Damn That Song Is Heavy - Grouper "Headache"

Group Paradise Valley Cover Image

"My mother once told me she walked into the ocean.

Didn't want to die just couldn't tell where the horizon was. 

Wanted to have a closer look..."

If you've been checking out our playlists, you may have noticed the work of Liz Harris, aka "Grouper". Grouper is perhaps the platonic ideal of "heavy without being heavy" music. As a general matter, Grouper songs feature just a voice and an instrument, the latter usually a guitar, but sometimes a piano or other keyboard. A master of lo-fi recording, Harris's body of work posses an unmatched aural intimacy and immediacy. Grouper's layered, sparse compositions reliably create a sense of place and emotion, and the song "Headeache" off of the single Paradise Valley (not to be confused, for the love of god, with the John Mayer album of the same name) manifests the beautiful and dreamy melancholy of an overcast day at a Northern California beach.

Taking the opening lyrical phrases from an anecdote her mother told her about a time she walked into the ocean near San Francisco, transfixed by the sea and desiring on some level to leave a situation she found herself in, Harris spends the length of "Headache" meditating on loss and disappointment along with the attendant desire to escape the associated hurt. As the words shift from reflecting upon her mother's story to her own life, Harris questions why the things she thought would bring her joy, or at least help her to avoid negative emotions, do not ultimately succeed in doing so:

"why does love keep letting me down?"

That's not to say that "Headache" presents only hopelessness in the face of despair. As Harris has said, her compositions feature a "dialectical relationship with negativity", so when she asks "why does love keep letting me down?", the question does not seem posed to the universe in a rhetorical fashion, as if to say "why does love always fail me?", but rather asked self-critically to spark resilience and move toward self-improvement even while under the weight of heart break. It's heavy, beautiful, and haunting.

If you enjoy this song, you will likely relish a stroll through Grouper's back catalogue, particularly her work on The Man Who Died In His Boat, as "Headache" was written during the period preceding that album's release (though Paradise Valley did not see the light of day until December 2016). Her subsequent, latest album, Ruins, switches things up a bit, focusing on piano based compositions, but still bears Harris' uncanny ability to make a whole world appear between your ears.


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