Grouper gets lost in its own atmosphere on Grid of Points

words fae liam toner (@tonerliam)

rating 6Liz Harris is an American musician and songwriter who since 2005 has released 12 albums and three EPs through her solo project Grouper. The Grouper sound Harris has crafted over the years has varied from album to album, but on each release, you’ll always find some key elements: reverb washed production, feathery vocal delivery and an overall tone of dreamy melancholy.

Harris’ music often features field recordings and everyday sounds along with tape hiss that gives her music a much more personal quality that a lot of fans have come to love. Her most ambitious project to date is probably her 2007 album A I A: Alien Observer, an ambient drone influenced album with Harris’ signature vocal style on top that creates an otherworldly spacey atmosphere where the listener can easily lose themselves in its dreamy haze.

Grid of Points is Harris’ newest output and clocking in at around 22 minutes the short album has a much more stripped-down approach than some of her other work. Similar to her most recent album Ruins, each song is mostly just Harris’ soft vocals and a piano. The production is atmospheric as usual, with all sounds engulfed in reverb which creates overtones that soar over the mix and add to the ethereal quality of the tracks. Harris will utilise her signature vocal harmony style and you’ll also hear the tape hiss throughout, meaning it has all the key ingredients of a Grouper album.

The first track is a short acapella number which sucks the listener in to the downtrodden mood of Grid of Points and sets the moody tone for the rest of the album. Each track onward just features Liz and her piano. The tracks are slow and sparse, devoid of any flashy musicianship made with the intention of creating atmosphere.

With this comes my issue with the album, however. The stripped-down sound Harris is going for on this release exposes the songs to be very minimal and vague without a strong sense of progression. With all the elements of each track being so understated and washed out it can give the music a lack of substance. The music often falls into the background, leaving the listener to forget about the subtleties of Harris‘ songcraft. Now this would be fine on an ambient record, but on a stripped back solo piano album the understated qualities leave something to be desired. It could be argued that the lack of standout musical features on this release is what makes it good, but it couldn’t have hurt to have chord progressions or themes that are a bit more developed and interesting. All of the songs were said to be written over the course of a week and half, and at times it shows.

Although the music on here can suffer from being a bit sonically reserved, it is far from unenjoyable. Harris’ silky voice is a warm presence that, accompanied with her sparse piano playing, makes for a very pleasant listen. Blouse is a particularly beautiful song that did grab my attention on each listen and probably stands out as the best song on the album. The humming engine sounds at the end of the brief album also add a rather relaxing quality. If anything, this album absolutely delivered on how peaceful it was intended to be.

Grid of Points is an album that, while very pleasant and nice to listen to, doesn’t leave a huge impact and won’t likely be remembered as one of Grouper’s more memorable or ambitious releases. However, will probably be just great for the loyal Grouper fans.


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