Domingo, 5 de Janeiro de 2014

Grouper - Wide (2010)

Grouper - Wide FLAC

Ambient drone music is a vast and vague genre. It seems that even though ‘drone’ always means essentially the same thing (long, stretching expanses of sound, unchanging notes, etc.), that different bands and artists handle it in their own very unique ways. There’s bands like Jackie-O Mother***er and Pocahaunted that mixes improvisational experimental rock with psychedelic ambiance. Then there’s Stars of the Lid, who are often deemed to be the ringleaders of the whole thing. Then there’s Valet, (aka: Honey Owens) who uses acid guitar solos and sleepy electronics to create her own special, claustrophobic atmosphere. There are plenty of ways for drone artists to express their craft.

 Then there’s Portland’s Liz Harris, also known as Grouper. Harris is unique because she makes ambient drone music out of nothing more than her (usually) acoustic guitar and her voice. The trick is in the manipulations and delays she lays out on top of them. She sounds like no one else, and is completely her own. (If you want to play connect the dots, you can state how she worked once with Inca Ore who is also the sometimes-vocalist for Jackie-O). On her first two records (this one and Way Their Crept), you can’t really understand a single thing she’s saying. Her voice is amplified and effected to create a thick, soupy haze, with her dissonant guitar adding a powerful and skeletal backdrop. It’s really something that is hard to pin down, but it’s really interesting when analyzed further.

 On her second album, Wide, Harris employs the same general ideas as she did on her debut. She has her trademark vocal waving thing that she does to start off the record (on the brilliant and brief “Make Me Over”) and then soon it all becomes an indistinguishable meld. The listener will get lost almost immediately. Something so distant and freely formed may sound a bit daunting at first. How could anyone possibly enjoy something that is so slippery and indiscernible? Easily. Harris puts her heart into this mess, and you feel it at every moment, especially when her voice is closer in the mix, such as on the completely out-of-nowhere electric-piano ballad “Giving it to You.” It’s the closest to normality she gets, but her trademark watery stamp is still running all over it, giving it just enough mystique to remain plausible for this record.

 However, that is a rare moment. The real treats are the mountains of sound pieces like “Imposter in the Sky” and “Agate Beach.” The former has a brilliant section about a minute and twenty seconds in that goes on for a bit of time. You are crazy if it doesn’t send chills down your spine. And the latter has a buzzing synth opening it up and it slowly decays into an eerie ominousness, with her voice more aloof than ever, floating in the background. There’s a siren-like noise that is injected into the mix every now and then that just tingles your ears and mind. This is what makes Harris’ music so intriguing and gripping. She adds little details to these pieces that keep them from being monotonous, such as the guitar in “They Moved Everything” that slowly sounds less and less like a guitar. And I never found myself getting bored like I sometimes do listening to other drone music, (middle-era Stars of the Lid, namely). Grouper is never pretentious.

 Melody is her secret weapon, surprisingly enough. Underneath all the hazy and thick netting that covers every corner of this record, there are spectral melodies just yearning to be heard. On “Little Boat / Bone Dance” and “Agate Beach” there is a sadness that comes through in her voice. This is particularly impressive to me; that Harris can convey real emotion through such mazing and otherworldly concoctions. In fact, Harris’ melodies shine throughout, reminding us that underneath the haze, these really are songs. Everything here must have started like most songs start. Harris on her bed or her couch with a guitar. There are lyrics to these pieces, we just can’t discern them. But Harris can. I bet underneath it all this is as confessional as many singer-songwriters’ music. The difference for Harris is that she is confessing only to herself, and we are just outside. She doesn’t want us to hear the lyrics, otherwise she would have released a record that was just her and a guitar, unaffected.

 There’s not much wrong with Wide. With so many great factors, the only bad one is such a dismissible one. The one problem I have is the title track. It is, surprisingly, boring. It’s seven and a half minutes long of basically one note played forcefully on her guitar, with an irritating trickle of water in the background. Also, and what I consider the most bothersome aspect of it, is that it’s completely unnecessary. “Shadow Rise, Drowned” is such a delicate and beautiful piece, and when it’s over, it sounds like the record has ended. It’s the calm after the storm. And then when the title track starts going, it sounds like the star of another record. It is just excess, and even though the album would be seven minutes shorter, it would be better without it.

 Thankfully, the only problematic track is at the end, which leaves the listener to enjoy the record undisturbed for the first eight tracks. Grouper is a special artist. She creates these otherworldly, beautiful pieces that are artistic and melodic without ever sounding contrived or trite. If you listen to her latest album, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, you’ll witness a slight shift in her pallet. She allows her words and voice to come ever so slightly closer, and the guitar is slightly less muddled. It’s beautiful, and was one of the best records of 2008. However, we can’t forget where she started, and Wide is a brilliant record of one of the smartest and undiscovered talents of the decade.

FLAC

??? às 10:45

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