- Liz Harris, AKA Grouper, returns to an earlier, more mysterious sound under a new alias.
- As Grouper, Liz Harris has developed a singular concoction of atmosphere and songcraft. Her best work hinges on its simultaneous distance and intimacy—though the music feels as if it's emerging through layers of haze and obfuscation, there is an urgency to the melodies that cuts through with intense melancholy. Her music feels fragile, a quality that was intensified on the last two Grouper albums, 2014's Ruins and Grid Of Points, released last year, as she transitioned to recording with just piano and voice. While those albums could hardly be called pop, they were accessible in a way that shed some of the mystery around her music. But on her first album as Nivhek, Harris dives into the obscurity and resolute stillness of her earlier records. After Its Own Death / Walking In A Spiral Towards The House is among Harris's most minimalistic works while also her most sonically expansive.
The opening of After Its Own Death is the closest the album gets to the sound of Grouper, with a chorus of Harris's vocals floating out of nothingness, her words blurred together by reverb. But rather than blossoming into anything that resembles a song, it remains, for several minutes, unaccompanied, teasing out an understated melody. Like recent work by Sarah Davachi, many of Harris's melodic lines and harmonic choices seem indebted to pre-Baroque music in their simplistic, hymnal quality.
As the suite develops, she introduces a pulsating synthesizer, which drones incessently and eventually overtakes her voice as the dominant element. Instilled with tension, it shows that while much of Harris's music is considered ambient, this music is best absorbed through active listening. As After Its Own Death moves into its second half, Harris incorporates guitar, field recordings and multi-tracked vocals. But for all the diversity of the sound sources, they rarely overlap. Each element feels skeletal.
Much of the album, including the whole of Walking In A Spiral Towards The House, is occupied by solo mellotron, programmed to sound like a vibraphone. Certain passages recur throughout both pieces, arising mysteriously and evolving differently each time they appear. These sections, though not overtly difficult, are the most radical and challenging compositions Harris has produced in some time. Their cyclical nature, and the silence that seems to envelop them, makes them feel eternal, almost sacred. It is as if she has stripped her music of all overtly expressive emotion and left only its echoes.
If Harris continues to segment her creative output—Nivhek as an outlet for abstraction, Grouper for more traditional songwriting—the possibilities for this project are exciting. After Its Own Death / Walking In A Spiral Towards The House feels less like a reinvention than a continuation of certain elements of her music that have laid dormant for several years. It is an engaging example of an artist continuing to push herself and find new avenues into her distinctive sound world.
01. After Its Own Death: Side A
02. After Its Own Death: Side B
03. Walking In A Spiral Towards The House: Side C
04. Walking In A Spiral Towards The House: Side D