20 for ’14: Grouper – Clearing

Part 2 of a 20 part run down of my favourite tracks from last year

Can’t you see we’re fading/soon there will be no-one here

Call me old fashioned or conservative or whatever but I prefer Grouper at her most immediate as opposed to the ambient drone washes of her more experimental work. Those are lovingly crafted pieces that make great background noise, their unimposing beauty seeping from the stereo and diffusing through a room like an automated air-freshener with no more presence than a faint scent. Brilliant to write to, to fall asleep to, but not quite arresting enough to linger in the memory. But on Clearing, possibly for the first time since her most well-known song Heavy Water/Rather be Sleeping, she litters a song with subtle hooks that stay long after the song has ended. Despite being amongst the softest piano & vocals songs you’re likely to hear it demands attention – full of barbed lyrics sung in a breathy, lost, defeated sigh that both mask and amplify how pointed they are. “What has been done can never be undone/so take your sad song and sing it to the next one.” She may sing that line ever so quietly but the blow lands hard. It’s the kind of song that, as much as I enjoy her other work, makes me wish she’d do more of this kind of thing. However it sounds so heart-rendingly sad you wouldn’t wish the kind of sorrow that must have caused it on anyone. It’s a weird thing to be a fan of melancholy music – we almost wish trauma upon the artists we admire as it seems to be the fuel that fires their best work. When someone is so good at the art of alchemy, in turning pain into beauty like this, it’s hard not to wish the raw material they need to fall upon them in abundance. This is music that conveys heart-break in such achingly elegant terms – I kind of hope she never has to write a sad song again as it’s done with such aplomb here it would be cruel to ask for a repeat performance.

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