My first experience with Liz Harris (a solo artist from Portland who goes by Grouper) was two years ago when I saw her open for a sold-out Animal Collective show at First Avenue’s Main Room. A fitting pairing on paper, but an odd one to experience in person, with droves of Merriweather Post Pavilion fans waiting/hoping to get their dance on.
The atmospheric looping and soft reverb proved too subdued for many. The response was quietly appreciative, but most people seemed disappointed that the opener didn’t get them moving. I’ll admit I was mostly in the same boat, but still interested in what she was doing and thought the big space may have been to blame. But given Animal Collective’s live show reputation, we shouldn’t have been surprised that they’d bring with them an opener like this. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable show, and Grouper had made an impression on me despite the not-so-ideal viewing conditions.
A few months ago, I got Grouper’s 2008 album, Dragging A Dead Dear Up A Hill, and was immediately hooked. What was missing in that live show hit hard in the seclusion of my room, where the sounds washed over me like soul-cleansing waves. It got the most plays on my iPod during this cold spring. Needless to say, I was excited that Harris would be releasing more music and even more so when I found out it would be a double album.
A I A: Dream Loss and A I A: Alien Observer are two albums that could stand alone, but blend nicely together and continue the ambient drones she is known for. Dream Loss is much noisier with each song coming out of a fuzz of reverb and morphing into beautiful shoegaze sound explorations. Alien Observer has a more melodic, atmospheric feel, like if Sigur Rós got really sad all of a sudden. The title track from this LP is probably the most accessible. In it, Harris sings, “Gonna take a spaceship, fly back to the stars, alien observer in a world that isn’t ours.” Harris’ introspective echoes throughout A I A leave us in an ambient space of thoughtful distances, putting us in a place of beautiful solitude. Harris is the alien observer flying softly through space, and we’re along for the ride. Oh, and everyone is welcome to come—I’d highly recommend it.