There’s something hypnotic about Liz Harris’ music. Working under the moniker Grouper and based out of Oregon, Harris has been crafting wispy, unadorned songs since 2005. When people talk about musicians that are able to affect a visceral emotional response, there’s no better example than the instant calm of putting on a Grouper record. If you’re having an anxiety attack, listening to Grouper is like your Ativan, or your lavender oil, depending on what helps you feel more at ease.
But it’s not all lullabies and anesthetic. There’s something decidedly entrancing about a Grouper track; between whispery vocals and diffuse instrumentation, you’ll find yourself drifting without having to try. Take “Parking Lot,” or last month’s “Driving,” for example, two gorgeous ambient singles off the new album, Grid Of Points.
Maybe it’s the enigmatic, otherwordly presence of Harris, who, much like her Pacific Northwest neighbor Phil Elverum, likes to keep things private. Like Elverum’s music with the Microphones and Mount Eerie, Grouper’s songs have a kind of unearthly quality to them, extending somewhere in between a fugue state and a lucid dream. Her airy, ambient songs are stripped down to the point of aridity, leaving an unfiltered space to be wholly filled by atmospheric instrumentation and enchanting vocal phrasing. At once so spare and so full of poetry, Grouper’s music demonstrates the potency of the “less is more” mantra.
Grid of Points, out today, is like a palimpsest, an ancient manuscript where the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing, even as older traces remain. After recording her tenth album, Ruins, Harris traveled to Wyoming, where she found herself drawn towards skeletal piano phrasing and spare, vibrant bursts of vocal harmony. Grid of Points is a series of stark songs, minimal and vulnerable, threaded together by emotive silences. Harris describes them as “small texts hanging in space,” impressions of mortality, melody, and the unknown — ephemeral beauty, interjected.
Harris gave some insight into the new record:
Grid Of Points is a set of songs for piano and voice. I wrote these songs over a week and a half; they stopped abruptly when I was interrupted by a high fever. Though brief, it is complete. The intimacy and abbreviation of this music allude to an essence that the songs lyrics speak more directly of. The space left after matter has departed, a stage after the characters have gone, the hollow of some central column, missing.
You can stream the beautiful new album below.
Grid Of Points is out now on Kranky. Purchase it here.