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Grouper - Shade Music Album Reviews

Grouper - Shade Music Album Reviews
Recorded over the last 15 years, and alternating between stripped-down folk and thickets of distortion, Shade takes Grouper’s careful balance between intimacy and inscrutability to a new extreme.

Liz Harris always seems to be telling us a secret. The catch—and the thing that makes her music as Grouper so fascinating—is we’re never sure what. Titles like “Thanksgiving Song” and “The Man Who Died in His Boat” hint that she’s letting us in on specific moments and memories, but the lyrics lean toward abstraction, and that’s when you can make them out from behind a thick wall of reverb. From 2014’s Ruins onward, Harris has scrubbed away much of the grit from her sound, and it’s been a thrill to watch her music hint at candor before ducking back into the shadows where it thrives. Shade takes this knife’s-edge balance between intimacy and inscrutability to the extreme.

Many of Shade’s nine tracks feel like experiments in how much Harris can remove from her music while retaining its essential mystery. The album’s most notable development is to present her voice and acoustic guitar largely unadorned. The setting is so spare we can hear the buzz of the room and the squeak of her fingers on the frets. On “Ode to the blue” and “Pale Interior,” her words seem to dissolve as soon as they leave her mouth, and the faint slapback echo on “Pale Interior” puts an extra degree of separation between her voice and the listener. Even in such a raw and intimate context, listening to these songs still feels like entering an environment rather than being serenaded by someone with a guitar.

On the other side of the spectrum, we hear songs that retreat deeper into thickets of distortion than anything she’s made since 2011’s A I A. The album opens with “Followed the ocean,” and immediately she’s belting, her voice working with the guitar feedback to push the mix into the red. That song and the dramatically side-chained “Disordered Minds” sound like Laura Nyro singing from the middle of a maelstrom. We get all the ache of a great soul vocal without totally understanding what’s moving enough to merit such an emotional delivery. The contrast with the acoustic material is kind of funny, like Harris is playing with two ways of making sure her message almost gets to us.

A few tracks on Shade feel like love songs. That’s certainly true of “Unclean mind,” with its hushed and naked pleas. The repetitive guitar motions of “The way her hair falls,” in tandem with the oft-surfacing word “pretty,” make it feel as if she’s performing a tender and intimate gesture such as braiding a lover’s hair. But Shade seems just as interested in Harris’ proximity to nature. On “Kelso (Blue sky),” we hear an owl hooting in the distance (Harris likes serendipitous, non-human duet partners; remember the microwave on “Labyrinth” from Ruins). “Followed the ocean” feels buffeted by the elements, like a wanderer on a spiritual quest. And the omnipresent room tone on the quieter tracks alerts us to the presence of the vastness of the surrounding universe, just on the other side of the walls.

Harris recorded these tracks over the last 15 years, in the Bay Area and Oregon. The easy assumption is that the fuzzier songs are older and the newer songs represent the conclusion of the trend toward more unvarnished production on Ruins and 2018’s Grid of Points. But it’s hard to be sure, and on “Ode to the blue,” her voice sounds enough like Vashti Bunyan’s to make me wonder if it wasn’t recorded closer to 2006, when Bunyan’s influence was more pervasive in indie rock. Either way, the possibility of a 15-year leap as “Followed the ocean” abruptly barges into “Unclean mind” is nearly as disorienting as the famous million-year match cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Grouper albums typically pick a mood and stick with it, but the jostling together of the two poles of Harris’ sound gives Shade a distinct tenor within her discography. This push-pull structure accounts for much of what makes the record fascinating, but it also makes it harder to get lost in than some of her albums. The major-key “Kelso” feels like too resolute an ending so soon after “Basement Mix” leads us into the woods down a trail of low-end distortion. And there are a few moments that try too hard for an “intimate” feel, like when a bit of jokey dialogue interrupts the end of “Disordered Minds,” or the take of “The way her hair falls” where she messes up and starts over. But had Shade followed a more disciplined arc, it might lose its sense of floating freely through time and memory, replaying some moments with striking clarity and burying others in the fog.

A more stripped-down Grouper isn’t necessarily more interesting or emotionally resonant, but it’s hard to think of many musicians who are better at transmuting pop and folk structures into abstract, haunted environments, and that strength has not dimmed on Shade. The chain reaction these nine songs generate together produces enough fog and smoke to keep the spell going strong—and to keep whatever secret she’s trying to tell us just on the other side of the speakers.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Grouper - Shade Music Album Reviews Grouper - Shade Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, November 02, 2021 Rating: 5

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