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The Man Who Died In His Boat

Grouper

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Album Review

Grouper's Liz Harris recorded The Man Who Died in His Boat at the same time she was making her gorgeous breakthrough album Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, which for many fans was an introduction to her remarkably emotive, hypnotic music. She followed it with the more abstract but just as lovely A I A, and her project with Tiny Vipers' Jesy Fortino, Mirroring. While this music is a little older than some of those projects, The Man Who Died in His Boat feels connected to each of them. Part of what made Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill so remarkable was its softness, which seemed to allow the emotional vulnerability Harris displayed to sink in even more deeply. There is plenty of that brave gentleness on these songs, which are possibly even more melancholy; "Vital" and "Being Her Shadow" carry an almost palpable sense of loss and longing in their drifting melodies and blurred vocals. Once again, Harris uses just a handful of elements — voice, acoustic guitar, the occasional piano, and lots of reverb and delay — to convey a subtle but wide range of feelings impressively. She balances the album's darkest moments with surprisingly comforting ones such as the strummy "Clouds in Places" and "Difference (Voices)," which lets Harris' vocals circle and linger around the listener like a long embrace. Songs like these and "Cover the Long Way" suggest, as the Cocteau Twins did, that clarity is overrated, or at the very least, a voice doesn't need recognizable words to give it power. When her singing does come into focus, as on the title track, it's almost unbearably intimate, but beautifully so. Elsewhere, "Living Room" recalls Mirroring in its spare yet dreamy folk, and drone-based tracks like the album bookends "6" and "STS" tie everything together and also hint at the direction Harris took on A I A. The Man Who Died in His Boat may be a smaller-scale album than either Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill or A I A, but it's no less lovely or moving because of that.

Customer Reviews

So Beautiful, It Hurts

For people who are not aware of who or what Grouper is, it's the stage name of Liz Harris of Portland, Oregon; it is not a band. Grouper is just one woman who is making music that sounds like no other musician, past or present. The title of this album, "The Man Who Died in His Boat", refers to an event the Harris had as teenager with her father on a beach when a boat washed upon the ocean shore and was stranded for a few days. She had explored the vessel and found various items of personal worth. The boat belonged to a man who had completely vanished while sailing, and as Harris put it, the man "had simply slipped off somehow, and the boat, like a riderless horse, eventually came back home." This event of Harris' was profound and pretty spooky, and it perfectly mirrors what this album is like. The whole record plays like a ghost story, calling forth images of the sea and death that all humans must face. Most listeners will probably state that "Vital" is the album's standout track, but "Being Her Shadow" is just too heavenly and plays like a sort film that visualizes a ship floating on the water, with sunlight reflecting off the sea onto it and an emptiness throughout the halls and rooms of the vessel. If you're not in the mood to picture nautical things, you can even picture leaves rustling on trees in the light, creating shadows on the ground within a park or in some woods. Just listen to the guitars and drones in this album, and feel relaxation grasp you. This record was recorded around the same time as "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" back in 2008. Both albums sound related, but each stands totally on their own. This may very well be Grouper's best album to date. This is the type of music you listen to in seclusion. Whether it be in a withered cemetery, or in your darkened room in the evening with candles lit, "The Man Who Died in His Boat" requires your attention. Your focus on this music will be rewarded with the hope that there are people, like Liz Harris, that continue to make music that sound as what humans should be making. Music that reminds us how mortal but beautiful people are. God bless Liz.

It Frustrates Me When Vocalists Won't Enunciate

This music is etherially beautiful, and I had hoped to love it. But I can't understand a single lyric. I can't pick any words out of the slow-moving, ambient soundwave of the album. Grouper mumbles all her lyrics, and washes it in so much reberb that the effect is like clouds billowing by, with no definite shape. It's alright if that what she's going for, but it's not my bag of tea. I get really annoyed with music when I can't understand the lyrics. When I was a teenager I used to sit with the CD's liner notes and keep referring back to them while I listened to the CD, and then I would refer back to the lyric sheet as many times as I needed to on subsequent listenings, but the thought of doing that now just makes me tired. I like pretty music, but I want to be able to hear and understand the lyrics. Otherwise, there's no difference between this and the new age-y ambient music I can hear at the local incense shop.

Here it is

I heard really great things about this album....I believe that this is gonna be filler-upper as the best album released so far from them.

Biography

Born: Portland, OR

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A one-woman ambient project from Portland, Oregon, Grouper — aka Liz Harris — first appeared with the self-released full-length CD-R Grouper in 2005. Later that year, and then signed to Free Porcupine, Grouper released the critically acclaimed Way Their Crept. From there, a series of recordings were made available, including a 3" CD entitled He Knows in 2006 and the 12" Weird Forest release Wide in 2007. In the meantime, Harris earned extra props from the genre as a whole with her 2006...
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The Man Who Died In His Boat, Grouper
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