subota, 28. prosinca 2013.

Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat (2013) + Slaw Walkers - Slaw Walkers (2013)


Materijal koji je nastao dok je Liz Harris radila na svom remekdjelu Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008).
S Lawreneceom Englishom objavila je ove godine album kao Slow Walkers.

The release of The Man Who Died In His Boat follows not too long after Liz Harris's last kranky opus, A|A, even if that double-CD release was a reissue of the Dream Loss and Alien Observer albums she issued on her own Yello Electric imprint in 2011. In actual fact, The Man Who Died In His Boat isn't brand new material either, as it's a collection of unreleased material the Portland-based songstress recorded alongside the Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill album in 2008 (apparently, the latter will be reissued on kranky on the same day as the 'new' one). But none of that matters much once the music plays, as The Man Who Died In His Boat is material that could conceivably have been released in any number of possible years, be it 2013, 1983, or even 1973. In contrast to the experimental soundscaping style of A|A, the new release emphasizes sparsely arranged songs for acoustic guitar and vocals, making it, comparatively, the much more accessible release of the two.
No doubt certain words have been used over and over in reviews of Harris's Grouper music, but it's almost impossible to listen to her material and not have the words haunting and mesmerizing come to mind. Throughout the album, her voice, multiplied into a fragile choir, wafts through the hiss-speckled air accompanied by acoustic guitar strums and, occasionally, fuzzier textures. An ethereal and ghostly quality shadows the songs that bolsters their gothic character.
One is constantly taken aback by the soul-stirring beauty of settings such as “Vital” and “Towers,” whose melodic sequences prove to be potent even when starkly arranged. A nod to the experimental side of the Grouper project emerges in “Vanishing Point” in its echoing piano treatments, but that's a rare occurrence on this largely vocal-based set. The words are often obscured due to Harris's vocal delivery and the instrumental surround but that lack of clarity does little to diminish the music's impact—if anything, it might enhance it for allowing it to retain its enigmatic nature. That as beautiful and haunting a song as “Living Room” can come from such simple means is amazing.
In keeping with the gothic and lonely tone of the music, the title alludes to an experience Harris had as a teen when the wreckage of a sailboat appeared on the shore of Agate Beach in Oregon. When she and her father went down to investigate, they found no body but only maps, coffee cups, and clothing—the boatman himself, as a newspaper later reported, having slipped into the water somehow and presumably drowned. Thankfully for us, this material, despite having been recorded five years ago, didn't suffer the same fate.-

