Review Summary: dropping the dead deer at the top of the hill and descending
For most, Liz Harris’ hill is lush, isolated, and one we listeners are willing to die on. She’s never changed the basic formula -- one she’s maintained since her eponymous 2005 EP -- out of, I think, necessity; one that illuminates Grouper’s ambient-folk journal as the thing that speaks to the spaces in between. Harris, through dabbling in the ethereal, positioning the dream world so close to the mundane, has landed herself in a rather auspicious spot: her aesthetic, as lovely and incorporeal as it is, is coveted no matter the iteration. Switch out your haunting guitars for your gorgeous lilting piano phrases all you want; as long as you still evoke solitude, the tempering of the outside world, spectral beauty -- we’ll remain on good terms. So what do we as fans expect, going into Grid of Points
I think I expected more.
I don’t mean to undersell this thing: It’s more Grouper, more seraphic whispering choirs, more formless and nebulous piano songs about “emotional garbage” that send shivers up your spine. It’s also only twenty-one minutes long and scant on melody, beckoning patience that I may not have afforded if I hadn’t felt the weight of Grouper’s reputation as I listened.
But, when all’s both said and done, one’s patience is rewarded. Grid of Points
is a shadow stitched to Liz Harris’ body of work, not least because it feels, at first, like a reduction of her former self. It’s pithy and monochromatic, forcing the listener to pay the closest attention to every movement. Every harmony is a different shade of grey, and this record does yield some of her loveliest harmonies. Parking Lot
ripples with tape echo, and resultingly, the vocal layers bleed indistinguishably into each other, like Harris alone forms the world’s most resigned, listless chorus. Much the same, her sparse piano work mirrors her vocal melodies -- restrained, but unafraid of the occasional flourish when the song’s parameters permit such wiggle room.
for example, reaches up into -- for my memory -- unprecedentedly high-pitched territories, making for a rare lucid passage which plays the foil to Harris’ ever-nebulous, hazy vocals.)
To address the elephant in the room: this is not, contrary to initial inspection, Ruins-lite. Where Ruins
documented Liz living in the ruins (go figure) of past lives, past relationships, Grid of Points
has her gently exploring new locations – ones that aren’t marked by a state of disrepair. It is, I think, the reason this album is so ephemeral; despite its slow burn, one gets the sense that the record is moving from place to place, filling empty spaces with its spirit before departing. Breathing
is the most conclusive song in Grouper’s discography, consumed halfway through by the sound of a train passing as if to bookmark the end of a particular chapter set in the debris of your old home. Given the circumstances, it’s perfect – crystallising Grid of Points
as an important stopover, one that eternalises and suspends a moment in time. Quite like a tattoo, in fact (RIP Aljezur: 2014 – 2018).
So what now do I expect of Grouper? I expect my expectations to be subverted, and my isolation to feel lived in.