In the no-man’s land between year-end wrap ups and most-anticipated lists, singer-songwriter-producer Liz Harris, AKA Grouper, released a new 7’’ single, “Paradise Valley.”
My experience with Grouper’s 12 year career, which I only just recently learned includes 9 albums and a host of collaborations and EPs, is incredibly shallow—almost as shallow as my background with the kind of ambient sound she explores on this record’s two tracks. At a friend’s recommendation I listened to her last full-length release, 2014’s “Ruins.” I distinctly remember appreciating its lo-fi aesthetic, and the understated piano-and-vocal arrangements, but I never dug very deep into it.
“Paradise Valley,” which contains the songs “Headache” and “I’m Clean Now,” brings a familiar flavor with that background in mind. It’s equally stripped back in instrumentation, featuring only guitar (maybe bass?) and vocals, but the overall production is much denser.
“Headache” opens with slow guitar arpeggios. The sound is thick and bass-heavy, punctuated with the sound of Harris’ fingers sliding on strings. The vocals are sweet and sibilant; the lyrics are far-off and indistinct, but there are some transcendent harmonies. Harris’ voice carries sadness, but also a comforting, lullaby-like quality which makes for a calming listen.
I can’t really speculate on the words, or what the song is about, and the obscurity of this seems to be by design, as the near-whisper vocals of “Ruins” also seemed to me. I’m satisfied to leave it at that without tracking down a lyric transcription. Better not to pick it apart too much, as the unified song is such a peaceful, even restorative thing to me. As far as the title goes, “Headache” is an apt name for a song that feels like getting over one.
“I’m Clean Now” is similarly meditative, but with a more neutral emotional center. It’s also built on similar guitar arpeggios, but despite the declarative title, the progression feels more open-ended, coming and going but never changing, slowing to a stop but not resolving in the end. Harris’ vocals are light and airy, and there’s a blanket of white noise underlying the production.
“Paradise Valley” is a single that makes me want to go back and give “Ruins” more attention, not to mention Grouper’s back-catalogue. It also makes me retroactively disappointed I missed her performance in Charlottesville at the UVA chapel a couple years ago.
The limited edition 7’’ is sold out, but the songs are available on Bandcamp, and I highly recommend giving them a listen the next time you have (or just really need) a quiet moment.
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