Album Review: “Paradise Valley” by Grouper
In the no-man’s land between year-end wrap ups and most-anticipated lists, singer-songwriter-producer Liz Harris, AKA Grouper, released a 7’’ single, “Paradise Valley.”
My experience with Grouper’s 12 year career, which I only just recently learned includes 9 albums and a host of collaborations and EPs, is incredibly shallow—almost as shallow as my background with the kind of ambient sound she explores on Paradise Valley’s’s two tracks. At a friend’s recommendation I listened to her last full-length release, 2014’s “Ruins.” I distinctly remember appreciating its lo-fi aesthetic, and the understated piano-and-vocal arrangements.
“Paradise Valley,” which contains the songs “Headache” and “I’m Clean Now,” brings a familiar flavor with that background in mind. It’s equally stripped back in instrumentation, featuring only guitar and vocals, but the overall production is much denser.
“Headache” opens with slow guitar arpeggios. The sound is thick and bass-heavy, punctuated with the sound of Harris’ fingers sliding on strings. The vocals are sweet and sibilant; the lyrics are far-off and indistinct, but there are some transcendent harmonies. Harris’ voice carries sadness, but also a comforting, lullaby-like quality that makes for a calming listen.
I can’t really speculate on the words, or what the song is about. The obscurity of this seems to be by design, as with the near-whisper vocals of “Ruins”. I’m satisfied to leave it at that without tracking down a lyric transcription. Better not to pick it apart too much, as the unified song is such a peaceful, even restorative thing to me, and for once I would hate to ruin a good thing by overanalyzing. As far as the title goes, “Headache” is an apt name for a song that feels like getting over one.
“I’m Clean Now” is similarly meditative, but with a more neutral emotional center. It’s also built on familiar flowing guitar arpeggios. Despite the declarative title, the progression feels more open-ended, coming and going but never changing, slowing to a stop without a resolution. Harris’ vocals light are airy, and the production rests on a blanket of white noise. Clarity and fuzz are tastefully combined for an ultimately pleasant track.
“Paradise Valley” is a single that makes me want to go back and give “Ruins” more attention, not to mention Grouper’s back-catalogue. It also makes me retroactively disappointed I missed her performance in Charlottesville at the UVA chapel a couple years ago.
Fortunately it’s not too late to enjoy these songs. The limited edition 7’’ is sold out, but the digital version is available on Bandcamp as well as Spotify, and I highly recommend giving it a listen the next time you have (or just really need) a quiet moment.
Taylor Ruckle is a fourth-year who brushes his teeth to Bad and Boujee.