Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grouper- Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill

It could that I'll have to eat my words someday, but the more time that passes since the 1991 release of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, the less likely it seems the band will ever release another album. Kevin Shields has made too many announcements over the years that have never come to fruition, and despite their surprising reunion and subsequent shows in '08 and '09, little news has come about any new recorded output. As with rumors and speculation about Neutral Milk Hotel ever recording again, it's best to not get your hopes up. Besides, what do you really want out of a potential follow up to Loveless? It's such a complete and perfect album; anything My Bloody Valentine could possibly record would either be too slavishly similar or too different to be comparable. Even other bands who have taken inspiration from it, or have outright copied its sound, don't come close.

Every so often, though, there's an album that has a similar quality to it that reminds me of Loveless. It's an indefinable trait or atmosphere that has me grasping at adjective straws: dreamlike, haunting, sex-less, warm but emotionally detached, etc. Boards Of Canada's music is this way for me. No, it doesn't sound anything like Loveless, but it shares those qualities. Grouper's Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, however, shares those qualities and sounds like Loveless. Kind of. The easiest and laziest way to describe this album is that it's like an acoustic guitar flipside to Loveless's electric guitar squall. The patient chording and reverb soaked vocals and guitar of 'Traveling Though A Sea' could easily be turned into a Loveless track if you sped it up a little and suffocated it in beautiful-but-noisy electric guitars. Hell, Liz Harris's vocals, though obviously female in origin and quite lovely at that, could easily mix into the ambiguous male/female mix of Loveless.

But Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill is no mere Loveless sound-a-like or follower. Panda Bear's solo acoustic album, Young Prayer, is another point of reference, and makes sense considering Grouper has opened for Animal Collective. But it's still only a point of reference. Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill has its own distinct feel and pacing, beginning with the red herring of 'Disengaged', which leads you to believe the album is going to be a lot more brutal and difficult than it is. Somehow Harris wrings a lot of variety out of just her vocals, acoustic guitar, and what must be some kind of subtle keyboards/organs. And of course, the ever present reverb. In fact, the reverb on this album isn't like anything else I've heard: it's like reverb from natural locations, such as abandoned tunnels, high ceiling'd haunted mansions, and bottomless canyons. All of this bundled up with tape hiss that sometimes is audible, sounding less like a shoddy bedroom recording and more like another texture. The stirring of leaves in a forest on a windy day, say, or perhaps someone running the sink in the kitchen while you're laying on the couch trying to take a nap.

There is no wasted space and no accidents on Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. Everything is completely purposeful and precise even if the whole thing never sounds as polished and sterile as that description suggests. There's a naturalistic perfection to the album, like a perfectly formed diamond erupting from a volcano or the mathematically precise shells of certain animals. I don't really know anything about Liz Harris or the recording of this album, and I don't want to. It would spoil the magic to know what she's singing on the borderline-angelic title track, or what the story is behind the instantly memorable album cover, or what kind of effects pedals she uses to make that sound that segues 'Tidal Wave' into 'We've All Time To Sleep.'

I listen to a lot of music, but it's very rare I come across something that's as immediately arresting as Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. It's the sort of thing you hear and all you want to do is lie down somewhere comfortable and listen to it, over and over. It's been the soundtrack, over the past month or so, to both some happy times for me as well as some very recent and incredibly painful news about one of my family members. This is an album that makes me feel and think things which make all of the old stand-by adjectives I usually bestow on other music hollow and overblown in comparison. With any luck, the cult around it will only grow with time just as it has for My Bloody Valentine and Neutral Milk Hotel.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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