Liz Harris’ (also known as Grouper) newly released material much promotes her distinctive sound of ambient drones, soft distorted guitars and chilling yet alluring vocals. ‘The Man Who Died in his Boat’ is a moving and intense piece of work that gives a similar vibe to her 2008 album ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’, and understandably so, as the two were recorded at the same time. This month, her record label, Kranky released both her 2008 works as a pair; delivering her new album as well as reissuing the 2008 material.
‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ is inspired by Harris’ teenage memory of a boat washed up on the shore of Agate Beach, Oregon. Harris explained in a press release how she felt like a voyeur, “violating some remnant of this man’s presence by witnessing the evidence of its failure.” The press statement goes onto say “It was impossible to know what had happened…He had simply slipped off somehow, and the boat, like a riderless horse, eventually came back home.” Almost drawing a narrative for the album, these words present the overall mystery and solitude shown in Harris’ music. She gives life to an event that might have otherwise been forgotten, and does it with intention as each song is put together purposefully; not one is there merely to use up time.
The lo-fi production of the album gives it a seashell-to-ear quality, leaving scuffles and creaks to resonate throughout. Harris’ opening track, ‘6’ presents just that – her reverberating and distorted voice is complimented by intentional background noise, capturing the waves that washed up the empty boat from her teenage memories. The album is one long continuation; ‘6’ tumbles into the softly strummed ‘Vital’ which, in turn falls into the ethereal ‘Cloud in Places’. Just as the album becomes comfortable, Harris breaks the feeling of content and replaces it with unease with ‘Vanishing Point’. The solo melodic line of echoed piano keys creates a chilling, somewhat lonely atmosphere. Yet the prominent solitude shown throughout the album is met with the title track ‘The Man Who Died in his Boat’ which almost possesses underlying warmth, as the ¾ time signature and ascending melody show a sense of purpose.
Harris’ deep drones and precise rests are striking in themselves, yet it is her voice which is most noticeable in her artistry. Harris’ vocals are impossibly beautiful in their approach, bringing clarity and life to the darker murmurs underneath. Her rising celestial harmonies create a glow above the drones, and resemble waves, creating an aquatic ambient feeling. There is a tendency for her soothing vocals to become almost inaudible as they wash over you, yet the poignant encompassing lyrics of ‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’: “washed up on the beach” very clearly break through.
‘The Man Who Died in His Boat’ is not different from her other work, but it is stunning. Harris’ ability to create dreamlike lulls whilst sustaining the full attention of the listener is impressive – her distinctive hums and harmonies do not simply flit by without effecting as each song is has direction and meaning. The previously unreleased 2008 material leaves behind a powerful sense of fulfillment.
Written by Laura Durechova
OurVinyl | Contributor
[To purchase this album on iTunes just click here]