Thank You and Silk FlowersEdit this event
- The Luminaire, London »
Getting a firm grasp on Portland’s Grouper is tricky. While forthcoming in interviews, the band’s lone member, Liz Harris, somehow gives little away, offering a mere glimpse of a figure who, while intent on creating and exploring, appears to lack the ego usually inherent in creative endeavours, seemingly preferring to disappear entirely if she wasn’t also compelled to create.
It’s a trait that carries over into her music. Harris rarely attempts to draw solid lines via the structured songwriting rules of verse, chorus, verse. Instead, she favours immersive, subdued soundscapes that the lazy will simply label as atmospheric and dreamy, though that would be downplaying the haunting, captivating emotions that Harris’ angelic voice and fragile, droning guitar tones are capable of eliciting. It’s a sound that washes over you as it ebbs and flows between a tranquil beauty and darker undercurrents.
It’s been a slow trawl for the performance shy Harris, but her work has slowly attracted a growing number of followers in recent years. Her most recent LP, 2008’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill, has quietly turned into a kind of sleeper, breakthrough release, with a steady stream of new listeners continuing to fall under its spell. The album refuses to be filed away and is clearly in the running for best record of 2008 that most people only discovered in 2009. And rightfully so.
Little surprise then that many have trekked out to the Luminaire tonight to witness a rare London gig from Harris. Things are destined to end on a hushed note but openening acts Silk Flowers and Thank You kick things off by cranking up the volume knobs. Silk Flowers emit a stern blast of coldwave with the requisite synths and Ian Curtis baritone on full display. It’s all painfully of the moment but the New York act’s doom-laden noise does something right, at least for this minute. Baltimore’s Thank You isn’t so lucky. The Thrill Jockey signed band may pound their way through a muscular set of noise filled tracks and churning guitar chords that tip a hat to the Silver Apples and Liars. But quality reference points aside, the only lasting impression is that of a group doing little to discern themselves from the increasingly crowded roster of noiseniks currently making the rounds.
Things then go quiet as the echoing tones of Liz Harris’ guitar announce her arrival on stage. Rather fittingly, any attempts to get a clear view of the singer prove difficult. She performs sitting and with a throng of people jammed up against the stage, the majority are unable to see her. The bobbing head of Harris’ guitar provides the only marker of her physical presence.
Dragging’s opener, ‘Disengaged’, serves as a recognizable starting point and a run through Dragging’s highlights would certainly satisfy the adoring mass gathered before her. The elusive chanteuse has other ideas though as she wanders off into concoctions that while unfamiliar, tread upon the touchstones that have drawn so many to her tonight. With her vocals dwelling in a celestial sphere shared by the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Harris’ sparse textures and looping melodies create a lulling effect, which is in turn punctuated by hair-raising moments of haunting calm that are only magnified by the empty space Harris carves around them, allowing the unspoken to resonate and using it to create a mood of sombre, contemplative reflection.
Yet through the minimal layers of sound she so carefully weaves, there’s also a lingering sense that we’re still not getting any closer to the woman. Harris’ enchants but there’s an impression that we’re barely skimming the surface; that we still haven’t been granted full permission to join her in exploring the depths she plunges to on record. Instead, we’re merely granted a temporary glimpse of her lone descent from afar.
Harris’ desire to retreat into her singular world is something worth cherishing, but with a sound so beguiling, it’s impossible to not want to join her. Even though it’s clear after tonight that she’ll never let us stay there with her for long.
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