by Patrick Pilch (@pratprilch)
It seems there is a collective sigh among fans, critics and new listeners alike with every new Grouper album. Each release is a melancholic beacon, lit like a distant lighthouse, dimly cutting through a dense and heavy fog. While there’s unquestionably a distinct warmth within Liz Harris’ music, there’s always been a noticeable chill. As Grouper, Harris weaves an intrinsic ambience that captures specific raw emotions; there’s a profound sense of sorrow in her music, weathered and worn thin through mourning, grief and rumination. Though Harris’ music wears its heart on its sleeve, there’s an unmistakable wisdom in her ever-present motif, which has become a sonic crutch for sadness since 2005.
Harris once mentioned she doesn't remember recording Cover the Windows and the Walls. On her latest, she brings that amnesiac sensation to the surface like no other previous Grouper release. Grid of Points, in its brevity and faintness, sounds elegantly withdrawn, as most tracks deteriorate beautifully into sonic nothingness. With her tenth studio LP release, Grouper masterfully harnesses the potency of silence. Harris creates tension with space, pause and, for the first time, surprise. Songs meander, end abruptly and slip into the quiet without warning, producing shadowy loose-ends, tied together in the grander scale of the album.
The seven tracks on Grid of Points are subliminal in nature, each creeping into the listener’s subconscious after each spin. They’re fragile and isolated on their own, like silhouetted inkblots on thin parchment paper, quickly swept away in a hushed ambience. In almost unobservable fashion, “Thanksgiving Song” begins to fade with two minutes remaining; an incredibly welcoming drawn out conclusion for the glimmering album highlight. The staggering lightness of “Blouse” serves as Grid of Points’ utmost moment of frailty; a penultimate triumph before the abrupt industrial chug of train cars on “Breathing.” This finale serves as a thematic awakening: a sonic tug back into reality. It’s harsh, yet fair, considering how terribly easy it is to get lost in Grouper’s music. At this point in her career, Liz Harris has become an expert in separated ambience and a figurehead for atmospheric detachment in sound and space. Grid of Points is fleeting yet fervent, and remarkably cohesive from start to finish.