Check this one out Grouper fans! Liz Harris has formed a band, as in ‘an actual band’ band. Harris’ unmistakeable vocals can thus be heard over a sort of shoegaze/indie-pop backing. Helen still maintains an essentially mystic nature, but it is very welcome to hear a whole new side to Harris. The Original Faces is released by Kranky.
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As time trundles slowly onward, so does my uneasy relationship with Liz Harris’ final Grouper album ‘Ruins’. Though it first felt like a different kind of drone pop discombobulation, I’ve come to see the record as a profound collection of accidental ballads, the type that sound as if Harris is mumbling personal truths from another room. As Grouper, she’s always let other sounds take priority, be they incidental or performative, and ‘The Original Faces’ is no different: here, she’s cast over by a band.
This record’s structure is as you might expect from Harris: it starts with a gorgeous tape warp that cuts out before it can fade or amble into a cadence, and from there the songs feel more like tone poems -- never quite complete, motivated by ambiguities. The gorgeous, summer sun strumming of “Covered In Shade” fades abruptly, before it can be clarified, and the bouncy rhythm section orienteering their way through “Covered In Shade” have to deal with a torrential downpour of distortion -- out here in Yorkshire, our days are sublimated by what the sky chooses to do, so hearing Helen’s guitar-scarred pop, it feels like the rain is coming down. The record’s final interlude to nowhere plays a toy melody overtop guitar that bleeds out in the distance, both sounds rattling onwards and then fading limply.
It’s the way the band coalesce with Harris’ voice, though, that’s most exciting: I want bass player Scott Simmons to score my life, to be there in rainstorms and thick snow and through the hard times. He grooves his way through harsh, terrestrial shoegaze, and earths the clouded vocals Harris provides. On “Violet” he combines with drummer Bindeman to create a palatable structure for Harris’ flatlining guitar dreams: it’s like a living room wrapped in a daydream. The thrashing “Grace” combines gnarly distortion with a bassline straight outta Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. It is sublime. And for what it’s worth, there are plenty of moments where Harris sounds like Les Rallizes Denudes and her bandmates sound like Real Estate. At the same time. This is heaven; heaven is full of clouds ready to rain. Listen for a while and this record will make good on its loud, thrashing subtleties.
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- The Original Faces by Helen
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