Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat

23 February, 2013

By Nixxie 


Grouper is the name multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Liz Harris uses for her ambient musical exploits. Harris first appeared in 2005 with what is now considered a groundbreaking album entitled Way Their Crept (subsequently rereleased in 2007). Her followups Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008) and the subsequent AIA (2011) garnered a lot of interest and critical acclaim and helped establish Grouper as a serious contributor to this experimental and acoustic subset of the ambient music scene. 



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As a preamble, I'll start by stating that the incredibly named Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill was important in a lot of ways both for me personally and, more to the point, for the purposes of reviewing this album. First off, this album is what turned me on to Grouper in the first place. Secondly, The Man Who Died in His Boat (where on earth does she come up with these titles)(no really, where? I want to go there) was written at the same time as Dragging.  And thirdly, it's important to note that this music is not designed to be instantly accessible. It takes a while to get into it. But, as with a lot of things in life, the wait is worth it, something I learned well with Dragging



On that note, on we go to the music and album that we're really concerned with here. I've noticed that in recent years I have become increasingly enamored with experimental music. That's not to say ALL experimental music. At the risk of sounding ridiculously obvious, certainly not everything that is new and different is avant-garde and not everything that in turn is avant-garde is interesting. But when, for example, I heard Tim Hecker's Piano Drop in 2011 for the first time, I came to the very happy realization that after 25 years of music appreciation, here is yet another genre or sub genre that I can add to my list of favourites. 


Much like Hecker's, Grouper's music can at times be drony and distorted, allowing one to effortlessly conjure powerful images or even feelings. It's extremely open to interpretation and what you end up feeling will often vary from person to person. For me, The Man Who Died In His Boat gave me the occasional emptiness, loss or even desolation. Yet, while that may sound a little too much on the melancholic side, a lot of the pieces actually had the opposite effect: I felt transfixed, uplifted and in some cases reassuringly succored by Harris' soothing melodies.


The Man... has more than its fair share of instrumental tracks but the only ones that genuinely caught my attention were the opener, 6, and STS. Both of these songs serve a dual purpose in the album's overall context: the former is perfect for setting the scene and also for leading onto the interesting second track, Vital, the latter is a good closer and also a great precursor to the excellent final track Living Room.


Vital is a great example of the type of uplifting melancholy referred to earlier and in an album where the vast majority of the sounds on display appear muffled, unmastered and the vocals are, intentionally it would seem, difficult to discern, Living Room is surprisingly audible, making it stand out even more..



My hands down favorite track on this album is without a doubt Being Her Shadow. Like with most of the other songs here, it feels like it received the bare minimum of post production work. The way the sounds distort and reverberate, the way the vocals intermittently come in and out, the so called "muddiness" of the production - it all combines superbly to elevate you to highs unattainable elsewhere on this LP. I must have listened to this song over fifty or sixty times though for some reason my iTunes counter is only saying 6. Perhaps it really has only been 6 and the remaining 44 times occurred in my head. Who knows. All I really know is that I want this to be a part of me. And it probably already is.


This is for me the album's strongest moment and it displays a compelling mastery of the musical genre it sits within. Unfortunately, the rest doesn't exactly measure up to such lofty standards. I had high hopes for the track Cloud in Places (another title i love), which was one of the first songs I got to hearing. Initially I felt like it had potential but the more I've listened to it the thinner it has started to feel. The guitar work doesn't really do anything for me, the vocals the same. 


I've felt the same way about a lot of The Man's other tracks as well and in the end I've had to resign myself to the fact that this is not an epic album from beginning to end. I am however extremely grateful for those moments of pure joy it did give me. Being Her Shadow, Living Room and Vital are songs I can easily take with me wherever I go, and I hope you do too. Just make sure that if and when you do decide to give this a go, you're openminded and unencumbered by too many other distractions.





Primary Genre: Ambient


Secondary Genre: Experimental


Release Date: 4th February 2013


Label: Kranky


Influences: Cocteau Twins, His Name Is Alive


Like This And You'll Probably Also Like: Tim Hecker, Chelsea Wolfe, Xiu Xiu


Album Highlights:  Vital, Being Her Shadow, Living Room







Being Her Shadow






Living Room









"Although not as inspiring as her previous efforts, Harris produces some real magic on her latest effort 6.5/10"


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24 Fluffy Reviews
"Made Glorious Summer By This Son Of York"
Mini bio
Raised in England, educated by France, originally from Greece. 
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The Clash
Smashing Pumpkins
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Type O Negative