Listening to Ruins is a subtle form of torture; as a listener you’re being enveloped by a huge, black, heavy blanket of melancholy, but its warmth and glimmers of light are so comforting. It all feels so familiar and safe, yet every key played on the fragile piano is designed to be a cathartic heartbreak. There’s tension, hope and life breathed into every second of space on this record, as a solo deep-dive, it’s the perfect therapy for our current isolation limbo.
Recorded in Aljezur, Portugal during a residency, the only instruments present are an upright piano and a voice, the surrounding sounds of inside and outside are captured alongside the piano using her field recorder and an old 4-track, Ruins is a genuine masterpiece. The opening ominous drumbeat, the distant rolling thunderstorms, instrumental lullabies ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Made Of Air’, the frog song captured in the background, all of it firmly plants you in the room with Grouper, transfixed on her, floating over her shoulder so you can hear her hushed vocal.
‘Call Across Rooms’ is perhaps the greatest gut-wrenching love song ever written. Whispered laments are woven together and delicately lowered into the song, each one a barbed stem of beautiful prose with heartbreaking undertones:
“In the vale that disguises
one flesh from the other
we were but reflections
of rooms that hold echoes
across the divide
of rooms with a ragged interior”
It’s all so perfectly gloomy, even on the brightest spring or summer day, this song will suck you into a melting mess of black. Harris herself said this about it: “The song is on one level very plain and literal, about a letter I wrote for someone I loved and could not get along with. On a more subconscious, poetic level, it is a letter to myself, as aspiration to love better.” Perfect. Like standing in my own shadow.
Just when you think you’ve recovered from that, the record is flipped, and ‘Holding’ hits you like a ton of bricks:
“I hear you calling and I want to come
Run straight into the valleys of your arms and disappear there
But I know my love could fail you
Because in a clearing when the sunlight comes
Exposing all the shadows of our intricate behaviour
I see a sort of fading
We build our own unfolding”
By this point you are swallowed whole, consumed by a grief you had bottled up and forgotten. Like the storm that closes the record, it’s hard not to feel a hum of something magical in the air, a dense recollection of a journey in shoes that aren’t your own. I don’t know if this record will give you a spring in your step during the lockdown, but if there was ever a time for reflection, it is now, and this is the perfect soundtrack.