New Music: Grouper

By Jason Herring, April 26 2018 —

For over a decade, Liz Harris has been creating a lot with a little. As Grouper, Harris generates music that’s breathtakingly sparse, with echoed guitar strums and an analog hiss providing a minimal backdrop for Harris’s airy voice. Though her songs fit most definitions of ambient music, her work feels far too intimate to attach that label to.

The latest Grouper album, Grid of Points, follows 2014’s Ruins, where Harris abandoned her droning effect pedals in favour of simple piano-and-voice compositions. Grid of Points follows the same trajectory, with each of its seven tracks casting a dreamlike trance through their aching whispers and silences.

The album flows fluidly, with the spaces and names designating individual songs feeling more like a convention than a necessity. Harris’s voice follows her piano melodies, clinging urgently to their accompanying notes. When her playing stops, so too does her voice.

Listening to Grid of Points feels like being in the same room as Harris as she sits down at the piano. And that’s how it’s best listened to — within the same isolation and loneliness that many of the album’s songs hint at both lyrically and musically. Like most Grouper albums, Grid of Points reveals itself most when in that hazy state between being awake and sleep. It’s a phenomenon that’s hardly surprising, as Harris says she wrote the album in a brief stretch before being interrupted by a high fever. The music perfectly invokes the wonder of finding brief reprieve from your own body and the world which it occupies.

Like those wonderful, half-awake dreamstates, Grid of Points feels fleetingly short. The album’s 22 minutes come and go with a distressing transience, with the startling static of a rushing train at the end of closer “Breathing” giving a disorienting jolt back into the real world.

Harris is among those performing at this year’s Sled Island music festival, playing on June 22 at the National Music Centre. It’s a show that’s near-guaranteed to be as transcendental as the rest of Grouper’s discography, making it a festival can’t-miss.

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