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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Record Routine: Liz Harris taps into break-up emotions on latest effort

There are two kinds of breakups—a dramatic eruption of passion and anger in a be-all-end-all final blowout and a slow, fading death of passion without any fireworks and an overpowering sense of “throwing in the towel.” The first category is glamorized in television, movies, music and pop culture—its excitement and emotion lures in the audience with each fight and each tear. The latter, then, is frequently overlooked because it lacks a climactic boiling point and seems uneventful to a third party. However, it is often a far more painful experience.

Portland-based Grouper, Liz Harris, provides an exceptional soundtrack to the latter narrative on Ruins, a project she created in response to “living in the remains of love.” The ambient artist recorded the album alone in Aljezur, Portugal with just a portable 4-track, Sony stereo mic and an upright piano, allowing the simplicity and solitude to provoke the strongest of human feelings.

From the first track you can feel the metaphorical themes of Ruins. “Made of Metal” is a one-and-a-half minute thudding bass drum, evoking an ominous, bottled-up anxiety, like a volcano waiting to burst. But Harris’ volcano never bursts on Ruins. It leaks painfully in the desperate lyrics of “Clearing” and “Call Across Rooms,” emotional ballads that showcase Harris’ impressive (if not often enough showcased) vocals, as well as lyricize the overall atmosphere of the album: “Can’t you see us fading? / Soon there won’t be anyone there” …”Maybe you were right when you said I’d never been in love.”

Ruins continues with beautiful piano tracks enhanced by field recording quirks like chirping cicadas throughout “Lighthouse” and a microwave beep caused by a power surge at the end of “Labyrinth.” “Holofernes” and “Holding” seem to be recorded in the midst of a southern-European rainstorm, creating an atmosphere of both despondency and comfort. Harris provides soft, vulnerable vocals throughout these tracks, augmenting the beautiful melodies and meditative ambience.

Relationships, just like everything else that exists, can be ruined promptly by a number of events, both intense and impassive. On Ruins, Harris takes a retrospective look at the aftermath of an aching, life-altering ruin in a beautiful, heart-breaking album.

Rating: A-

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