Music doesn’t get much more hermetic than the introverted sounds of Grouper (aka Liz Harris, who’s released a dozen albums under that name since 2005). Her earliest work was suffused in tape hiss and different kinds of sonic murk, making her lyrics largely unintelligible and her melodies a slow-moving mass that suggested tunefulness more than it delivered it. Those qualities were central to her aesthetic, not merely a sonic effect. It has sometimes been difficult to parse her message: was she hiding beneath the sonic grime, using it as a kind of shield, or creating a kind of analog white noise of the various bodies of water she’s always lived near? (For the last dozen or so years she’s resided alongside the Columbia River in Oregon).
Her most recent album Shine collects songs recorded over a 15-year period so, while “Followed the Ocean” may be slathered in churning white noise, with her delicate voice and simple guitar lines distorted like some Alvin Lucier resonant frequency experiment, other songs such as “Unclean Mind” reflect a sonic clarity that’s turned up more on recent work. On the closing track “Kelso (Blue Sky)” everything seems as clear as day, from the ringing overtones emanating from measured arpeggios or the emotionally potent context of lyrics describing a journey home after some unspoken experience that’s shaken the narrator.
In a 2021 feature story published by The Wire Harris said, “My later thirties also had some pretty difficult moments… a relationship, traumatic grief. I know these types of experiences are common and unique; I never for a moment imagine that a life with high anxiety and deep grief is particular to me. Maybe that’s partly why I share vulnerable moments with a larger audience, despite how raw that engagement can be at times.”