Wednesday, February 17, 2010
GROUPER "COVER THE WINDOWS AND THE WALLS" (Root Strata)
I've followed Liz Harris, aka Grouper, since she came out of nowhere a few years ago and helped birth the "hypnogogia" scene. I'm pleased to say that i have her very first CDR, limited to 200 copies and numbered in her own hand. Since then a dearth of releases have erupted and i've done my best to keep up but finances have limited what i've been able to attain, as well as aesthetic choice on my part (i WILL NOT own a release by Inca Ore even if Liz has a split with her, because Inca Ore are awful), leaving a few gaps in my Grouper collection. Root Strata have realized the collector's plight and have opted to reissue this twice-pressed LP in CD format, making a lovely record more available to the snoozers cross the land. The key word here is "lovely" and i'd be hard pressed to find an adjective more suitable to describing what Liz Harris does-her music is absolutely, dreamily beautiful, seeming to come from some other world where dreams are made into soft friendly pillows and comfort becomes a physical presence that hangs and floats in the air, waiting to envelop the anxiety-wracked people who need it the most. Her music is a blanket, truly, so very soft and warm and inviting. Some of the music cognoscenti may argue my placement of Liz in the hypnogogia genre. While her first two albums were exercises in prolonged narcoleptic dronescapes that sounded unreachably far away and removed her last few records have been incredibly intimate and (gasp) song-driven, culminating in last year's breathtaking "Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill," an approach that would seem to distance her from the lulling and futronic style sounds of most hypnagogues; i feel that hypnogogia is based much more on effect than ingredients. So even though Grouper is mainly a guitar/effects driven project (most hypnogogia is keyboard/synth derived) i feel Liz encompasses the goal of the genre so much better, that is, to massage the listener into states of deep contemplation and relaxation while still projecting a sort of haze as to emotional intent. "Cover the Windows and the Walls" was the record before "Dragging..." and shows the obvious progressions of Liz working towards a more "accessible" sound. Songs are tempered into shorter run times and actual lyrics, rather than just vocals, rise to prominence. The album opens with the title track, the most "song-oriented" of the seven tracks that make up "Cover..." and right away the beauty unfolds. Played on a heavily delayed and echoed acoustic guitar the song instantly reminds me of Yo La Tengo, and particularly Georgia, whom Liz Harris sounds very similar to (i'm surprised that no other review has ever mentioned this.) This track could have been an outtake from "I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One." After that things slide into a more oceanic pull and the sounds are thrust upon the listener. You feel as though you're being pulled ever downward into something warmer and warmer, and while the bottom seems infinite and totally expansive there's no denying the closeness you feel to the author of these works. Liz is clutching you tight as she brings you out and that connection makes the gorgeousness of these tracks all the more so. From the simple and sad chord progressions of "Opened Space" to the massive sludge onslaught of "You Never Came" these tracks carve away at the heart like a knife of memories and touch, the vocals washing over you as delicate as a rainy mist, as soft as a feather dipped in warm milk. It's an epic journey at once reminiscent of Tim Hecker or Ramesses III but borne of much more organic materials and therefore capable of reaching a much more guarded place. Much like her kindred musical soul Fursaxa, Grouper creates music that is only of the artist, and while certainly not devoid of influence the personal vision so strong that it seems not of this world. This is essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in drone music and i cannot recommend it more highly. A total washout in an ocean of murked-out mystery bliss. Lovely.