Grouper
A I A


4.5
superb

Review

by Jeremy Fisette USER (34 Reviews)
April 14th, 2011 | 272 replies | 25,337 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: a ghost in the machine

5 of 5 thought this review was well written

Oh, how I’ve been waiting for this. Ever since Liz Harris (aka: Grouper) released her third album, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, I have been utterly transfixed by her and her craft. I had never even heard of her until that release, widely considered her breakthrough. It made waves on the blogosphere, many critics placing it high in their year-end lists. It was an album of acoustic- and keyboard-based drones, with lilting, beautifully layered vocal melodies sung by Harris. It was a superb album. And as I looked back through her older stuff, I was equally impressed. Grouper began with making these uber-dense soundscapes, consisting of what sounded like a hundred layers of affected guitars and keys and vocals, whirling and whirring about like some sort of ghostly message from the past. It was gorgeous stuff. And now, years later, Grouper has finally released her magnum opus.

This is Grouper’s fourth album. This is A I A. It surpasses all her previous releases in nearly every way. It is split up between two separate albums, titled Dream Loss and Alien Observer. They work well apart but the album is best heard in sequence, starting with Dream Loss and ending with Alien Observer, as one whole piece. The music present on these albums is the perfect marriage of all she’s ever done before. It feels like a mesh between her thick, droning early stuff and her more acoustic-based newer stuff. There’s bits and pieces of the past here, and she propels them into the future.

The whole thing begins with Dream Loss. Of the two albums, this is probably the less immediate. It is dense, hazy, noisy in a quiet way, and its songs take their time to wiggle into your brain. The recording seems to be pretty lo-fi, which adds a nice dose of ominous static to much of the record. It starts with “Dragging the Streets,” which has a beautiful keyboard pattern that grounds the fog. Afterwards comes “I Saw a Ray,” perhaps the most impenetrable track here. A grinding static wind blows for the entire duration, almost like some lost signal of guitars that is being played ad infinitum. Harris employs similar tricks she’s always played, layering the sounds just above her voice. Her melodies are key: though buried, they are always audible, and always quite pristine. There are words to these songs; we just cannot hear them.

As the album progresses, we delve deeper into Harris’ musical netherworld. “Soul Eraser” (besides being quite aptly named) progresses along a pretty, reverb-laden piano melody with Harris intoning quite angelically on top. The entirety of A I A is extremely reverb-laden, as is most of Grouper’s work. It does not obscure the beauty, though, like one would think. On “Atone” and this album’s closer “A Lie,” there is a great amount of desolate echo, but we can still hear what is going on. It’s like we’re getting lost in a labyrinth, and have no real desire to find our way out.

The other side, Alien Observer, is slightly more accessible, though fits in sonically with the first part. The first track released from this, the title track, is a beautiful little piece of clarity. This could have fit on Dead Deer without much of an issue. It is a rare moment where the haze lifts ever so slightly, and the result is one of the most beautiful tracks Harris has ever committed to record. “We’re gonna take a spaceship / Fly back to the stars / Alien observer / In a world that isn’t mine,” she sings, in one of the few moments where words are discernible. She has said this album is about otherness, and feeling like an other to oneself. That is definitely traceable: the loneliness and mysteriousness here is palpable, and the sense of being just on the cusp of discovery is always evident.

This side of the album is more typically pretty. “Vapor Trails,” the longest piece, is a beautiful exercise in minimalistic guitar progressions and twinkling keyboards, while the closer “Come Softly” exists solely on a lone, repeating instrumental figure and her most serene vocal. Harris’ vocals on this part are much more observable and easy to follow, always sounding both placid and mournful. But that is true throughout all of A I A. This is an enormous, 80-minute collection of music that is made to get lost in. Grouper has never made a record as wondrous and epic as this, but I hope she does again, and again, and again.

Key Tracks: Dragging the Street, Soul Eraser, Alien Observer, She Loves Me that Way, Come Softly



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Gyromania
April 14th 2011



15192 Comments


It was an album of acoustic- and keyboard-based drones, with lilting, beautifully layered vocal melodies sung by Harris.

I would remove the hyphen here.

This is Grouper’s fourth album. This is A I A.

This seems like it could be formed into just one coherent sentence, because as it is, "This is A I A." seems able to be omitted.

The music present on these albums it the perfect marriage of all she’s ever done before.

*is

noisy in a quiet way

This seems kind of contradictory.

almost like some lost signal of guitars that is being played ad infinitum.

'guitars' is plural, so you're going to want to swap 'is' with 'are'.

Honestly, your writing style kind of reminds me of my own, which is a first for me. There are a couple-few awkwardly structured sentences throughout, and some errors which I've addressed, but other than that you gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect from this album. Have a pos. I've actually been looking forward to this one and will pick it up as soon as I can.

PorkchopExpress
April 14th 2011



387 Comments


Nice review. There's just something about this girl's music..."Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" kills me every time I hear it.

rotterdog
April 14th 2011



487 Comments


"Almost like some lost signal of guitars that is being played ad infinitum"

The subject of the sentence is "lost signal" which is singular. Looks fine to me. Unless you meant that the guitars are played ad infinitum, in which case Gyromania is right.

Great review. I loved Dead Deer so I'll have to check this out.

balcaen
April 14th 2011



3183 Comments


hm, interesting. wasn't aware she was going to put something out this year. i'm still totally in love with DADDUAH... this better be just as good, if not better.

jeremologyy
April 14th 2011



263 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah i know, grammatical errors abound! hee :D
i will fix them, thanks for the feedback.

i went into this with no hesitation but as i got writing i realized that, as much as i love this woman's work, it is exceedingly difficult to write about.

gaslightanthem
April 14th 2011



5209 Comments


better get this asap

Gyromania
April 14th 2011



15192 Comments


The subject of the sentence is "lost signal" which is singular. Looks fine to me. Unless you meant that the guitars are played ad infinitum, in which case Gyromania is right.

Yeah, when I read it I only assumed that he meant the guitars are played ad infinitum, but if not you're absolutely correct.

Hawks
April 14th 2011



34310 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Shit I gotta get on this one.

Digging: Mayhem - Esoteric Warfare

DeafMetal
April 14th 2011



8584 Comments


Dream Loss is very good, but Alien Observer has the potential of being just as good as Dragging A Dead Deer.

IfuckingloveGrouper

AggravatedYeti
April 14th 2011



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

oh fuck I thought these weren't coming out until late May...

time to give Liz Harris more of my money I'd assume.

jeremologyy
April 14th 2011



263 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah DeafMetal, you're very right. as a full double-album, this is spectacular. but when you split them up, i do think Alien Observer is the stronger half. and it totally is going to live up to Dead Deer, if not surpass it.

DeafMetal
April 15th 2011



8584 Comments


omg those drones...

*_*

Ire
April 15th 2011



41746 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

so i hear this is mindblowing

foreverendeared
April 15th 2011



14678 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

FUUUUUUCKKKK!!

I had no idea about this. Definitely getting this right now.

Rev
April 15th 2011



9377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is great

Ire
April 15th 2011



41746 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

shit that was fast

crazyblinddude
April 15th 2011



3389 Comments


Haha ditto on foreverendeared's reaction. But seriously this sounds fucking great.

DeafMetal
April 15th 2011



8584 Comments


*_*

Ire
April 15th 2011



41746 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

dream loss just finished


i don't even know what to think about that

Rev
April 15th 2011



9377 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I can't find this anywhere :/



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