Auras trip the light fantastic, illuminating the deepest areas of the black cosmos and, closer to home, shining a renewed fascination on the deep mystery of our existence, of our planet and our place in the universe. Our search is a never-ending one, where revelations are made on an almost daily basis, constantly hinting at something out there that we, as yet, cannot possibly fathom. Over time, and as our world opens her eyes to these tantalising points of light, vague hints start to emerge about our place, through the light and its aura, and it is this spectral, almost other-worldly aura that infuses itself inside the music of Portland’s Liz Harris. Her music as Grouper isn’t just a listening experience; it’s a dive of faith into another dimension, where the lines between star-reaching dreams entertained by the hopeful youth, and the crash-and-burn awareness of emotional reality and its despondent sensations are blurred. Amongst the dream loss and the black, searching eyes of alien observers comes the return of Grouper, and the special, sleepy-eyed aura that envelops her music is alive and well. Her notes shine this light out of her guitar in rays of atmospheric decay, although it is a healthy and natural process, like the day to day slow-burn death our own bodies experience, themselves a work of the stars. Her music is of a late-evening-dreaming style of dark-folk-ambient, and her nocturnal haven of drone unveils gently, like the opening of the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy at nightfall, trailing a daubed cloud of celestial, blushed colour along the length of a spiral arm.
Her music invites the supernatural, entering for all of the music’s duration and leaving behind a trail of doubt as to just what has been experienced, as if it were an encounter with the supernatural itself. Her music could accompany the night-time vigil, waiting for the stunning light-show over New Mexico, or of spectral visitations entering reality through her beautiful arpeggios and strummed, sunken chords. If these imaginings are exactly that – imagined – then it is the music of Grouper that has invited it in, and subsequently embodied. Smashed against the shore, her lyrics may appear dreamy, but on closer inspection they contain very real, crystal clear feelings and emotions that keep us all firmly awake at night and grounded on Terra Firma, preventing any kind of flight to the star-clustered heavens on wings of a deep, ethereal atmosphere. Her heavenly music – her lyrics in particular – may only be defeated by the restraints of the world, but her eerie, spiritual air can never be denounced by non-believers.
The Man Who Died In His Boat is a collection of previously unreleased songs that were written at the same time as her classic album, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. The title refers to a boat that was found washed up on the shore of Agate Beach, Oregon, when Liz Harris was just a teenager. Abandoned, but with possessions on board, the boat only hinted at what may have happened only hours before it ran aground. Nobody ever knew just what had happened to the man in the boat, and glancing into the boat offered only a glimpse into another’s way of life, perhaps one that should have remained sea-bound and private. It was a mysterious disappearance that, strangely enough, echoes into the present, as it seems to fit the philosophy and mantra of Harris’ music, despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the discovery. The final, ill-fated seconds vanished, only to leave behind physical possessions as the only evidence for his existence. The day must have haunted Liz, as her music continues haunting her ever widening audience.
Harris opens up cavernous cathedrals of reverb in prayer to a cosmic God, lost on the high seas in another solar system. Hers is a dreamy atmosphere drenched in delay, a peaceful melancholy of shrouded discovery lying in wait. Her musical world embraces the thin, invisible lines that cross over into other worlds and realities, where the imagination has full freedom and control, and isn’t cut in half; a dimension where UFO’s, birthstones and dreamcatchers are the order of the day and made to seem very real in an otherwise dreamy state that constantly questions its own reality. In a very real sense, Harris sends out a deluge of dreams and dream states through her guitar, and then places them into the deepest of atmospheres, into another world of unseen paranormal activity and mystical X-File-style encounters, as seen in her 2011 double release of Dream Loss and Alien Observer. Dimensions appear through the haze, as clouds of smoke trail above the West Coast horizon, lingering in the sky like her endless delay. Vivid and fit, nothing decays inside her music, despite the lingering presence of fog surrounding her vague vocals and hovering melodies. Through clouds affected by turbulence, stunner ‘Vital’ enters. The blur induced by her reverb makes it difficult to know if those chords are fifth chords sliding along the strings, but in this reality, the only certain thing is a mystical uncertainty.
Her gorgeous vocals shine through the murk, and we fall into her dreamy musical dimension once again. Her vocals rise up and over the dense clouds, laden with a thick, yet wholesome smoke, in harmony and in unity. Her song structures are still present, but they’re only apparitions of songs, almost as if they’re half-remembered, vaguely heard a lifetime or even longer ago. It’s hauntingly beautiful music that will make you a believer; that is, if the songs aren’t figments of the imagination, shimmering in a phosphorescent, cloudy haze while the music, and this spell, plays on. On ‘Cloud in Places’, her acoustic guitar takes on a greater prominence, with clearer strumming appearing through the ambient mist, and where her distinct aura of folk-tinted music rises to the fore. Yet, there’s a beautiful contrast between the clouded haze and the clearer acoustic songs helping to balance the course of the record.
‘Being her Shadow’ drifts through a shrouded mist, searching for the presence of a distant land, but ultimately only turning itself around in concentric circles, as if pulled into a vortex. It’s unbelievably tranquil, adding to the out-of-it experience cloaked around her deep atmosphere. Chord tones reverberate around ‘Vanishing Point’, encircling around the place where it all ended – right here. Her vocal elements are absent, almost as if they themselves have gone missing, lost inside the music. Void of any recognisable structure or of strings to pull us to safety, this track sways like an empty boat rocking towards a bay, losing all sense of heading amid sparse notes and a scattered delay, yet despite its strangely angled curvature it makes for an eerie pause in the record; a remembrance that also feels like a heart-felt dedication to the man in question.
Grouper’s brand of folk conceals reality in evocative layers of mystical voodoo. ‘Living Room is perhaps the darkest of tracks reflecting a beautiful dissonance and a melancholy of deepening struggle. It’s a downcast trip of disappointment that almost kicks itself into the ground amid a lost sense of hope and a constant, fruitless search for the spiritual, a trip wracked with difficulty and frustration, trying to figure out what is real, and what isn’t, in this dreamy world where taking off can turn into a stall, and the depths of failure lie ever so close. It’s a lot of weight for only two shoulders to carry.
In a lot of ways, Grouper’s music is all about disappearance. Songs that once-were re-emerge underneath a cloud of reverb, now only faint orbs as seen above in the skies, or on a boat swaying onto a shoreline; a mystery linked to the depths of the universe, and a local mystery that made the local papers. The final minutes breeze through as a lovely cloud evaporates, a sayonara sonic boom can be heard above as the visitors leave, and everything vapourises. Shredded by thunder, nothing is left in the silence that follows. In another world, the boat can still be seen kissing the sand of the shore, with no sign or signal that anything, or anyone, ever existed here in the first place. - James Catchpole for Fluid Radio

