1.20.13 — “Vital” by Grouper

Liz Harris (Grouper)

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Vital” by Grouper (2013, from the forthcoming album The Man Who Died in His Boat).

Grouper is the stage name for ambient pop musician Liz Harris, who is from Portland, Oregon. She’s been active and pretty prolific since 2005, but I don’t have any of her records. Yet. Her one-woman show is centered around delicate muffled guitar parts, organ, tape loops, and her light, angelic vocals. It’s something not entirely unlike Julianna Barwick. In fact, it’s quite a bit like Julianna Barwick.

Despite the fact that she’s been around for more than seven years, and the fact that she’s released seven full-length records and a slew of other titles, and the fact that her music is the kind of thing that I’m really into, I’d never heard of her until recently. I have no idea how Grouper, and tonight’s song came to my attention (there’s no evidence of it in my mailbag), but I wrote GROUPER — “VITAL” on a post-it note a few days ago and stuck it to my laptop.

If you said that Grouper’s music is “dreamy”, you’d be making a bit of an understatement. In 2012, Harris released a two-part “album” that featured one sixty-minute song called “Sleep”. She also collaborated with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma to create a live musical piece that was as much art installation as it was musical performance. They composed a piece that was specifically designed for the listener to fall asleep while listening. It was mostly manipulated tape loops, but the “performance” was seven hours long. Yes. Seven hours. What happened with the audience was exactly what they planned. People drifted in and out of sleep as the sonic ambiance altered slightly. People were literally in a half-awake, half-asleep state. If you read interviews with Harris, you’ll see that she talks a lot about altered states like that, and how her brand of music will play mind tricks on the listener.

You can read all about that seven-hour pajama party in the middle of this lengthy article.

All of that leads up to this. Tonight’s song.

“Vital” by Grouper

Do not attempt to adjust your sets. That hollow, distant, muffled sound is the way it’s supposed to be.

That acoustic guitar reminds me of a couple of things. It reminds me A LOT of “Sweet Unknown” by Cranes. To a lesser extent, but still something that immediately leaped into my mind, it reminds me of “Dagger” by Slowdive.

Just for comparison’s sake, here’s that magnificent song by Cranes:

I like the noisy songs by Cranes, but this one is so lovely, and I’ll take the quiet.

Whatever you want to compare it to, it’ll take you to a serene place. I’ve just listened to the song a bunch of times in a row, and I like it more each time.

The Man Who Died in His Boat is coming out on February 4, and you can pre-order your physical copy from the Kranky Records website here.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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