Monday, November 10, 2008

Portland's Got to Be Good for Something: Grouper

It's kind of embarrassing I've never seen Grouper live. She played PDX Pop Now this year on a Sunday afternoon, which, all things considered, is kind of a perfect concert time for a nerd like me. But the prospect of wall to wall people packed into tiny little Rotture just did not seem appealing in the least.

Grouper is definitely one of my favorite Portland artists, along with White Rainbow and Valet. Her music is not only gorgeous, but sounds almost exactly like how I used to imagine bands like the Smiths and the Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen (yes, I thought Echo and Bunnymen would be dark and mysterious) sounded before I ever heard them. When I was twelve and thirteen walking wide-eyed through Ozone Records on Burnside (RIP), I remember seeing all the band t-shirts hung from the ceiling like flags and imagining how weird a band like the Cure must sound just based on their t-shirts. I was slightly disappointed when most of the bands whose strange t-shirts I'd idealized turned about to be just plain old pop bands.

The music of Grouper is gauzy and full of tape hiss and layers of delay that makes it sound like if your plumbing started a goth band. I could probably come up with a more romantic analogy, like the fuzziness of old Super 8 film or "the warm, misty glow of distant memories" but there is, for me, a quality of rust and of sound traveling through tight, hollow places to the music that makes me think of plumbing.

I love the fact that you can barely hear the words in Grouper's music, but I'm sure not everyone will feel the same way. For me, the layers of echo and ambient noise create a sound that seems at once otherworldly and mysterious and as ordinary and comforting as the buzz of the refrigerator.