Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat

Grouper - the Man Who Died in His Boat (2013)

Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat (2013)

Ambient is a weird genre for me. I love the idea of it and even becoming an active member of its community. The actual process of listening to it, however, still escapes my grasp. I felt like I was the only person who could quietly tackle A Man Who Died In His Boat — the new record from Oregon based folk/drone act Grouper. I mean after all, I have listened to her last three records and have been restfully pleased with everything I heard. Perhaps now I will be allowed into the great ambient council where we sleep the sleep of ages on stone beds under soft blue light.

If you would have asked me a year ago about Grouper I might have said something different. Actually, I am looking right now at an unpublished review of her 2012 record Violet Replacement. I was not kind to that record. Aside from all the ambient sleep jokes I made, the core argument centered around me not “getting” the record. Who the fuck am I? I was a dick. This is a fact, however, which cannot be disputed. Sometimes a listener, despite conceptual encouraging just cannot connect with the record. Ambient lies on the far end the conceptual pool whose merits rest heavily on the intellectual side. I may have been a jerk last year but A Man Who Died In his Boast is a fantastic record which I fully get understand and can stay awake for.

Liz Harris, the projects creator, came to greater critical acclaim with the release of 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill which was a fantastic psych folk record obscured by levels of soft noise. I understand the previous statement may seem absurd but the whole of Grouper’s albums have always been pleasing. Much like Vashti Bunyan played on a cassette tape and fed through a box fan, Harris’ music has always been striking. Unlike the 51 minute tracks which marked her previous release, Grouper returns to ambient folk with an accessible record revolving around the ghostly memory of a missing person.

The story behind A Man who Died in his Boat comes from Harris’ memory of discovering an abandoned sailboat which washed ashore. The boat was without any passengers yet carried the remnants of violent memories without any further clues to what actually happened. The whole encounter underscores Harris’ obsession with lingering emotion and ghostly artifacts. The encounter is enough to inspire an entire 47 minutes worth of faded acoustic folk. Does it rock and get a party started? No. Does it fulfill my need for ethereal dream music caught between here and there. Yes.

Given enough attention and patience, The Man who Died in his Boat yields a very inviting and rich landscape of texture and atmosphere. While the lyrics are near muted and non identifiable Harris’ thoughts and feelings resonate through the haunting fog. There is sadness and fear but also the brief glimmers of hope and absolution. The back half of this record is exquisite with the title tack, “Towers” and “STS” being the longest yet most complete of the entire record. I get it. I finally understand.

I almost want to like ambient as much as I want to make sleeping jokes at its expense. I have been told that there is a small scene of cassette based ambient artists who trade their wares back and forth through mail order. I do not know if that is true I want to become apart of it. I want membership in the great ambient council. I want to know completely. To sleep beneath its rooves yields eternal understanding.

Grouper – The Man who Died In His Boat Tracklist:

6 (1:49)
Vital (4:14)
Cloud in Places (4:05)
Being Her Shadow (4:45)
Cover the Long Way (4:05)
Difference (Voices) (5:48)
Vanishing Point (3:31)
The Man Who Died in His Boat (5:01)
Towers (5:19)
Living Room (2:22)
STS (6:06)

Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat, reviewed by Kaptain Carbon on 2013-02-07T06:11:46-08:00 rating 3.8 out of 5

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