Published Apr 23, 2018Although organic implements like acoustic guitar and piano have long figured prominently in the music Liz Harris has recorded as Grouper, they've often been tangled up in drones so diffuse with effects and tape loops that it's difficult to tell where ends and beginning occur. There have been exceptions: 2008's breakthrough Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, and three albums later, its 2013 companion album The Man Who Died in His Boat, dialled down the noise so we were left with scorched psychedelic folk scenes. Her last album, Ruins, stripped things down even further, to a pure and unadulterated piano and voice dynamic, only speckled by the recording setting's incidental background sounds — effectually Grouper unplugged.
Born out of a moment not long after the 2014 release of that album, Grid of Points finds Harris working in a similar milieu, albeit gently augmented. This time, both Harris's voice and piano are drenched in lush, shimmering reverb, taking things into more abstract territory than what's on offer on Ruins, voice and keystrokes alike gliding over all with drifty elusion. Nevertheless, the only moment requiring Harris to reach beyond the keys comes with a fade-in to a field recording of a passing train (presumably a "Coal Train," given an earlier track listing for this release) halfway through album closer "Breathing," and that moment of chugging industrial evanescence speaks to the simultaneous immediacy and temporary circumstances of the sessions that produced these scenes.
Written and recorded over a week-and-a-half-long period in Wyoming that ended when Harris came down with a high fever, it's Grouper at its most economical, fitting seven gorgeously articulated, sepia-toned vignettes into the space of 22 minutes.
The negative space afforded by the absence of noise gives these echoing communications even more room to grow, while the reverb lends Harris's instruments a narcotically transportive quality that's classic Grouper.
Without a lyric sheet, Harris could be waxing sentimental or taking the piss, but in all their distant, echoing ambiguity, these soft piano songs grant the listener license to project upon them the unique perspectives they approach them with. So "Thanksgiving Song" could be about coming to terms with colonial traditions or the rush of emotions wrapped up in coordinating cooking and travel times and navigating sore discussion points. "Birthday Song" could be about aging gracefully or tiptoeing around the aftermath of a raging but unfulfilling house party, while "Blouse" could be about an unwanted gift or a cherished outfit, or something else entirely. (You can bet on the latter; according to a statement written to NPR, "Parking Lot" was inspired by a scene from the 1970 American drama Zabriskie Point.)
Whatever the case, Harris is a sage escort to have along for the ride, and with the spare concrete signifiers and evocative open spaces she provides on Grid of Points, she's crafted a map for the full spectrum of human emotions and experiences. (Kranky)