Grouper - Ruins

by Justin Pearson Rating:9 Release Date:2014-11-03

There's a sense of impending doom on 'Made of Metal', the opening track from Liz Harris' latest album, Ruins, under her solo project name of Grouper. A drum beats through ambient nature sounds of crickets and frogs and seems a little unsettled in its quest to find a place of rest. This sets the tone perfectly on a record that's cloaked in a sad yet comforting sort of quiet. It's definitely nothing to be scared of, rather something that begs to be felt as you listen to it.

When the heartbeat intro does finally stop, it's imimediately replaced by the stripped-bare, raw melody of 'Clearing'. The simple yet beautiful structure of the song belies the emotional weight of a relationship gone wrong with the lyrics: "Can't you see us fading/ Soon there won't be anyone there... Sometimes I wish that none of this had happened". If you're familiar with her previous, more lyrically obscured work as Grouper, it's almost alarming to hear her clear vocal delivery. It makes this one that much more potent for all its intimacy, as if she's sharing things with you in her moment of clarity.

Her hushed, feathery vocals float over the piano keys in 'Call Across Rooms' as she plays to the inner world of the past. It holds and hangs in the ether for just a little while, but long enough to wash a coating of tentative nostalgia over the song.

It's gorgeous in a way that aches, not so much with pain, but reflection, like the "rooms that hold echoes" she refers to in the song. Of all the tracks on this fantastic, emotive album, this one strongly makes the case for the whole thing to be a required shut-in experience, preferably in a breakfast nook by a window as the rain patters outside.

'Holding' sounds like the rain itself, the slow and steady kind that starts out as a drop here and there, then picks up slightly but never downpours. Here in Harris' hands, the piano becomes a conduit for the weather that's been forecast at the outset. It even ends with the sound of real rain in the last minute, as if in reply to the raindance that was just performed.

The nakedness of 'Labyrinth' is another example of the deceptive simpleness of the album. It's a spare piano melody which barely changes throughout its almost four-minute length. But after absorbing rather than hearing it, you feel changed yourself somehow.

Ruins is highly consistent in its layout. The minimal aesthetic Harris masters here envelops the listener in a blanket of melancholy warmth. There's little change dynamically from beginning to end, so it's pleasantly surprising that it succeeds so well as a whole album. It won't punch you in the gut, but it clearly has the power to mesmerize.

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