Grouper – Shade

When the clouds of distortion that form the guard fall, you can hear the heart…

Grouper hits differently: this is a known fact.  

The music of Liz Harris seems to tap some limbic accord, its density of humming waves and layers arranged in perfect formation to still and pacify the system. Whether witchery through sound or application of drone, it quakes on some root-level ley-line. It is the aural equivalent of being held in safe arms, of seeping in skin-touch water. Her records are a state that you visit. A place that you go.

Compiled over 15 years, the songs that make up ‘Shade’ are fragments from different periods – some the fruit of a self-staged residency in Mount Tamalpais, others from times in Portland and Astoria. Each is concerned, in some way, with environments both physical and emotional: studies of the interplay between light and shade.

Suggestions of words, mixed so deep that they take on the texture of vocalisations, are close enough to emote, but not defined enough to analyse. Beneath the soupy fuzz, Disordered Minds acts out the dramatics of an agonised love – its mournful repetition of distorted motifs playing over and over till it eventually undoes itself, fading to a pulse-like minute of a single muted drum-beat.

But for all the album’s deliberate obscurity, there are small certainties and simple candours. She charts the emotional weather contained within four walls (Pale Interiors), the blue sky that sparkles above Kelso. How a lover’s skin can become a causeway, then a canyon.

Promises is a simple, straight-ahead love song that’s direct in its declarations (“‘I know you’re taking care of me and I like that”) Ode to the Blue’s lilting, elegiac melody. Unclean Mind’s acoustic riff nagging in its insistence. Almost unbearably intimate ,‘The way her hair falls’ is sung mouth to microphone close. You can hear the skin of her fingertips slide and catch on the strings of her acoustic guitar. When the clouds of distortion that form the guard fall, you can hear the heart. As we listen through a time of enforced distance, it is a satisfyingly intimate stance for Harris to assume… and a courageous one, too.


Words: Marianne Gallagher

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