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Grouper

LIVE REVIEW: Grouper + Coby Sey, Alice, 24.10.2018

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Liz Harris, known to most as Grouper, inhabits a ghostly world somewhere between ambient and 4AD-influenced dream pop. With ten albums to her name and collaborations with everyone from Xiu Xiu, Lawrence English and the Bug, it is not so surprising that, for all her music’s understatement, it is able to command enough of a crowd for two back-to-back shows at Alice.

This is also partly due to the fact that the concert is a seated one, where the audience can lean back, eyes closed, letting the reverb wash over them. The evening is opened by Londoner Coby Sey, a shadowy producer in the vein of Dean Blunt, mixing noise, ambient and hiphop. He first came to my attention thanks to his entry in the Whities series, a minimalistic set of tracks full of references to London public transport. “All Change” tonight has a more confrontational air, underlined by the noisy end to his hour long set.

With eyes closed its easy to fall into the hypnotic spell of Grouper, but it is worth from time to time to observe her setup, surrounded as she is by a myriad of effects, samplers, guitar and piano. Her signature sound tends to fade the distinctions between these instruments. What does stand out is her ability to mix together plaintive choral chants from a sampler into her live playing, producing some spine-tingling moments.

In the wash of it all it can be hard to pick out specific tracks, although “Alien Observer” must by now be counted as an incredibly dreamy banger, with an incredibly simple but unforgettable cascading piano line.

LIVE REVIEW: Grouper, Jazzhouse, 21.04.2015

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Cam Deas is a modern man in search of a song. It’s a pretentious (and frankly plagiaristic of a track of his) way of saying that he’s an idiosyncratic electro wizard who doesn’t seem to conjure music as much as he bridles it. In Deas’ world, a musician is not a creator. He’s a wrangler.

His setup looks like a mid-20th century vision of a techno-futuristic picnic: a tabletop splayed with an assortment of boxes connected by cables, with bundles of them spilling over the edges. The main piece is on the right, a large red box that opens to reveal some sort of computer console, out of which even more cables pour. On the left, out of place, lies an acoustic guitar.

What follows is a 40-minute set consisting of Deas effecting noise. When he turns them on, the machines emit high-pitched electronic signals. Those signals then repeat and distend, becoming thick and elliptical. Occasionally he steps over to the guitar. Using a slide, he slaps out some rustling tones and then returns to the machines for processing. Up until this point, the shape of the sound is abstract, a going-in-all-directions mood piece with jutting textures that keep you on edge. Then it all collapses. The climax, if you can call it that, is the violent dissolution of these layers, resulting in a deep and profound trembling that shakes the room. I’m seated behind the sound guy, watching the levels spike well into the red. He doesn’t move, though. On stage, Deas is presiding over an experiment going horribly wrong, which is object of the piece. The spectacle of it is scary, penetrating, and, at times, thrilling.

When the stage is cleared, Liz Harris, who performs under the moniker Grouper, appears like an apparition in the wake of a terrible accident. Live candles have been placed at either side of her, and she sits in the middle of the stage, legs crossed. Above her, a projection screen lights up with sun-soaked images, what looks to be a home movie of a vacation on the Oregon coast.

It’s a beautiful contrast to what came before. Like a lot of ambient musicians, Harris can hide herself deep inside her work, inviting us to observe the labyrinth from a distance as she feels her way out from the middle. For the show, she limits herself to voice and electric guitar, both of which she buries low on the high reverb setting. In a way it makes her sound far away, but there’s a warmth that envelopes you and brings you closer.

Harris’ music is wash of sweet melodies that rises like a gentle tide. Her set harkens back to the sound of 2007’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, where songs like “When We Fall” and “Tidal Wave” serve as the clearest sonic callbacks. It’s the steadily strummed chords that keep you from drifting in the dreamy atmospherics, directing focus toward the foreground where we find Harris, at once receding and surging, in slow motion.

Most reverential experiences are definite about their sense of place. The movie projected on the screen aims to take us to the coast, where land meets ocean, where shape loses shape. With Harris, it’s more about a sense of time. There’s something about digging into the past that can bring you to a moment of clarity in the present. Her songs are thick with the sound of thought, the turning over of memories. But she’s there. And so are we.

