Album Of The Week

Liz Harris' Grid Of Points explores absence, loss and a deeper awakening

Grid Of Points is the 11th studio album of Grouper by musician Liz Harris (above).
Grid Of Points is the 11th studio album of Grouper by musician Liz Harris (above).PHOTO: KRANKY

Californian artist Liz Harris' one-woman project Grouper digs at the essence of things in Grid Of Points

Catching British whiz kid Jacob Collier run around as a one-man orchestra at Victoria Theatre last Friday was invigorating.

Ping-ponging from keyboards to drums to double bass, he was a whirlwind of ingratiating spirit, whooping all into ecstasy.

Whether retooling Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm or The Beatles' Blackbird, he was the embodiment of millennial multi-tasking one must applaud... until the show was over.

That's where Grouper comes in.

A one-woman project by Californian musician Liz Harris, it is the perfect palate-cleanser after a sensory overload.

Collier's busy exuberance blows one away; Harris' sparse interiorism draws one in.

Her 11th studio album, Grid Of Points, recorded in 2014 during a wintry residency in Wyoming, is 22 minutes long, but it feels spacious and unbounded.

Harris said in a press release: "Though brief, it is complete. The intimacy and abbreviation of this music allude to an essence that the song lyrics speak more directly of. The space left after matter has departed, a stage after the characters have gone, the hollow of some central column, missing."






In that respect, she shares much in common with contemporary female American composers Julia Holter, Julianna Barwick and Tiny Vipers' Jesy Fortino. While they don't make for terribly exciting live spectacles, the music they create is immersive.

It demands absolute patience and belief. This is not something to gawk at, to clap loudly about. Harris and company are aiming for a deeper awakening, a quiet thoughtfulness. Such is the undertow of their allusive art.

Just as her last album, 2014's Ruins, is a response to the afteraffects of some inchoate loss, Grid Of Points contemplates absence, its long shadows cast and the remainders. What is left behind after the obligatory ritual, the happy politesse?

Harris is not going for the lowest hanging fruit - fame, glory - but rather, she uses her art to ask, to probe, to dig at the essence of things.

To that effect, the titles of the songs hint, rather than state.

Birthday Song is not a perk-me-up. It is more a swirl of layered vocals and piano to accompany a home video of, say, an old memory, of people now greying or gone.

Thanksgiving Song is a double-tracked elegy, two melodies intersecting, an apt soundtrack for what? Figure that.

The lyrics are not much help too - muddled, or muffled, as she sings them beautifully, air coursing through them.

A song called Driving is indeed about the act of driving itself, inspired by an image of so-called "tree-tunnels over a road, people driving to a funeral, and some other things too", she explained in a recent interview.

There is something incredibly melancholic in her glacial works and, like the best of the lot, they also feel liberated from pat resolution or armchair psychology.

Another song called Blouse is tinted with associative conjecture. Is this hers or a garment from someone else? Questions, questions.

The album ends with Breathing - dolorous piano and gossamer voice trailing off, as a coal engine chugs along or a train rolls past to a destination unknown.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2018, with the headline 'Absence, loss and a deeper awakening'. Print Edition | Subscribe