Liz Harris is charming behind the instrumentation and vocals which never packs more than a few layers into the frame. Her narrations are gentle, almost being kissed by angels while the audience strikes a tone of a mother lulling an infant; separation becoming the theme of her tone.
When the first introductory track, “Followed The Ocean” uses rough ambiance of white noise and warping vocals as if they were being ripped directly from the phonograph; Grouper is less calming and more frightening. The hair raises on the neck like a ghost has touched the audience one by one.
As the general uneasiness fades, Harris immediately makes her presence known less as the apparition, and more as the soft hands to lead. The guitar work is simple but matches her vocals in a way that borders to become a folk love story, but Grouper almost always has an underlying motion of foreboding grasp as well.
With the later track “Pale Interior,” the quicker strumming is instead traded for finer plucks on the strings. Now also less than a staccato fashion, Harris uses “Pale Interior” to march more towards this lifeless room. As a notion of redeeming emotion, Grouper on Shade focuses less on the lyricism and more on the tones within her voice.
For such soft vocalization, her words are nearly impossible to make out without intense listening. She makes sure to vibrate at this adequately low frequency that becomes nearly hypnotizing to the audience.
Especially present on “Present,” Grouper is perfect for the last moments on Earth. Tuned low with Harris’ vocals becoming the soprano of the production, “Promise” makes sense to the senseless. As nighttime and chunks of feedback continue to hum underneath the recording, her intertwined playing is nearly nothing in the ears. She is so quiet that the feedback begins to take over and let “Promise” fade back into the ocean of sound that she created from the start.
Over nine tracks and practically exactly 35 minutes, Harris on Shade is beautiful but never overpowers the mix and in fact, takes steps to reduce her presence even though it is a solo exhibition.
While the sand gets reduced back into the water on the clean banks, the sense of muddied notions comes instead from the audience’s own thoughts and not directly from Harris. Tides can push and pull, but Shade stands as if it was an immovable castle built upon that smooth and nearly glacial foundation.