Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Record label: Kranky
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Post-Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
“English which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear has no words for the shiver or the headache…”– Virginia Woolf, On Illness “…but Grouper is just too raw and scary for me to want to really dig deeper. The bruises are still soft.”– Reed Scott Reid “…insisting on the human, the pure, the tonal, etc., to the point that all of them are questioned and eventually meaningless.”– Collin Anderson 01. I’m much less interested in “mastering” Grouper than I am in listening to Grouper.
GrouperThe Man Who Died In His Boat[Kranky; 2013]By Josh Becker; February 1, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetApparently, the story behind the title of Grouper's latest album is that Liz Harris once encountered a dead guy on a boat that had washed up on the shore of Agate Beach in the artist's native Oregon. The man had a few possessions with him, but the cause of death remained a mystery. Just as the items on the man's person became mysterious vestiges of an unknown past, so too are the songs on The Man Who Died In His Boat artifacts from an earlier time--in this case, the recording of 2008's Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill.
Always different, always the same. This phrase was used by the late John Peel to describe his favorite band, the Fall. His observation about the Fall captures a broader idea about music fandom, describing what it's like to follow along with a gifted artist who has created her own style but is no hurry to move outside of it. Always different, always the same.
For most artists, a release of previously shunned, old material would rightly be cause for lowered expectations. Not so for Grouper, aka Liz Harris. She doesn't really do bad. The Man Who Died In His Boat dates from the recording of 2008's cheerfully titled Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. Despite ….
Recently it was announced that Liz Harris would be taking up a residency at the Bristol Cube Cinema that would involve live performances of her music under the Grouper name alongside the painting of a mural. It was interesting in two respects, primarily as an affirmation of the artistic intersect where her music lies – namely the space between music and art. The choice of location was also noteworthy, her eschewal of London in favour of the provinces reflecting to an extent the peripheral position that her music assumes.
It can be difficult to describe Liz Harris’ Grouper project because she isn’t making music for conscious appreciation. She uses music to explore subconscious mental states; her songs are filtered through dreams, musical “hypnagogia”. The Man Who Died In His Boat was recorded in 2008, along with her most beloved and accessible record, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, which is being simultaneously re-released (and which I also recommend wholeheartedly).
Grouper's Liz Harris recorded The Man Who Died in His Boat at the same time she was making her gorgeous breakthrough album Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, which for many fans was an introduction to her remarkably emotive, hypnotic music. She followed it with the more abstract but just as lovely A I A, and her project with Tiny Vipers' Jesy Fortino, Mirroring. While this music is a little older than some of those projects, The Man Who Died in His Boat feels connected to each of them.
In the accompanying material for The Man Who Died In His Boat, Liz Harris describes a memory in which she and her father witnessed a sailboat that had washed ashore unmanned. Its missing captain, presumed dead, “had simply slipped off somehow,” she notes, adding that she was worried about “violating some remnant of this man’s presence” in witnessing his absence. Harris’ best work as Grouper, 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, carries aspects of that impressionable moment, a fragile beauty swimming in the midst of a hazy uncertainty.
Only two of Liz Harris’s records are about treading the landscape. The art sleeve for Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, an album now arguably revered as an underground classic for a hundred interpersonal reasons (drone, dream pop, “rain music”, whatever you want to call it), pictures a young Harris in the foreground of a forest, shrouded by the murk of its tree branches. It’s a presence that exists imprinted on the album— an older version of Harris, maybe, but it’s her imprint nonetheless—and one that makes Dead Deer the most humane Grouper release there is.
Not to suggest that Liz Harris, otherwise known as Portland-based isolationist Grouper, likes to lay it on thick, but not only is this album named after an actual incident from her adolescence, it’s also culled from songs that didn’t make it onto her last record, the heroically titled ‘Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill’. Her music isn’t quite as inert and emotionally crushing as all this might suggest, but it remains a masterclass in medicated bleakness. Urgent folk strumfests tumble through a distortion vortex which – cliché alert – uses tape hiss as an extra instrument.
Strictly speaking, Grouper's new album isn't a new album. The Man Who Died in His Boat is actually a collection of unreleased material recorded at the same time as 2008's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, Kranky's reissue of which coincides with the new record's release. So if you're after something entirely new, you won't find it here. That being said, these eleven new tracks of soft-focus oneiric pop are exquisite, the equal of anything on the first album.
Grouper, the project of Portlander Liz Harris, has ruptured decrepit, blind ambience for almost a decade, but 2008's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill arrived slightly askew. Deciduous, misty, and undeniably folky, it brooded like the rest, but strummed instead of bleated, like a country ghost story. The Man Who Died in His Boat summons that same murk.