Grouper, Way Their Crept

Andy Beta

By Andy Beta

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

One of 2008's greatest listening pleasures was the haunted work of Portland, Oregon's Liz Harris, who records all by her lonesome as Grouper (itself a name derived from a childhood spent in a G.I. Gurdjieff-inspired commune in Northern California). While Harris had gained a bit of notoriety for her Creepshow project with Xiu Xiu, her third full-length, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, cast her peculiar gifts in the strongest light: not just as an unparalleled ambient unsettler, but as a songstress as well (it also makes it sound as if — much like Bon Iver's Justin Vernon — she too could field dress a critter in the woods).

More swirling 4AD watercolors and magic-hour minimalism from Grouper, pre-Dead Deer

Thankfully Deer's sleeper success allows us a chance to reappraise Harris's previous effort, Way Their Crept. Certain earmarks remain on this early album: 4AD water colors, the magic-hour minimalism of composers like Andrew Chalk, the American primitive charcoal sketches of Charalambides (and most crucially that band's singer Christina Carter). The biggest difference between the two is how on Crept Harris relegates her voice deep into the background, instead allowing for her uncanny homemade drones to arise and overtake the proceedings. Perhaps she's unsure of her voice at this juncture, allowing the gentle distortions and tactile disquiet to pervade the album like a wintry chill instead. But traces of chorale work from a bygone era hover over pieces like "Sang Their Way" and "Close Cloak," acting as a portent for the art that lies ahead.