MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
Type Records 2008
Writing about Grouper is a pretty drastic pivot after Betty Davis yet something essential about feminism is still in play here, a gesture I don’t take lightly, the assertion and beauty of prismatic discovery, all the colors of the rainbow contribute.
Grouper is the musical moniker of the artist Liz Harris. (The eerie cover is actually a photo of her that her mother took when she was a little girl.) When she is not doing amazing geometric graphic designs and visual art, see repeatingpattern.com, (my vinyl copy of this came with a gorgeous iron-on pattern graphic she designed that I have yet to put on a t-shirt,) she makes this amazing holy amalgam of ambient ‘folk’ ethereal hypnotic dream music.
The first thing one notices when the record starts is a kind of reverberating white noise that gives the impression of submersion and I imagine as a listener I am plummeting slowly into a deep part of an ocean, a sea of the unconscious as it were, the place from which the material of our dreams comes from.
It’s difficult to tell just what she is singing about as the vocals are practically subsumed in the mix but the effect is that of a haunted fragmentary humanity and the vocals, inscrutable though they may be, are unfailingly gorgeous and angelic. The reason this record has become a bit of an “underground classic” as it were, (Harris is very celebrated in certain experimental and avant garde circles- I found several articles online celebrating this records’ 10th anniversary in 2018 in fact, and when I subscribed to the UK magazine The Wire years ago anything she did was cause for mention,) is because this album is so melodic, these aren’t just spaced out soundscapes as some of her work can seem, but actual ‘space-folk’ songs with verses and something approximating a kind of chorus or refrain. I like to think of these as hymnal. They are certainly hummable, after I listen I have them stuck in my head for hours and I can walk around in a bit of a somnambulant state, unable to stop my daydreams from filtering into the day’s events and actions.
I’m no art critic. Of this I, and anybody who reads these thoughts of mine, can be sure. But I know the ecstatic impression and psychological abrasion that some damn fine creative work will accomplish when executed well, and to me that is what ‘good art’ should be. Reminders of the mystery of our lives. There is beauty in this mystery. There is beauty in Grouper and this record and I come back to it time and time again, like tracing one’s fingers over an old scar to remember the wound it came from. I remember that I know nothing. But I can feel everything.