Review Summary: It is like waking up after a hurricane has destroyed your home. Everything is in shambles, nothing is recognizable, you feel confused and numb, but the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, what can you do?
Grouper (a one Liz Harris) has been creating atmospheric swirling concoctions of dissonance, beauty, and stark ambience since early to mid 2000's. Her style is that of minimal stripped-down simplicity, usually her hauntingly beautiful voice is lost deep within the misty haze of piano, acoustic guitar, and ambient noise, creating a dream-like pathway toward pensive melancholia and intimately personal emotion, quite mesmerizing indeed.
Ruins showcases Grouper at her most stripped down, ever. The usual murky dreamscape of reverb and static cannot be found here. No, this is too personal, far too honest. This is bare bones, straight to the point, raw, unfiltered emotion being portrayed via piano and voice, and man it is poignant. This album has a way of slowly working into the emotional cracks of your conscious (and unconscious) self, exposing all those aching compartmentalized emotions that often times we prefer to lock away and forget about. But it does this with a tender care, an empathetic softness that leaves the listener spellbound and completely open to the haunting beauty of Ruins. You see, what Grouper does here is quite amazing. She taps into a vein of emotional purity that cannot be denied, it is way too real, way too human, you can't turn away from this atmosphere, this all too relatable feeling of utter sadness. Layer after layer you fall into yourself while Harris sings the songs of her soul. Her ethereal melody leads you through mountains of pent up regret, stress, loss, and self-deprecation, shining pale light upon the darkened recesses of your existence. And as you fall, you eventually break through the final layer to the emptiness that waits beyond. It feels as though every ounce of yourself has been cleared away, demolished by the sweetest tidal wave, and you feel oddly empowered. All of your beady-eyed demons have been exposed, there is nowhere left for them to go because you aren't giving them the luxury of hiding. Now, it is just you, and the soft vibration of Grouper.
This album is heartbreakingly sad in nature. It is an intimate dance with emotional devastation. But what separates Ruins from other emotionally evocative albums is that it does not carry the steadfast decay of desperation. It is quite apparent (lyrically speaking for sure) that Harris has had her share of emotional turmoil and heartbreak. However, her presentation does not come from the jaded emotional resignation of complacence. As mentioned before, there is an innocent purity taking form here, it is an illuminating account of humanness. Harris is opening a window that many would rather keep closed. Quite effortlessly, through every moment of this album, Harris is showcasing the delicate nature of the human being. It is a gentle reminder that when one admits to being small and powerless, then true power can begin to filter forth. Sometimes you have to be demolished entirely before you can put the pieces back together again. Ruins (aptly named) is the calm aftermath of a horrific storm. It is like waking up after a hurricane has destroyed your home. Everything is in shambles, nothing is recognizable, you feel confused and numb, but the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, what can you do? Ruins represents the first step towards rebuilding. It is a stark hope, all you have left is to try, because everything else has been lost.
Liz Harris has said in interviews that she traveled to a secluded town in Portugal to write this album. She rented a small home on a beach and spent her days hiking, getting lost in her head, only to come home to her piano in the evening to continue writing the album. She remained there alone for 2 months, recording it all herself. She apparently had been holding onto some particularly painful emotion over the past few years and Ruins is the expelling of her held sadness. Needless to say, her inner trials translated to record exceptionally well. This album is teeming with an honest freshness that is completely incomparable to any other. Ruins is an uncontrived gateway into the universality of hardship and the uncompromising tenacity of the human will. You cannot not be moved by this offering of transparent intimacy. Nothing is hidden here, just a girl, a piano, and her outpouring.
This album is a gem, a shelter for times of hardship. Brew some tea, lay in bed, dim the lights, and give this album a listen, I promise that you will quickly see what I'm talking about. Ruins, Grouper.