When originally reviewing After Its Own Death/Walking in an Empty Spiral Towards the House, I complained of the right turn it makes halfway through into solo vibraphone. The first half offered such thrilling new contexts for Liz Harris’s music it was exciting to see how it would play all the way through. Those mystic voices from the Grouper records alongside bone-rattling drone-metal guitars and dusty Western desolation, stretched over not one but two LPs?

Thinking back to After Its Own Death/Walking in an Empty Spiral Towards the House, the vibraphones come through more vividly than anything else. It no longer seems like a disappointing dénouement so much as the main attraction. The shift is like driving off the highway into a foggy, wooded back road, or walking around your neighborhood and suddenly stumbling across a street you’ve never seen before. The image that comes to my mind is of a room containing hundreds of identical vases, in rows of two, zig-zagging endlessly across the floor.

When Harris teases the vibraphone earlier in the record, situating sharp plings between all the more fanciful stuff, it’s like the foghorn on the Microphones’ The Glow Pt. 2 anticipating the depths the record eventually yields. All the exciting stuff in the first half just feels more exciting knowing what’s coming. The longer those vibraphones hang in the air, the more weird shapes begin to form in the overtones; we start to feel like there’s something other than the instrument haunting the room as we listen.

Minimal music is always more convicingly spiritual than more ornate and produced music. The physical sound itself, be it the strict monophony of Gregorian chant or the dreams nestled within La Monte Young’s drones, is smaller than the presence it generates. Some have said about Young’s Well-Tuned Piano that they thought they heard voices or birdsong among the notes. The same illusion can be felt here.

It’s easier now to see why she released the record as Nivhek rather than Grouper: it wasn’t to fuck with our associations with female composers (the name is almost Kevin backwards) or to conjure ‘90s-baby associations with Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre. It was so we forgot who she was and let the music do the talking. This kind of delineation is common in electronic music. The first Aphex Twin album in 20 years is cause for celebration, but if Syro had been put out as Polygon Window or the Tuss, would it have won a Grammy? I think not.

I look back on my review of After Its Own Death/Walking in an Empty Spiral Towards the House and realize I was viewing it as the next Liz Harris album, the next step in the arc of a respected indie artist’s career, rather than as its own thing. But despite Harris’s pedigree and her crossover appeal in the indie-rock mainstream, you can’t force yourself to love this album. It works in quieter ways. Even as I wrote my original review, it was coiling in my brain. It still is.

  • Rafael Anton Irisarri: Peripeteia

    Peripeteia is the rare ambient album that works best during a focused listen on headphones…
  • Teyana Taylor: The Album

    The Album doesn’t benefit from its 77-minute runtime, especially when much of the midsecti…
  • Gas: Oktember

    Gas tracks sound best when you’re outdoors, anyway, as they dare you to wander further and…
  • Hum: Inlet

    Feels like a new blueprint for what a band “reunion” should look and feel like, one worth …
  • Bessie Jones: Get in Union

    Given our current social and political climate, these recordings serve as a vital document…
  • Rafael Anton Irisarri: Peripeteia

    Peripeteia is the rare ambient album that works best during a focused listen on headphones…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Rafael Anton Irisarri: Peripeteia

Peripeteia is the rare ambient album that works best during a focused listen on headphones…