Friday, August 22, 2008

Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Every week or so, my best friend and I will make data discs of our latest music finds to share with each other. We both have pretty broad tastes and often agree on what is kick ass, what blows chunks and what is run-of-the-mill. However, once in awhile we vehemently disagree on an album; one of us showering it with accolades, the other looking on with a bewildered look that says, “Really? Are you off your meds or something?” Last week’s musical title bout between us was Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. Obviously, by looking at the score I have anointed this LP with, I present the defense and he is the voracious prosecution.
Basically, my boy doesn’t like music that floats in a codeine/opiate haze and professes its hopeless romantic, poetic core. I, on the other hand, imbibe it to rejuvenate and replenish my own hopeless poet. This is exactly the feel and flow of Grouper’s newest effort.
To me, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill is like a soothing nightmare: some inexplicably comforting paradox. Because it has become my new falling-to-sleep record, I have searched to find a metaphor or simile that helps to describe the audio-chemical affect it has on me and my brain (actually efficient at putting me to sleep). The best I can do is to say that listening to this record is like the combined calming energy of Bob Ross (“Happy little accidents”) and Mr. Fred Rogers (“Would you like to be my friend?”). You see, I used to fall asleep to Bob Ross for my after-high school naps…he was magic, I was usually zonked out within 10 minutes. On to it, shall we?
The songs on Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill float down a river in the afternoon sun, yet pensive in their reserved nature. This is primarily due to the heavy use of effects on the guitar and her vocals. However, while they may be heavy, they’re not egregious in their use or their presence. Instead, they become part of the landscape of Liz Harris’s (Grouper) songwriting style and, I’d declare, the strength of her defining sound.
On “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” I can’t help but hear brushes of Elliott Smith’s gentle touch, especially in the vocals. Harris’s voice is absolutely gorgeous, without being overly airy or subdued. It has strength, but also has the wisdom to know how, and when, to hold back just enough to communicate aching or longing. I can only be confident in claiming an emotional tone for Grouper’s music because of what I hear and what is said on Type Records’ site, “These are the future soundtracks to love, despair and ultimately hope.” If not for that, I might be lost. Most of the time, the vocals are less to be listened to for their poetic content and more for their instrumental value and emotional direction. In fact, I feel like Harris’s vocals are the soft side counterpart to many a metal band singer’s, as I can’t tell what the hell they are saying, yet don’t really care either.
Her use and insight into overdubs is impressive throughout the entire record, but specifically when it comes to the vocal overdubs on “Stuck”. They swim about each other in little glissandos of harmony and choir, as if charting the trajectory and path of salmon tailing upstream to spawn. Visualize a packed river of fish and how they usually are able to glide and slide past each other without bashing into one another. The natural imagery fails to cease there. “Fishing Bird” reminds me of my childhood in Alaska, watching Kingfishers (literally fishing birds as they dive into the water to catch herring) and also how the lighter sense of wonder the song carries with it, which is associated with childhood. Again, her vocals are such a focal strength of the song, as an ascending melody fights to negate the overcast blues of most of the album. “Wind And Snow” also works to this effect. It is despondent in its dominant tone, but still sounds like a warm bowl of soup on a blustery Winter’s day. A few other similarities I can name from a focused week of listening to this LP: Bitcrush, Broadcast (the slower, softer side) and Colleen.
I am very much okay with the fact that my boy isn’t in to this record, as I almost feel now that it is one of my little treasured secrets. That it could possibly be one of those albums to share, exclusively, with a lover and not friends. Now, where is that lover? (Now you know the feel of the album!)

note: this review may end up on, but as for now I'm posting it, because it's my work, which is always awesome.

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