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Music |

Review: Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat

Friday 08 February 2013

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I like it when I can describe a record as ‘drone-pop’. In fact, I really like the word ‘drone’. It makes me think of bees. And bees, if you listen to those in the know (where ‘those in the know’ translates roughly into ‘George Monbiot in the Guardian’), can save the world from things like global warming, terrorism and lip-syncing divas. The new album by Grouper (Oregon native Liz Harris, if you must insist on the facts) ain’t gonna stop the rainforests melting or Beyonce smashing up the polar ice caps, but its got the drone thing going on pretty good.

It’s a simple formula: take the recently resurgent dream-pop/shoegaze fad, add an ever-popular dab of lady-folk whimsy, and stick it together with some layered acoustic guitar and a vaguely conceptual narrative about a wrecked sailboat and a disappeared mariner, and you’ve got yourself something that sounds a bit like a bucolic Cocteau Twins, unplugged and dicking about in a rockpool. It’s more blissed-out than new folk (or nu-folk, as I believe the kids call it), but more leather-sandalgaze than shoegaze. Ooh, I’ve coined a new sub-genre. Can I go write for NME now please?

Grouper has been making twinklingly beautiful records with slightly disturbing titles since 2005 (2008’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill was even more dreamy and poppy than …Boat – think School of Seven Bells performing in a hedge: School of Seven Bluebells, if you will), and this is one of her best to date. She’s had these songs in her locker for a while now, and they’ve got a mature, worked-on sound. The multi-tracked vocals on the title track, for instance, sound like something Richard Youngs might produce, if he was a girl. An American girl. With the wreckage of a boat on his hands. ‘Vanishing Point’ has a studiedly avant-garde slant to it, a landscape of minimalist plinks and plonks and background hiss. The whole thing’s pretty lush if you ask me. Music for people who like bees. And we all like bees, don’t we?

Words: Thomas Blake