GROUPER : Grouper (2005) / He Knows (2006)

Interesting live shows have been few & far between here recently, but Grouper's performance at Nottingham's "naturally resonant" Contemporary gallery last weekend was definitely worth leaving the house for...

Steered by Portland, OR's elfin Liz Harris, Grouper operates in shadowy alcoves that might, until a few years ago, have been defined as "dark ambient", though her work effortlessly eludes all of the gauche clich├ęs any mention of that conceited genre now tends to evoke. On Saturday evening, employing just a couple of dictaphones, a handful of boxed effects, & a small mixing desk, her thoughtful, meditative transitions (derived largely from heavily processed organ loops & rural field recordings I believe) fleetingly brought to mind the Arcadian drift of Eno's Ambient 4: On Land, though her tenebrous atmospheres were even more crepuscular, the vapourous hiss of her fogbound synths suggesting, at times, an intangible pastoral evil, or a chimeric journey beyond the mirror. Grouper's recent releases have found her experimenting with embryonic acoustic song structures - haunting semi-folk melodies immersed in a sunless brume of reverb & delay, overwhelmed by oblivion. Her outstanding Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill album is the finest example of this spectral methodology thus far, & is probably the best point of entry for anybody unfamiliar with her work. Her entrancing Nottingham performance, Violet Replacement, recalled the foreboding, overcast dreamscapes of her earliest & most abstract work, all of which is now frustratingly out of print (as is, already, Violet Replacement itself).

Her tour support, the hitherto unknown (to me) Diamond Catalog, were somewhat less convincing: two shadowy figures (yawn) huddled around a laptop in furtive conversation, tentatively prodding an alien piece of software at apparent random & with little obvious idea of what direction it might be leading them. Their music - an annoying sonic bricolage of rasping basement yatter & clumping techno beats - & their persistent fiddling with the otic palette (some form of laptop-engendered ADD no doubt), merely irritated. Not dismal exactly, just ill conceived & curiously unengaging.

So, I'm posting two of Grouper's earliest releases - her eponymous 2005 debut, & the following year's He Knows EP. The former, a slightly reticent self-released CDr, reminds me of both Zoviet France & Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (i.e. not bad for a first attempt!). It's 8 tracks, like the disc itself, were all originally unnamed, but were subsequently attributed titles by The Wire's David Keenan, on his Volcanic Tongue mail order site. The latter, another limited edition CDr, was released the following year on Collective Jyrk (r.i.p.) &, though quite short, is a personal favourite.


  1. Anonymous5.4.12

    Thanks very much!

  2. Glad you like it Anon... Hopefully she'll be re-releasing all of this unreleased stuff as a deluxe boxset, or something, eventually? There's LOTS of it though, so it'll have to be a b.i.g. box...

  3. I love Grouper, do you know where I could buy/download "He Knows"? I've been looking everywhere. Oh, and I hear, she'll be releasing an album of unreleased material next year, called "The Man Who Died in His Boat"

  4. Most of her recordings seem to be out of print & commanding crazy prices at the moment - very frustrating!

    n.b. I've re-upped Grouper & He Knows for you.

  5. Thanks for uploading this record: practically impossible to find unless you're willing to pay over 100 euros or so on discogs. I already had an MP3 but at 192kps, so this upload at 320 is just great. I own almost all Grouper's vinyl records and CDs, but not this. Do you think there will ever be a reissue some day?

  6. Liz Harris maintains a very close grip on her back catalogue I gather - & why not? It's her back catalogue after all...

    However, it's rather frustrating to think that, due to her repeated insistence on miniscule pressings, most folk are only going to hear her music c/o slightly dodgy DLs like this one! It's all about perpetuating some kind of myth, I suppose, & the pay-off is (eventually) a big demand for your old work & large articles in mainstream newspaper culture supplements?

    I strongly suspect that her early releases will be remastered, boxed, & sold at a prohibitive price at some point in the forseeable future but, in all seriousness, an artist has to eat & pay the rent, right? So good luck to her...

    Personally, I'd be happy listening to Grouper on cassette, that format really suits the way her music sounds, I think?

  7. I absolutely agree with you: Grouper on tape would suit her music perfectly. I think this has already happened once: in 2007, Inca Ore & Grouper self-released their split on a c40 cassette, which was later reissued but on both vinyl and CD.

    Yes, good for her. I kind of like limited editions too. However, in many cases there's all these people who just buy and sell extremely ltd. ed./hard-to-find records for the sake of the business itself, but who have very little to do with the love for music, I presume.

    By the way, have you got a deck where to play tapes?

  8. Yep, I've got a tape deck at the moment... I sometimes download (rare) LPs of the internet, burn them onto CD, then record them onto cassette & throw the CDr away! Tape makes crappy mp3s sound a lot better in my opinion... I'm probably fooling myself though, eh? :)