Grouper’s dark path has taken Harris to confess her intimacies in the most straightforward way.
For a specific kind of fan, Ruins must sound like a sham. A horrible detour into the generic voice and piano pairing that Liz Harris avoided for so long. Celebrated and loved by all, 2008’s Dragging a Dear Deer Up a Hill often hits the sweet spot between emotionally wrenching and straight up haunting. “Deer” was the sound of lost futures synthesized in a dream pop whirlwind. Harris’ voice was barely audible, but, just like Burial, it all helped shaped the mournful and often depressive tone. Even in song such as “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” when it was just her voice and a guitar, the vocal work was quickly overwhelmed by the tone the guitar chords set.
Enter Ruins, the year’s saddest album. Where Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill conveyed sadness by painting a sonic picture with impressive moody compositions, Ruins goes minimalist. Opening track “Made of Metal” and last track “Made of Air” should be seen as the only gestures towards ambient in an album dominated by Harris’ voice and her piano. Album highlight “Call Across Rooms” is reportedly better viewed as “a letter to myself, as aspiration to love better.” Grouper’s dark path has taken Harris to confess her intimacies in the most straightforward way.
In this sense, the year’s “saddest album” might also be its best. How is one to resist Grouper’s evolution when it involves such a confessional tone that manages to extrapolate her essence into a new, less ambient, more direct way? Ruins is the sound of an artist feeling comfortable with herself. Sadness too, will be vindicated.
Ruins is available on Kranky.