Real Live Action

Grouper | Empty Love | Diadem


St. Andrews-Wesley Cathedral; July 18, 2009

Review By Saelan Twerdy

You’ve got to love Twee Death. Their taste is unimpeachable, their posters (and even tickets) are beautiful, and when these guys put on a show, you know it’s because they want to see the artist in question even more than you do. If noise, drone, psych and the deep end of folk is your thing, you’ve probably been to a number of Twee Death shows already (Tiny Vipers, Mount Eerie, and the double-bill of Psychic Ills and Indian Jewelry being just a few recent ones), but this Grouper show was undoubtedly their most ambitious undertaking. They’d brought her to town before to play a tiny stage at Hoko’s, and no doubt she attracted a bit more attention when she opened up for Animal Collective at the Commodore, but that show was also an inevitably poor fit: her quiet, meditative dream-folk was almost entirely drowned out by crowd clamour. No doubt Twee Death’s Kris Charlton was betting that enough Grouper fans would pay to see her in a bigger venue by herself, so he boldly booked St. Andrews-Wesley Cathedral, arguably the most beautiful venue in town, and sadly underused. Its grandiose columns and arches inspire a reverent awe even in the devout unbeliever, and its bell-clear acoustics are perfect for attending closely to quiet wonders. All the same, St. Andrews is usually home to the likes of Final Fantasy and Joanna Newsom, and Grouper’s Liz Harris simply doesn’t command that level of popularity. The night of the show, the venue was well-attended by the usual Twee Death suspects, but the church was still cavernously unoccupied, for the most part. But all the better—those that turned out were rewarded with a rare treat: a small, private audience with three excellent abstract sound artists in a space that virtually never hosts such things, with the added bonus of a spectacular PA that Charlton turned up LOUD.
Diadem, composed of Vancouver’s number one drone couple, Gabriel Saloman (formerly of Yellow Swans) and Aja Rose Bond, delivered a candlelit set of small sounds (plucking, bowing, moaning) carefully processed, a slow-burning exercise in tension and release, masterfully paced. Following them, the normally-solo Empty Love was joined by Erin Ward (a.k.a. Les Beyond) from Shearing Pinx, who contributed intricate guitar figures to Brad Lynham’s burbling ambient synths. Finally, Liz Harris, unassuming and hiding her face behind her dark hair, took to the stage accompanied by a video projection of her own design, a Rorschach snowstorm of black and white shadows that resembled drifting leaves at one point, flocking birds at another—a perfect analogue of her cryptic brand of evocatively blurred shoegaze. Her themes are immersion, evaporation, disassociation and ephemerality, usually couched in terms of non-human elements and natural forces (wind and water, especially), and her self-effacing stage presence is typical of her approach to lyrics and sonics: she throws up an infinite series of gauzy curtains to hide behind, shrouds of mist, tsunamis of oblivion, all pointing towards a non-being, a disappearance of the self that represents, if not euphoria, a kind of peace and relief. It’s very sad music, but it was a very good night for it. I hope Twee Death didn’t lose too much money.