to determine what she is actually singing about, but who needs words when your harmonies say it all? Her breathy, whispered lyrics are staggered on top of each other, building up a domino effect of cold, stark echoes suspended in the balance.
Grouper once said releasing an album was like trying to secretly sink a heavy object in a lake: "Find a quiet corner, gently slip it under the surface, watch the ripples for a moment, and steal away." She was referring to her end of the process--the immediate aftermath of putting one's work into the world--but the analogy works the other way around, too. Listening to a Grouper record, meaning generally evades me, or at least the kind I can articulate does; I grasp at an expression of exactly what a song is "about" as it slips through my fingers like water. Sometimes it feels like the record is sinking through me, ending up somewhere deep and unreachable, leaving me with the dazed feeling you get when you die in your dream.
The origins of the 11th Grouper album Grid Of Points lie in the period straight after its predecessor Ruins was written and recorded. Ruins was recorded in Portugal, but for Grid Of Points Liz Harris returned to the US – specifically, Wyoming – and continued to write, only for a bout of sickness to force her to stop. She'd only finished seven tracks but felt these formed a complete body of work and accurately captured a period of time, so no further work was added.
Forlornly reminiscent, the music of Liz Harris as Grouper has taken many forms while always sharing this common DNA. Traditional notions of beauty lie in the ruptures of records like Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill, The Man Who Died In His Boat and, most recently, Ruins. Grid Of Points follows the ….
Pianos figure into Liz Harris' 14-year run as Grouper only occasionally in dribs and drabs. Songs like the tolling, toiling "Giving it to You," from 2006's Wide , were rare in the Oregon-based singer-songwriter's music prior to 2014 landmark Ruins , where she shrugged off the muted folkie strum and extraterrestrial drone for which she's long been feted. To claim that the ivories suit Harris is to court understatement.