Review: Grouper’s ‘Grid of Points’ leaves room for quiet contemplation

“Grid of Points” is the eleventh album from the prolific Oregon-based recording artist Liz Harris, otherwise known as Grouper. Similar to previous Grouper releases, the record is slow, ambient and emotional, with a heavy emphasis placed on the overall atmosphere of the recordings. But it would be wrong to dismiss this album as boring background music. “Grid of Points” offers up an arresting set of songs for the patient listener.

Most of the music on the record sits somewhere between ambient music and dream pop. Soft vocals are matched with airy song structures and introspective piano accompaniment, most of which rests on a very minimalistic approach.

The Races,” the album’s opening track, acts as a prime example of Harris’ stripped-down method. The song lasts less than a minute and features no instrumentation beyond a few reverberated vocal harmonies. Despite the song’s length and minimal arrangement, it ends up being one of the liveliest tracks on the album.

As the piano comes in on the second track, “Parking Lot,” the album settles into a very relaxed pace. Harris gives the song’s chords room to breathe, letting thoughtful pauses sneak in between the changes. The effect allows for a comfortable listening experience.

Though the total runtime for the album is only 22 minutes — closer to the length of an EP — “Grid of Points” never feels rushed. The songs are gentle and meandering, and none of them really come to a conclusive ending; they simply drift off into silence.

Long pauses also come between the breaks in the tracklist, but none of this feels like Harris is grasping for extra length. Instead, it gives the album a calm and meditative feel. No time is wasted, just spent in the moment.

Harris’ lyrics, for the most part, are indiscernible as heavy reverb and a soft vocal delivery wash out most of the melodies. But the songwriting and instrumentation still allow for a clear pathos.

Birthday Song,” a standout track, provides a hazy melancholia with its dizzying vocals and descending chord progression, while the song “Driving” is more reflective and somewhat nostalgic. “Grid of Points” may present interchangeable emotions at many points, but the moods of each song are still distinct and carefully constructed.

There is little variation in the album’s production, that is, until the final track “Breathing,” which is also the longest track on the album at four minutes. About midway through the track, the song abruptly transitions into what sounds like a helicopter passing by overhead, then blending into the sound of a passing freight train.

The juxtaposition of these industrial field recordings with the gentle nature of the album could have easily felt abrasive, but instead they provide a natural movement and conclusion. “Grid of Points” may be brief and somewhat esoteric, but Harris’ music allows for quiet contemplation and rewards attentive listening.

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