PLAYLIST: Here Today’s Concerts – April

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We have updated our “Here Today Concerts” playlist.

The Twilight Sad (Loppen, 03.04.2015)

The Twilight Sad has just released their fourth studio album, Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, to raving reviews.  Drowned In Sound wrote:  “The Twilight Sad gave birth to one of the greatest British debut albums in living memory. That was in 2007 and just seven years later they’ve given us an indication that they could attain greatness on a par with MBV or The Jesus and Mary Chain. Hell, carry on like this and we’ll be comparing them with The Cure.” Sounds like a band you want to hear, right?

Eyehategod (Loppen, 07.04.2015)

Wearing earplugs to an Eyehategod show is as effective as wearing a bulletproof vest to a catapult festival. As veteran purveyors of sludge metal, the New Orleans outfit grind out blood-encrusted songs that fall on the exploding end of the noise spectrum. Their music is the sound gravity makes with a limitless supply of anvils and anchors, the spectacle of which will be well worth the price of admission.

Kate Tempest (Vega, 13.04.2015)

The obvious reference point to Kate Tempest debut album Everybody Down is the Streets’ second album, A Grand Don’t Come for Free. It is a conceptual album that tells the story of three characters battling loneliness in the big city, with each song representing a new chapter; a rather ambitious undertaking which the young Londoner gets away with quite well.

Calexico (Amager Bio, 14.04.2015)

Calexico specializes in music of the soul by sunset, a style and attitude inherent to the group’s home in the Mexican-American borderlands of Tucson, Arizona. Combining the warm acoustic arrangements of country and the brassy orchestration of Mexican folk music, they can get big and loud without being unwelcoming. Their forthcoming album Edge of the Sun is set to release on April 14, the day of their show at Amager Bio. If ever there were a time and a place…

White Hills (Loppen, 14.04.2015)

Psychedelic New-Yorkers White Hills haven’t released much material in the last couple of years, but that hasn’t kept them out of the lime-light. An appearance on Only Lovers Left Alive–a scene in which the vampiric Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddelston and Mia Wasikowska gloomily headbang to the band in a Detroit club–has cemented their reputation as purveyors of far out cool. Loppen is certainly an appropriate venue for a band with the Jim Jarmusch seal of approval.

Grouper (Jazzhouse, 21.04.2015)

Having listened to Ruins, Liz Harris’ latest album as ambient act Grouper, it’s difficult to picture exactly what kind of performance she will put on at Jazzhouse. How do you haunt a stage the way that album haunts the mind? Undoubtedly with the aid of smoke and mirrors. Even if all that means is a bit of dry ice and some mood lighting, the aural component is smoke you can’t blow out, a mirror you can’t turn away from.

Moon Duo (Stengade, 22.04.2015)

If the East Coast psychedelia of White Hills isn’t enough for one month, Moon Duo are coming to Copenhagen to represent the West Coast. On the back of their latest critically-acclaimed album, Shadow of the Sun, the Duo will be kraut-rocking through Europe, leaving behind them a trail of burned rubber and broken speakers.

Colin Stetson (Jazzhouse, 22.04.2015)

Stetson’s New History of Warfare trilogy, recently completed, has gone a long way in redefining the capabilities of the saxophone. Thanks to circular breathing techniques and microphones inserted in strange places, Colin Stetson has turned the usually jaunty sax into an instrument of bleak and violent landscapes. Eerie pulsations and terrifying screeches are the order of the day, and we look forward to experiencing them in Lynchian environment of Jazzhouse.

Screaming Females (Loppen, 28.04.2015)

Actually there is only one female in the New Jersey Punk outfit Screaming Females, Marissa Paternoster. Even though she is tiny, she fills the stage in a way that stops the question “why are they called that then?” popping into your head. Her powerful vibrato and brutal guitar work is hard to match. Their 2012 album Ugly was recorded with Steve Albini and gained praise with publications such as Pitchfork. On their new album Rose Mountain the band explores new territory which results in a more refined sound which holds great promise for the future.

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