Grouper’s new LP – Grid of Points, out tomorrow via Kranky – is no Ruins, but its sparse pairing of multifaceted, ghostly voices with borderline-skeletal piano is nonetheless pretty engaging.
Working, surprisingly, from a palette that’s more stripped down and gray than that aforementioned 2014 gem, solo performer Liz Harris taps into a well of rich yet nuanced melancholy on the seven-song offering, and listeners will be surprised that something of this depth only runs 21 minutes. Harris, on retreat in Wyoming, composed the record, apparently, in a flurry of writing, which was disrupted only by a high fever. It’s easy to agree with her assessment that this is a complete work, however much you want the swells of voices to keep darting down endless echo chambers, and not something haphazard.
Ruins was a more textured affair and, while Grouper’s trademark tape hiss and angelic chorale remain, the austerity on display here lends it a kind of sonic isolationism, a desire to turn further inward. On tracks like “Birthday Song,” it becomes a kind of musical definition of loneliness. On “Blouse,” Harris sounds authentically devastated, barely able to push out the lead. “Breathing,” the closer, collapses under found sound.
Harris is working from sonic forebears throughout – while this work is more ambient in nature, it calls to mind the breathiness of 90s-era Cindy Dall and even the solo piano phrasings of Thymme Jones. (The artist Demen tried and largely failed to work in similar modes last year.) But what the listener is treated to, ultimately, is requia. Harris’ mournful compositions are like tombstones, marking the passing of emotions, or the capturing of them on tape, before they fade into ether, into something more intangible. It’s not her finest work but it’s still pretty great.