Festival Coverage

Hopscotch Must-Sees: Grouper

This is a personal artist spotlight on Grouper by Prism.

When asked in 2012 by Dazed Digital about why she rarely does interviews, Liz Harris, b.k.a. the Portland, OR resident behind enigmatic one-woman ambient project Grouper, responded “I just feel nervous getting direct focused attention."  This reclusiveness seems natural for a woman who makes the type of music Grouper does: her melancholy, spacious ambient folk music seems to deny the group listen and prefer the personal.

I should mention that I’m a bit nervous to see Grouper at Hopscotch this year. This is because, like to many, her music carries a lot of history for me. During my freshman year of college a few years ago (a great and complicated time for love and music in anyone’s life), I discovered her 2008 record Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill on the music website Gorilla Vs. Bear shortly after a breakup, one that probably seemed much more dramatic to me at the time. And while it took me a few listens to "get it,"  I was soon enamored with this record. I walked around every day just lost in it, not paying to most track titles or song changes, just keeping the entire record playing on repeat from "Disengaged” on, lost in the world that Liz Harris creates. And while “Dragging” is far from what I would call a breakup record, I think Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop was correct when he described the style as “soothing” music that would appeal to someone who needs to go “through a process.” Grouper’s music is intensely personal music and hits emotional cues, in the same way that big-name titans of instrumental post-rock such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros rely on emotional bombast to draw a response from their audience.

Her discography is sizable at this point, with a slew of solo albums and collaborations to her name, some of which are easier to track down than others (such is the nature of Pacific Northwest ambient projects). Her most recent record, 2013’s The Man Who Died In His Boat, is a collection of songs recorded around the same time as “Dragging,” and to my ears, they follow much of the same ground as that album, meaning we have vast, scarred, yet somewhat accessible expanses of dirty tape hiss and synth washes that swirl while Harris’ plaintive vocals and acoustic guitar float through them.

Although I’ve definitely gotten a little bit happier since a few years ago I discovered her, I’m still going to do my best to watch Grouper’s set with the same emotional openness that I found her with. I’m very excited for this set.

Favorite Track: Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping, off Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

Playing: Fletcher Opera Theater, Thursday 11:00 PM-12:00 A.M.