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Grouper - Grid of Points (Album Review)

Monday, 30 April 2018 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Tanja Engelbert

Liz Harris is an interesting musician.

Operating as Grouper, the Californian has produced 10 records of murmured sound happenings, rich in washy reverb and tonally evasive melodies. Her 11th album, ‘Grid of Points’, picks up on the piano-led soundscapes of 2014’s ‘Ruins’, but is in many ways a more sparse, ambient record. At 22 minutes, it could act as a very effective entry level meditation piece.

We open with a 50-second choral number, The Races, which introduces ecclesiastical arrangements and massive sounding - yet quiet - melodies. From this beautiful intro, we drop into Parking Lot - a song that demonstrates more fully Harris’s distinctive vocal style.

As with much of Grouper’s work, her voice is being used to deliver sounds rather than words. It could be argued that another Liz - Fraser of the Cocteau Twins - is the key influence outside of the avante-garde to hone this style. But Harris’s voice is remarkable for its terseness; in a world of quantised rhythms and auto-tuned vocals, the spacious freedom of ‘Grid of Points’ is something to be cherished.

That said, there is a little bit of the emperor’s new clothes about it. The last two minutes are the sound of a train approaching and departing, and while Harris has gone on record to describe the album’s recording as being halted by sickness - possibly as a message from a higher power - the reality is that this is an album where very little happens.

Having said that, Harris is clearly an artist who is interested in the practice of a particular style, and developing that practice as far as it can go. Thus, it is hard to criticise the minimalism of ‘Grid of Points’ when it is so boldly designed to be that way. Just don’t put it on at a party.

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