Northern Transmissions review of 'Group of Points' by Grouper

Kranky

7.5

Grouper

Grid of Points

Liz Harris’ work under the name Grouper has always been evocative and mostly based on minimalist voice and piano. Sometimes, fielding recordings seep into her amorphous compositions. Grid of Points, her follow-up to 2014’s Ruins, is no different.

On Grid of Points, Grouper uses impressionistic vocals and piano like carbon paper to trace outlines of vast negative spaces in which listeners can dwell and unfurl their own thoughts while being prompted by whatever obfuscated lyrics they can decipher.

Harris wrote the seven songs that make up Grid of Points in a week and a half but “stopped abruptly” when she was “interrupted by a high fever,” she said in a statement about the album. “Though brief, it is complete.” It’s impossible to guess what happened during her thought process between working on the album and getting her fever that turned “interrupted” into
“complete.”

Yet Grouper’s work has always felt open-ended. At only 22 minutes in length (her shortest to date), Grid of Points feels like an EP, a prelude to a fuller thought, even though what comes next likely won’t feel conclusive either. With Grid of Points, she continues to prove she’s adept at capturing a moment and stretching it out long enough for listeners to imagine worlds or narratives of their own inside the suspended time.

Like some of Grouper’s other work, Grid of Points contains some sound manipulation. Her notes and chords linger in the air like ghosts on “Birthday Song”. Throughout the album, but especially on “Thanksgiving Song”, her voice is like vapour that gathers in a cloud above the piano parts.

Somehow though, Grouper never comes off disembodied, floating in the frosty, ethereal twilight that falls over Grid of Points’ tableaus. Rather, she comes off earthly as the vaporous quality of her voice and delicateness of her piano create plenty of greyscale imagery that includes stark contrasts between black and white, light and shadow; I envision the fluttering folds of curtains blowing in an open window at night. Grid of Points’ earthliness also comes from the vehicular imagery on “Driving” and “Breathing”.

Grid of Points is, as Harris says, “a set of songs for piano and voice.” But soft noise like the buzz of amps and monitors that can be heard during quiet moments of a live performance filter through at the end of first single “Parking Lot” and the beginning of “Driving”. Two minutes of harsh noise – a chugging, rumbling train’s wheels grinding against the tracks – closes both “Breathing” and the album.

Grid of Points provides intimate snapshots of still life. With highly obscured lyrics, which Harris says speak of the song’s essences more acutely than the music does, the narratives of the interior worlds she creates aren’t always clear. But she stirs images and emotional responses that listeners can use to fill the gaps and make Grid of Points a more personal listening experience.

review by Leslie Chu