Review Summary: Baby, it's cold outside.
Ruins. What a fitting title that is. I have played with this theme in the past - comparing album titles with the content, drawing different parallels and whatnot, yet it never ceases to intrigue. Ruins
is a memento of disrepair; I envision Grouper, aka Liz Harris, gathering the pieces of a love lost, or soon to be. If there is passion, it is long subdued. Imagine the flood of emotions as you watch your family home burn down, then imagine the resignation as you sift through the ashes afterwards. Grouper has always been cryptic in delivery, but she carries the burden of grave disappointment in both past and future tense. There is lamentation, thereby a lack of optimism; some things can’t be salvaged. Still, Ruins
rises like a phoenix, though marred by soot and dejection. Given how utterly circumstantial its creation was, it’s fitting that appreciation for Grouper’s latest album follows suit. While we certainly weren’t there
during its inception, a true reverence for Ruins
implies a desire to place yourself in Liz Harris’ home, exposed to what is arguably her most intimate album to date.
The opening track “Made of Metal” is composed of ascending thuds resembling a foreboding anxiety - similar to repeating ‘it’s going to be fine' persistently, albeit pointlessly. As the song apexes, a worrisome tone ferments. The following songs feature stripped down piano melodies coinciding with Harris’ hushed vocals. Despite her warm presence, she bears a facade, hinting at potential disaster. “Take your sad song”
she tells me, knowing all too well the double-edged sword of seeking comfort in dark spaces. She sings with a calm realization, or perhaps the fitting term is ‘acceptance’ - as though she has played out every negative scenario to exhaustion, and has gradually come to terms. Like any album toying with halcyon builds, Ruins
is best enjoyed in one sitting, though one can imagine how unsettling a fragmented listen might be - I’ll leave you to experiment. The first few tracks are feathery stepping stones to the closing pieces “Holding” and “Made of Air”. “Holding” is easily a standout dirge, featuring gorgeous, somber melodies and a heart-wrenching progression as Harris whispers her sweet proverbial nothings. The decade old follow-up “Made of Air” is devoid of vocals, and ends the album on a troubling note, alluding to the unexpected - that godawful sense of doubt. This particular recording offers a flashback, bearing a reflective consternation as though Grouper is drawing on hazy past experiences, yielding more questions than answers. There’s luxury in certainty, and we often take it for granted until it’s ripped away, leaving us to cope without methods.
isn’t overtly eventful, and risks passing in one ear and out the other. For an impression to be made, a personal association seems vital. While certainly well-established, Harris’ music feels like it’s ‘all yours’ - your own hiding place. Indeed, it’s not immediately apparent, and admittedly I was fully prepared to let Ruins
pass me by. However, for no particular reason, something clicked as I was thinking about some irrelevant anecdote - funny how that works. I’ll spare you the ugly details, but this personal account consists of my then-failing marriage. It wasn’t heated or anything - more of a mutual disappointment with bittersweet connotations. This is what Ruins
is, based on my personal association; it is the soothing texture of Grouper’s voice alongside the encroaching terror of losing her
, and self-imposed isolation. Yet, there are brief moments strewn throughout the recordings exhibiting sounds of nature, letting the listener put one foot out the door. Despite the overcast pervading Ruins
, the world continues on, indifferently. Wind blows, frogs croak, and I sip cheap liquor at 3 in the afternoon, disengaged with my spouse as I give my undivided attention to Liz Harris. I swear, you’ll be the death of me... I’ll drink to that. Cheers.