New Music Monday: Grouper

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Grouper (Liz Harris)
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

In today's New Music Monday, PQ offers you the overwhelmingly gorgeous minimalist shoegaze of local artist Grouper. Grouper — a recording and performance project of Portlander Liz Harris — is absolutely magical. There's really no other word for it; her spare, ambient compositions evoke snowy nights, solo walks in the forest, and unspeakable awe in equal measure, resulting in albums and performances that must be heard to be believed. Harris recently linked up with experimental music label Kranky to rerelease her critically-acclaimed but out-of print albums A I A and Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill; however, what will really make fans swoon is Kranky's release of The Man Who Died in His Boat, a collection of previously-unreleased tracks recorded at the same time as 2008's Dragging... While technically speaking The Man Who Died in His Boat is an assemblage of non-album tracks, absolutely none of the songs sound superfluous or sub-par — and as a compilation, the album has a stunning cohesiveness, presenting a barren yet inviting sonic landscape of delicate folk and unsettling minimalism. Harris poetically explains the origin of the album's title — and in doing so, summarizes the Grouper ethos and sound quite effectively:

When I was a teenager the wreckage of a sailboat washed up on the shore of Agate Beach. The remains of the vessel weren't removed for several days. I walked down with my father to peer inside the boat cabin. Maps, coffee cups and clothing were strewn around inside. I remember looking only briefly, wilted by the feeling that I was violating some remnant of this man's presence by witnessing the evidence of its failure. Later I read a story about him in the paper. It was impossible to know what had happened. The boat had never crashed or capsized. He had simply slipped off somehow, and the boat, like a riderless horse, eventually came back home.
Listen to "Vital," "Vanishing Point," "Cloud in Places," and "Towers." Seriously, listen to them right now. So, so beautiful, isn't it?