Release Date: Sep 4, 2015
Record label: Kranky
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Over the course of her nearly decade-long career as Grouper, Liz Harris has become a master of all things overcast. Her ambient compositions and waterlogged ballads are like fogged-up windows — bleary enough to indicate the bleakness inside, but only its vaguest outlines. There’s suggestion of something heartbreaking, but its true shape remains occluded, unobtainable, and all the more moving for such an approach.
After a promisingly superb single in 2013 and a couple teasers, the anticipation can finally subside and full-on immersion of Helen’s debut album, The Original Faces, may commence. The 12 songs here (which includes the two tracks from 2013) are a succinct 30 minutes or so, but there is a surplus of hazy intrigue to soak in. It starts, similarly to Flying Saucer Attack’s self-titled 1993 debut, with a minute or so of moldy tape dreck to weed out rockists.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The closing song from Grouper's 2014 album Ruins is called 'Made of Air', and it's a pretty accurate way of summing up the music Liz Harris has been making under that name for the last few years. For all of the loops and effects that she layered her songs with, they have always had a way remaining surprisingly stark in nature, feeling as if they could dissipate at any moment.
Liz Harris' music thrives on liminality. Her canny blending of tape loops, field music, and psychedelia strands us somewhere both familiar and strange: Dusty old pianos, chirping frogs, and a defiantly beeping microwave counted as some of the most persistent instrumentation on her last album Ruins. Whether she's releasing new material as Grouper or collaborating with bluesmen and noise savants (Roy Montgomery, Xiu Xiu, and Tiny Vipers), Harris builds up immersive, perplexing landscapes, tearing it all down just as we're starting to figure out where, exactly, we are.
A trio led by Liz 'Grouper' Harris, Helen began with the ambition of being a thrash-rock group, which is easy to understand from even the most cursory listen to their new LP, The Original Faces. The rhythm instruments are unrelenting: distorted, uptempo, furious. But, they say, the sound became something they weren’t expecting as the project evolved.
Grouper’s music is openly personal on record, but deadpan and noisy live. Be it the downtrodden whispers of 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill or the solace of last year’s Ruins, Liz Harris dons her moniker with the intent to fill the air with smoke and draw shapes in its clouds. Instead of flowers and goofy grins, she sketches rotting corpses and beaches absent of life.
Helen — The Original Faces (Kranky)Photo by Natalie Anne HowardLiz Harris has made unpredictability her own aesthetic. For those who came to the music made under the name Grouper via 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, that may not have been readily apparent. In that album Harris made melancholic, atmospheric music that nonetheless almost adhered to conventional structures.
Having popped their head up with 2013’s AA side “Felt This Way” and “Dying All The Time”, Helen have finally followed up with the pleasant surprise of a full album, The Original Faces. The band, a collective of Grouper’s Liz Harris and friends, (as well as the mysterious Helen herself, who may or may not exist, but is apparently on backing vocals) stated their original plan was to be thrash band, but now define themselves as a pop group. Well it’s certainly pop music, but not mainstream pop.