Friday, February 6, 2009

Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Despite reading articles, blogs, and message board posts galore last year, I managed to remain in the dark on Grouper's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill.  In fact, 2008 year-end list season was the first I'd even heard of "Grouper" (a moniker for Portland's Liz Harris), despite the fact that this is (apparently) her third album.  Deer made Pitchfork's Top 40, Boomkat's Top 15, and a few individual Dusted lists, yet I couldn't recall seeing a single review.  What on Earth was all this out-of-nowhere fuss about?

Deer begins with a slow rumble that gradually builds and fades; it's possibly a train rolling by--it doesn't matter.  There's an amp switch thrown and Harris' siren-like voice breaks in.  It's soft and pretty, or maybe child like.  I can't make out a single thing she's saying--that doesn't really matter either.  What matters is how this thing sounds.

The way it sounds is like: somebody really sad is fucking around with a guitar in an auditorium, and I'm down the hall taking a leak with the door open.  And as I get wind of opening track "Disengaged," I'm dragged head first in search of this eery-ass sound; this sound that's so over-muddied, too ridiculously fuzzed out to know whether or not Harris is trying to say anything with her words, or just use that voice to lure me to her.  Then there's an organ (or something), and the amp fuzzes out.  You hear her switch off a tape recorder, pick up an acoustic guitar, and begin strumming "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping."

By now I'm standing in the corridor of the auditorium.  The sound of her voice and guitar still echo, but she's more intelligible and emotive than from down the hall: "Oh dreamer/ oh heavy water/ love is enormous/ it's lifting me up/ I'd rather be sleeping/ I'd rather fall in a tideway/ right where the deepest currents flow."  (Ok, I'm probably a tad off, but it's close).

The way this album sounds is: dark and lonesome, foggy and tired, or as Boomkat writes, "It's a mass of mesmerizing magnetic hiss and soft noise, with a voice cloaked in lo-fi haze somewhere at the back."  Sounds kinda like shoegaze, don't it?  So does Deer, except the standard elements aren't used.  For instance, "Wind and Snow" blankets just about everything in layers of--not electrics, but--creaking vocals, like a microphone just on the verge of doing that annoying screech thing it does if it gets too close to random objects.  The result is a "wall of sound" you absolutely have to hear on the best headphones you can scrounge up.

In many ways, this album will appeal most to fans of shoegaze (Harris even reminds me of Asobi Seksu's Yuki at times).  But it will also serve as a strong companion for anyone who's finding these winter months colder, darker, and longer than usual.  I've listened to this album about two-dozen times in the last month, but I doubt I'll touch it once Spring rolls around.  Who cares?  Right now, it's utterly perfect.  Maybe that's why so many music journalists felt compelled to throw a moderately well-received record onto their (December) Best Of lists.  And Goddamn am I glad they did.

Listen to "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" (TURN IT UP):

1 comment:

AC said...

Adam, we've never met but I read this blog regularly, and I have to say I was skeptical after reading your positive review of Taylor Swift (I am unfortunately not a fan). However, this time around you nailed it with the music pick. This is exactly what I listen to when I want to disappear into my headphones on a cold grey-blue Chicago winter day. Glad I'm not alone in that sad sad sentiment ;) Really though, beautiful stuff.