Monday night felt like a dream.
As the rain and winds grew heavy throughout the Boston, a small crowd gathered on the floor of Northeastern's AfterHOURS entertainment venue. Contrasting the advancing storm and city clamor were a set of sedated tunes that whined and whirred throughout the locale as if possessed by an ethereal presence. Grouper, the solo project of Portland-based musician/artist Liz Harris, had once again brought her creative talents to the Northeast.
Liz was backed by New York/Boston-based musician Bedbug. Their bedroom-folk acoustic lullabies set the mood for the night. Bedbug's delicate strums could only be paired with their unique lyricism concerning ghosts, fairies, toads and frogs. Their latest album, which you can find on their Bandcamp page (or is it Linkedin?), is the healing soundtrack for leaving this relentlessly bleak year behind. Bedbug was followed by indie rocker Japanese Breakfast, the solo project of another Oregonian, Michelle Zauner. Originally fronting Philly emo outfit Little Big League, Michelle has developed a sort of experimental pop sound described as "sonically upbeat". Her compelling setlist was born out of tracks from her 2016 critically acclaimed album, Psychopomp (Dead Oceans). Japanese Breakfast will be supporting shoegaze legends Slowdive on their upcoming North American tour dates.
Well into the evening, Grouper took to the stage without a word. The performance felt extremely intimate and personal; with all of us closely seated and huddled around the stage. As she began her set, I was in awe of the layers of hums and churns and strums and thrums and fuzz and croons that were born from the stage and drifted throughout the venue. I've followed Grouper closely since the release of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill in 2008. I could never wrap my head around the way that she manages to grace her music in a way that sounds intimate yet miles away at the same time. Her stage presence left a similar impression, and she brought about the same ethereal waves of sound that we were all familiar with on her studio albums.
Liz's music was paired with a number of experimental video clips by film director Paul Clipson. The two are a match made in heaven, with delicate guitar patterns syncing elegantly with tapes of insects, crashing waves and various displays of emotion. I regularly found myself in some sort of state between un/consciousness, not in a tired manner; only transfixed. The audience must have felt the same way, as you could hear a pin drop between each track. To call it a drone set would undervalue her work - these pieces are a deeply layered mosaic of audile bliss. By the time each sound gradually faded and dissolved, I found myself alone, back on the street with the rain pouring over me. Only her voice echoing in my head.