Kranky · October 22, 2021
The way we interact with music has always bred intimacy. Assigning albums to the most important parts of our lives, coding choruses with memories and listening to songs that remind us of old friends, music has always been the key to emotion. Shade, the new project by Grouper, seems to create its own form of closeness. Utilizing stripped-down instrumentals and soft vocals, it gives the impression of someone quietly divulging their secrets, making the album intensely personal and beautifully raw.
Liz Harris, known in the music world as Grouper, has been creating music since 2005. Since then, she has established a niche for herself, creating experimental, intensely emotional works. Shade is one of these, taking the patented Grouper sound and working it into a project that shows her evolution and maturity toward the creative process.
The album as a whole displays a wide range, from the opening track “Followed the ocean,” which features fuzzed out guitar and distant, barely intelligible lyricism, to “Promise,” which has a much cleaner singer-songwriter sound. Shade allows the listener to access every one of Grouper’s skills, from instrumentation to lyricism to production. It’s a love letter to music in any form, and in many ways feels like listening to her own thoughts, each song dripping with authenticity.
In many ways, Shade feels like a canvas. Permeated with instrument-heavy tracks, the distorted, distant lyricism allows the listener to fill in the gaps, painting their own meaning onto the intensity Grouper creates. It’s this effect that makes Grouper’s music so special. Not only is it compositionally beautiful, but it’s just vague enough to allow the listener to crawl inside the music, instead of just listening in. In “Basement Mix,” for example, the distorted sounds and disconnected lyricism project the feeling of uneasy melancholy wholly and effectively. It’s a phenomenon hard to find in other artists, the process of interacting dynamically and personally with a recorded set of music.
Shade doesn’t only display instrumental aptitude, but also lyrical mastery. The highlight of the album, “The way her hair falls,” combines simple guitar picking with the repeated lines, “It’s only me to see something pretty inside the day / The way her hair falls.” In many of Grouper’s songs, the reason the lyrics are beautiful is not only the way they’re written, but also the way they’re used. Often utilizing only one or two repeated verses, the gentle way they’re delivered more than make up for a lack of lyrical range. In “Promise,” the arc of “I know you’ll take care of me / and I like that” to “And I promise to take good care / of your pretty blue eyes / and your long blonde hair,” shows that sometimes simplicity is even more effective.
With Shade, Grouper delivered a moving, personal album. Stripping down the usual musical conventions, she created a project that is incredibly simple, special, and real. Whether you’re looking for experimental instrumentation or touching lyricism, Shade is the anthem to any emotional journey.