Grouper: Grid of Points
Grouper's 2014 masterpiece Ruins made it onto that year's best albums list, but somehow Liz Harris's stunningly sad project fell of my radar until recently, when I came across her new record Grid of Points almost by accident. Grid of Points is played so ethereally that it nearly collapses into nothingness, but the gauzy weight of Harris's haunting voice keeps you rapt as each line melts into the void. While Ruins incorporated nonmusical sounds like scratching on metal, until the very end of the record Grid of Points is entirely the marriage of Harris's piano with her breathy, multi-tracked voice. And with only these two instruments she's able to do so much, in such a short amount of time; the album as a whole only lasts a little over 20 minutes. It's an album of pure, slow emotion, and its brevity actually works well for what it is: by the time the last song finishes, you wonder if you really heard it at all, or if it was the melody of some half-forgotten memory.
Dylan Carlson: Conquistador
Twenty-five years on from his epochal Earth 2, Dylan Carlson shows his absolute mastery of the guitar as a tool with the ability to transcend time and space. Conquistador, like many of his records since 2005's Hex, feels like the soundtrack to an imagined Cormac McCarthy adaptation: with little more than his guitar, Carlson concocts deep red canyons and dust-blown plains, and by the time you reach the end of the 13-minute long title track, you can feel the cruel sun reducing you to a husk. The album is entirely slow repetition; Carlson fixates on a single measure and rides it until it can't go any further. The minimalism is haunting, and has more in common with a composer like Steve Reich than with any tenuous links to popular music you expect from a Seattle-based guitar project. And like Reich, instead of being indulgent, Conquistador washes over you and never feels dull for a second. Carlson is a shaman with his guitar in a way that I haven't really heard before, outside of maybe Sunn O))), but their albums exist on a different plane than Conquistador does. Like Grid of Points, Conquistador isn't a long album, but its viscous repetition can act as an anchor in the chaos of our age.