Slaw Walkers, Slaw Walkers (2013) 

Slow Walkers is a project by Lawrence English and Liz Harris. This is their self-titled first release, born from a mutual fascination with horrific depictions of the human present and future.

Decibel Festival 2010 coincided with my first glimpse of the professional relationship between Australian composer/curator Lawrence English and the Portland, OR-based musical assuagement to my relationship problems, Liz Harris a.k.a. Grouper. As the principal figure behind the Room40 label, English performed and took on the role as MC for its dedicated showcase, which included him, Grouper, and the literally foundation-shaking Ben Frost. A brief introduction served as the only allusion, but little did we know that Harris and English ultimately shared a deeper bond — one that most of us find hard to empathize with: a craving for cerebrum. Intellectual fulfillment might be a reasonable conclusion, but I’m talking about a genuine desire for brain consumption, digestion, and releasing. They’ve so far chosen to keep it under wraps, but a new collaborative project serves as a clear disclosure…
Slow Walkers. Okay, so they aren’t actually zombies, but there’s no denying the inspiration. As the brief description of their self-titled release, due out August 20, points out, the album was “born from a mutual fascination with horrific depictions of the human present and future.” And if the phrase “horrific depictions” combined with their chosen moniker still doesn’t convince you, there’s the video for the track “Wake,” watchable below. There’s something drone-y, but not quite, about this music — analogous, perhaps, to being not quite human. Moooooreeee… - Mike Reid

Liz Harris' music as Grouper is often intensely private, a feeling she's amplified tenfold on this debut collaboration with Australian musician (and Room40 label head) Lawrence English. Released on the Peak Oil label, the package includes only a handful of track titles and a note hinting it was recorded between 2010-12. Those titles are ultimately meaningless; Slow Walkers' music runs together with barely any separation, feeling more like a continuous journey than a series of separate narratives. It's instrumental, drone-based work, leaning heavily on repetition and the kind of eerie ambience for which Harris is known. Had this record been released earlier in her career then questions may have been raised about how she and English could reach such a troubled, lonely, barren place. But by now it's clear that this is the spot where Harris operates most effectively.
Part of Grouper's power is in the way the music feels like it's made in a vacuum, shorn of contemporary reference points or settings. Slow Walkers aren't exactly out there tweeting up a storm, but this record has been alluded to as "meditations for the zombie as cultural phenomena" in the description below a video for the track "Wake". What that means or how it applies here is suitably foggy, and the fact that the clip was uploaded to the Room40 Vimeo account over a year ago suggests it may no longer be appropriate. If Slow Walkers are thinking about death as a process, then they're imagining it as a long, drawn out, painful undertaking. There's a strong sense of journey here, similar to the depth felt in the Haxan Cloak's excellent afterlife meditation, Excavation. Except with Slow Walkers everything is much less chiseled, with Harris and English foregoing definition for suggestion, choosing to imagine feelings instead of laying out a tangible roadmap.
At times this feels of a piece with the rolling tundras of Harris' Violet Replacement work, which similarly juxtaposed anxiety with something far more relaxing. What Slow Walkers do is similar, setting up an unsettling atmosphere and then letting beautiful drones arc and dissolve across its gloomy surface. This project has been talked up as a multi-media undertaking, with video installations and audio-visual concert performances, but it's hard to picture how that would work when the music itself is so visually suggestive. The second side opens with a positively holy feel, its wispy ambience bringing to mind an abandoned, wind-whipped cathedral. It's impressive how Harris and English can work in tandem to build tension and then just let it float away, turning trepidation into bliss. By the close of the second side, deep into "Wake", there's a lightness present, a sense of calm settling in, a feeling that this isn't such a bad place to be after all.
Slow Walkers may be hiding from the world to a certain extent-- the nature of this album helps frame it as a tentative step instead of a full-blown leap. It's not clear if that will develop further, although there's enough here to suggest potential not yet fully realized. This isn't on a par with Grouper's The Man Who Died In His Boat from earlier this year, but Slow Walkers is definitely a secret that's a little too good to be kept in the province of a select band of Harris devotees. Appropriately, it begins with a crackle of radio static, lending it a lost-transmission feel that only a few people are privy to hearing, either alive or, perhaps, undead. If this is a record about death, then it's primarily about the process of letting go, of watching someone transform from present to past tense, fading from the physical world to become a bundle of memories for people to carry around. - Nick Neyland 

Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008)

Liz Harris, who does business as Grouper, strips away much of the effects-laden gauze of her earlier work on this, her third proper album. Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill is ethereal and hazy, but never overly so. Two songs reference sleep in their titles, three water. Some strong-ass melodies and actual songs always lurked deep inside-- or perhaps underneath-- Grouper's music, but you had to work to hear them underneath layers of sonic muck. Here, those elements are more prominent, and there's something simple and beautiful but also a little bit obscure going on. Laconically strummed acoustic guitars and gently plunked pianos serve as the primary instruments, abetted by ambient washes and echo boxes (which this time are not all set to 11).
Released earlier this year, the record has already been compared to classic releases from the British label 4AD, especially their flagship act the Cocteau Twins. This makes sense in that both have subdued, minor-key melodies. And both feature whispery-voiced female singers whose words are tough to pick out. Beyond that, though, it's about as exact as comparing KISS to the Ramones-- both those bands were loud and made records in the mid-1970s and had lead singers who were dudes, but that's about it. This remarkable album is actually what I personally always wanted 4AD records to sound like, only they never quite delivered the hazy pleasures their beautiful sleeve art promised (with the exception of Kurt Ralske's rock band Ultra Vivid Scene). Dead Deer is druggy and sexy and arty and pretty, but never pretentious.
Others have made similarly reverb-drenched, pastoral psychedelic pop before. In terms of contemporary musicians, the work of the Portland, Ore.-based compatriots Eva Saelens (aka Inca Ore), Charalambides co-founder Christina Carter, and Honey Owens (aka Valet) might spring to mind. Inca Ore's music is far heavier and murkier, however. And Christina Carter is more firmly working within a psych-folk idiom, while Valet is much more on a bluesy, guitar-based trip. Let someone else criticize me for making my own inexact comparisons to sounds of yore: A handful of these songs bring to mind the criminally forgotten records that Lida Husik recorded for Shimmy Disc in the early 90s. On "When We Fall" and "Invisible", Harris sounds like Vashti Bunyan singing in an echoey hallway. Others bear some resemblance to the band Clay Allison (who later became Opal and, in a different configuration, Mazzy Star) ca. their 1984 Fell From the Sun EP. And "Traveling Through a Sea" recalls the work of the always echo-friendly New York-based singer-songwriter Azalia Snail.
I had the best experience playing this album on a long drive the other week. It's easy to apply whatever music you're listening at any given moment to your surroundings; when the music plays and you're by yourself, you can imagine it as the soundtrack to the imaginary movie you star in. Anyway, here I was driving in the morning past farmland north of Eugene, Ore. This would not be the most fascinating movie, OK. But I kept seeing these small dirt storms form out in the unplowed fields to the left while the lovely "Fishing Bird (Empty Gutted In The Evening Breeze)" played on repeat. I'm not sure this album is the perfect road trip music for everyone-- I'd certainly caution against playing it late at night when you're already sleepy, or operating other heavy machinery as it plays-- but since these songs seem to appear and then vanish into the air, the mini-tornadoes gathering themselves together lazily out of the wind and the dirt seemed the ideal, hypnotizing accompaniment. - Mike McGonigal

