It has been about twenty months since Portland artist and producer Liz Harris or more commonly known in music as Grouper, released her critical acclaimed The Man Who Died In His Boat album, and now she is back with a brand new exceptionally different record titled Ruins, that is a real stretch away from previous works. That being said, one factor still remains clear throughout the eight solitary tracks is that her voice is still as haunting, textured as ever before if not more so.
Some of Harris’ previous works including 2008′s incongruously titled album Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill and of course last year’s The Man Who Died In His Boat, which were both put together from the same recordings and received similar praise. These offerings come layered in darkness and intriguing depression, however as soon as you delve deep into her intimate, textured tone, the appeal of Grouper’s sound becomes overwhelming. However these past records have relied on endless acoustic based, guitar and vocal-centred, droning records with feedback and production techniques to pave her way, but on Ruins, the entire aesthetic of her compositions have altered and you hear Harris stationed at a piano for the entire record.
Ruins was recorded in the South of Portugal back in 2011, and is a documentation of Harris in her surroundings, and instead of what we have become familiar with, Ruins sees Harris bare it all. There is nothing unseen or unheard, you can hear background noises serendipitously captured including cicadas on several tracks, a typical Southern European storm on songs “Holofernes” and “Holding” which create natural percussion, and at the end of “Labyrinth“, there is a very clear microwave beep.
All these features add embellishments that help mould the album to its full potential, creating a raw, honest and beautiful record that allows the listener to enter her musical journey, making Ruins even more intimate and simply real. As a listener, it helps you to imagine every story told, as you feel like you are there with her in a little rustic old cottage in Portugal, with beaten up floorboards and dusty shutters, as themes of the album begin to surface and bare themselves, which is what Harris has done – bared her soul.
There has never been a question as to Harris’s vocal capabilities, but in Ruins, her lyrics are what stand out and become the real beauty of the songs, as they have never been so clearly perceptive, nor have they been so focused around love. This lyrical talent is highlighted so brilliantly on the first track “Clearing” where Harris whispers breathtaking lines,
“maybe you were right when you said I’d never been in love“..
..and this sets the tone for the rest of the album and sends ripples through every track that follows, which shows the power of the song.
There is one song on the album however that carries its own sound and takes you back to the Grouper you felt you knew so well, and that is the 12 minute finale “Made Of Air”, that holds her classic sound and returns you to the sombre drifting world before. This is not just a pleasant coincidence I’m afraid as the track was recorded 10 years ago before the album, and even though it doesn’t carry through with previous tracks, it holds a nice reminiscent nostalgic end to the album, and makes the listener feel that the old Grouper is still there, she is just evolving and adapting to new things. What is also great about the way in which she chose to complete the album is that there is a constant theme in Ruins where the past is continually being reassessed through the spectrum of the present, which makes “Made Of Air” (a past song) a real poetic conclusion to her present album.