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Stereo Freeze. 3.24.

March 24, 2009

Welcome to the first installment of Stereo Freeze. I’ll be here every Tuesday, and the the plan is to alternate between two columns, this one, just a collection of ramblings on music, and a post-punk column. So it’ll be this column one week, and the other the following week. And repeat.

Anyway, this week, I’ve written about the latest Grouper record.

Impressions: Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type, 2008)

Rarely do guitar and voice singer/songwriter performances reach such places. Employing just guitar (both effected and not), some loop/sample sources and multi-tracked vocals on this, her third release, Portland-based musician and visual artist Liz Harris has produced a record that is at once lovely and sinister, each never more than shades apart from one another.

This record came out in the summer of 2008, but, as with some of the other Grouper releases, has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to track down in physical copy. Again, this is Harris’ third full-length release – following 2005’s Way Their Crept and 2006’s Wide – but there are also some singles as well (including a great split with Inca Ore that you can hear at The Grouper discography can be difficult to trace fully, as a number of her recordings have been released only in limited pressings, on small labels. A listing of the releases, along with some of her artwork, is available on her website, though. The albums have been largely a word-of-mouth phenomenon for a couple of years now, but that has started to change, as Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill was noticed and referenced this past year to an extent beyond which her earlier releases were. She’s catching on with this release, it seems. The Grouper records are the kind of hard-to-find ones that people really come to cherish, and the increasing interest in her work is bringing her new audiences and appreciation. And, on that topic, she’ll be touring with Animal Collective come this May.

An excerpt from the Type page’s writeup for her re-issued 2005 debut Way Their Crept serves equally well in describing this latest release, saying that it could be “[labelled] as an ambient record, but to label it as such would be doing it a great injustice; rather, this is a meeting point of psychedelia, folk traditions and early electronic experimentalism.” The simple fact is, it’s beautiful, evocative stuff that has a broader appeal than many stricter singer/songwriter or ambient records do.

The elements of the sound are, to an extent, instantly identifiable – we’ve all heard a singer/songwriter with a guitar before – but the method in which those familiar elements are combined here is enough to make one look past all the cloying junk that comes to mind and causes hesitation when the words “singer/songwriter” and “guitar” are mentioned. And how so? Song quality is a part of it, yes, but the production is equally important. This record is a remarkably textured, yet minimal thing. Constant strums push most of the songs along, broken up once in a while with string squeaks that get caught in the delay, and that complimented by vocals that are enveloped in a hushed, multi-layered haze that keeps everything but the main melody line undefined; harmonies that unsettle just as easily as they please, and lyrics that have very little tangible form. What is she singing? Apart from a few words here and there, it’s not easy to make out much, but that’s an important part of it. Straining too much to pick out or follow certain sounds interrupts the dream this record lays out for you. Perhaps not a dream, entirely, but the cusp of one, just at the point where you’ll never really remember more than hues of anything that happens. Light and dusk at play with one another. Just take a long look at that record cover. Even on repeated listens, this record’s colours will vary.

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  1. Played This Week « Gunshy

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