Grouper - Grid of Points

Grouper — Grid of Points

Kranky, 2018

ALL CLEAN

There’s a moment in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man where the world stops, and the characters take in the scent of paper flowers. The woman who’s made the flowers asks a stranger to smell one, and he tells her it smells like paper. She tells him — “Well, it is paper.”

This is art in the throws of absolute intimacy. And I kept thinking of that scene as I listened to the new Grouper album. At 22 minutes, it’s short enough to feel like an exhalation. Or maybe an inhalation, I don’t know. Grouper’s music has always had a breathy, porous surface texture, but that sense of airy permeability really comes to the fore on Grid of Points.

 

Liz Harris likened the album to “a stage after the characters have gone.” Which is to say, the the stage is set, but empty. “Parking Lot” gives us absence in the everyday, where the discordant melodies of “Birthday Song” work to unfurl a guilt-tinged tableau of memory. Harris’ vignettes are description without place, landscapes in soft focus.

The final track, “Breathing,” is the clearest distillation of Harris’ conceptual m.o. Over skeletal, disjointed piano, she conjures a music of absence. Her singing almost feels like it has a respiratory function, as if her whispering and her breathing were two formations of an identical process. But as she pumps air into the space of the track, she inscribes the shape of a central lack. The fact of the missing thing. Breathing is what is here, around the emptiness, because there can be nothing else. Breath rushes to fill the vacuum of this four-minute coda, but doesn’t plug the vacuum entirely.

To breathe paper flowers is not to breathe real flowers. At the end of the day, it’s only paper. You supply the scent. You circumscribe the absence of a thing with things — with a sense of smell, with piano, with gentle ambient whispers. And these moments of circumscription are enough. The emptiness persists, but you learn to live with the the air forced from your lungs at the moment of your loss. You’re choking, and dizzy from hyperventilating, but it doesn’t last long.

What remains is the fiber of this album. It’s the suspension of expelled air in the space of absence. It’s breathing paper. It’s the knowledge that in the face of that overwhelming lack, you can take refuge in your breathing.

RIYD: whisperings, earthy sadness, Julianna Barwick

BEST: 2, 3, 6

 

1. The Races [0:50] — Pure, resonant vocals.

2. Parking Lot [3:32] — Quotidian sweetness.

3. Driving [3:48] — Charged stillness.

4. Thanksgiving Song [3:34] — Somber turkey.

5. Birthday Song [3:22] — Party hat fell off.

6. Blouse [2:45] — Deep breaths, now.

7. Breathing [4:01] — 1st half is elegy, 2nd half is ambient wash.

Will Gottsegen