Considering the indie world’s fascination with pastoral folk (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Bowerbirds) and fuzzed-out My Bloody Valentine-devotees (Pains of Being Pure At Heart, A Place to Bury Strangers), Grouper should have a much larger fan base. The sweet, sweeping melodies are there, buried under copious amounts of haze and fog. Last year’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill included one of the best songs of the year, the lush, moving “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping”; plus, Liz Harris (Trivia: Groupers not her real name), opened for Animal Collective on their last tour. But, with another strong release like this under her belt, Portland’s Harris should expect some more attention.
Cover the Windows and the Walls may not actually be a new release (this is a CD re-release of a vinyl slab released nearly two years ago, just before Dragging a Dead Dear), but it’s a breath of fresh air, to say the least. That gust of air may be circulating through a creepy, dark forest. Heck, it may even kick into a full blown gale, but it’s refreshing, alternating between a cold smack in the face and a warm breeze. The oft-minor key guitar plucking swirls around, Harris’ mellow, haunting vocals (sometimes wordless and eerie, sometimes tragic and lyricked).
The title track that kicks off the album is a perfect encapsulation of Harris’ sound: the first minute or so of charged, lingering howl (whether it’s feedback or an extremely altered recording of some reverbed and wah’ed guitar is difficult to tell) opens to a cleaner, yet still massively echoed, guitar line followed by layers of Harris’ beautiful vocals harmonizing and floating. And, in true Grouper fashion, the melody doesn’t overstay its welcome, instead wafting away not long after establishing its presence.
While this sounds completely pleasant, the disc definitely has its darker, eerier moments. “You Never Came” lives up to its depressed, undervalued name. The clanging guitar is distorted this time with the reverb turned up to eighteen instead of the usual eleven, the amp pumped up twice as loud. The clangor is deep, and the vocals are buried, and relentlessly melancholic. “Opened Space” meets the title expectations; there are no concrete melodies, no repetition, just airy harmonies and mellow guitar meandering through the without settling.
“Heart Current” may not be a radio hit, but it best shows Harris’ perfect melding of fuzz and folk. The guitar, lithe and harmonious, sifts through the background, an icy waterfall of sorts. In the foreground, Harris sings her own huge, lush harmonies that could make Grizzly Bear weep. There’s something to be said for female vocals in this kind of nature-grounded folk. Her voice sounds utterly and completely natural. While some male vocal harmonies work, sometimes they can feel too ordered, structured; and its ultimately clear that the harmonies were chosen, written out, and composed. Grouper’s releases always flow so naturally and logically, as if this just has to be the way the vocals interact– the harmonies come here and sound just like this because thats how it should be.
All that being said, Cover the Windows doesn’t have the structured songs that Dragging a Dead Deer did, but it’s enchanting. It’s not something that could get stale; it’s an organic, flowing piece of art that’s full of so many layers that you may never hear it the same way twice.
“Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping”