The Undiscovered Gem of 2011

Posted on December 8, 2011


Grouper – ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’ (2009)

This was Will Harris’ idea to be true, and I’ll probably do it every year that I do one of these ridiculous things. The idea is to talk about an album released years ago that I had not found until this year, and have grown to love. So for this, the inagural one, I’ll plump for Grouper’s 3rd record, released in 2009. Grouper is the one lady project of Liz Harris from the good ol’ US of A, and she deals in reverb drenched melancholic acoustic wanderings. I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon this record, but god I’m glad I did. I think it must have been in a list of recommended artists in the ambient genre, and I’m a sucker for some ambient female acoustica. I’d love to make a record like this at some point. Next year.

The record itself is just glorious, but not glorious in a bombastic way, glorious in a sense that shows humanity being completely aware of its fragility. Heady waters maybe, but in the same way that your enjoyment of ‘Laughing Stock’ (Talk Talk), ‘Music for Airports’ (Brian Eno) or any Stars of the Lid record is shaped by your surroundings and where you are listening to it, the same goes of this. This record was made to be listened to on a long rainy bus ride, or isolated in the narrow streets of somewhere like Tallinn. It is the sound of being freezing cold but sitting by a fire with a hat and gloves and scarf on. Harris’ voice weaves in and out of delicate guitars and echo boxes, never imposing itself but always letting you know where it is, it is a record that is dependent on its vocal without it being glaringly obvious.

The songs themselves are wonderful. ‘Disengaged’ opens the record up and was obviously the first song I heard, and I was snared immediately. The most reverby of all the songs on offer here, it revolves itself around a single melody that never feels boring, and its a beautiful start. This segues straight into ‘Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping’, a more straightforward acoustic song but one that shows that Harris is equally adept at all sides of her coin collection. 90% of the reviews of this record will describe it as haunting, and the albums centrepiece ‘Fishing Bird (Empty Gutted in the Evening Breeze)’ is as haunting as it gets. I didn’t realise it was possible for fuzzy ambience to be catchy and to have hooks, but here is the proof. Wonderful.

The album is 12 tracks and 45 minutes of sheer beauty. It isn’t the sort of beauty that you immediately see, more a beauty that reveals bits of itself at every turn, until you realise you are completely besotted. A truly wonderful record. My find of the year.