A/A: Dream Loss / Alien Observer (2011)

The tools Liz Harris uses to make music as Grouper tend to be pretty basic: piano, guitar, synths, drones, hiss, and lots of reverb. If you've been following along with the twists and turns of noisy ambient music these last few years, this collection of elements may sound familiar, possibly bordering on cliché. But it's all in how you fit the pieces together. Despite sharing characteristics with a lot of other current music, Harris' has a distinctive sound that she pretty much owns. These short LPs, released at the same time and that share an overall aesthetic, sound beamed in from another realm, and they also sound like they could have come from no one else.
Part of the distinctiveness can be traced to Harris' voice, which floats above the music and can sound delicate and shrouded and mist and can also evince an approachable earthiness. Particularly on Alien Observer, she layers her voice in a way that occasionally brings to mind Julianna Barwick, but Harris sounds comparatively distant and less immersive. Her voice haunts these songs instead of leading them; it's a presence and not a personality, and the voice and instruments are in balance, serving each other without any one element becoming more prominent.
The other aspect that sets Grouper apart is an approach to sound that feels somehow both cruder and more sophisticated than the majority of the lo-fi crop. It's crude in the sense that it seems to hearken back to the dark, home-recorded songs of an earlier era. David Pearce's music as Flying Saucer Attack, recorded mostly during the 1990s, was often referred to as "rural psychedelia," and that description would fit this pair of records. This music feels both spacey and expansive and also oddly intimate and grounded, the work of someone who has mastered her tools and knows how to get the most out of them. The sophistication comes from the care in presentation. This music doesn't sound like it was built from mistakes or thrown together, it seems precisely ordered and arranged even while it's often muffled and warbly and distorted. Every sound exists for a reason.
Alien Observer is the more accessible of the two discs, and also has a slightly better arc. The opening "Moon Is Sharp" begins one of those impossibly beautiful vocal drones that just tears out your insides, as Harris begins in shapeless ethereality and gradually finds her way to an unadorned but breathtaking melody. The title track does away with the drone and puts Harris' vocal over a quivering keyboard line. On "Vapor Trails" and "She Loves Me That Way" the record turns a few shades darker, but a twinkling music box melody that opens "Mary, on the Wall (Second Heart Tone)" feels like awakening from an uneasy sleep, groggy and halfway hallucinating as you re-enter the world. The closing "Come Softly (For Daniel D)" feels like a proper conclusion, as Harris' naked voice over a skeletal keyboard figure gradually disappear over the horizon.
Dream Loss is heavier on the distortion and EQ, and with an atmosphere that alternates between the hissy, open drift of the stratosphere with the thick, all-encompassing immersion of the ocean floor. The tracks here feel less like songs and more like moods, studies, and shapes. "I Saw a Ray" flirts with noise music, with a bit of industrial grind added to the held tones, while "Soul Eraser" seems to crumble into dust and regenerate itself simultaneously.
Harris has indicated that the two records, dating from different periods (the tracks on Dream Loss are older), have threads connecting them. They certainly feel like companions. Dream Loss is only slightly less engrossing than its counterpart, and the differences are minor. But placed on a continuum, these records highlight how 2008's luminous Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, her last full-length album, was an unusual entry in the Grouper catalog. That record was built almost exclusively with acoustic guitar and voice, and the songs had an ancient air to them, like they'd been carved into petrified wood with a hammer and chisel. These records are closer to the narcotic drift of earlier records like 2007's Cover the Windows and the Walls. But it all feels like Grouper, and whether she's working in realm of rough-hewn folk or amniotic drift, this is music that takes you places. - Mark Richardson

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