When you put on anything by Liz Harris, better known as Grouper, you’re best off staring into oblivion while you ponder something like the inner workings of a textile weaving machine and the intricacies of the textile it makes, or maybe what your toes are doing. Somewhere between distant vocal harmonies reminiscent of the sounds you thought were coming from your closet as a child and amorphous synth and guitar progressions, it becomes clear that Harris has a way of crafting these elaborate soundscapes that can force you into specific corners of thought while washing over you entirely. Imagine being able to feel the cold vacuum of space in just the tip of your pinky finger; it’s kind of like that. The song “Motorcycle” by the Portland musician’s most recent project, Helen, which features Jed Bindeman of Eternal Tapestry and Scott Simmons, applies Grouper’s energy to something a bit different.
On “Motorcycle”, Helen trades in the endless void of space and existential dread that usually comes with Harris’s music for a drum set, some compact dream-pop, and slightly less existential dread. The song starts with jangly tremolo guitar peeking in through the left channel underneath a tasteful synth line all colored by Harris’s signature whisper. After not even 30 seconds, the songs drops that act in its entirety and bursts into luscious full-bodied kind of Baltimore shoegaze. With the help of some very purposeful drumming, a wash of delayed guitar, and an extremely kinetic bassline, Harris’s vocals here command the attention necessary to keep a songs like this engaging, even as they don’t deviate very much from her normally ambient style of vocal mixing. The louder instrumentation actually complements and elevates the vocal; giving it a strange forlorn context through which it can perpetuate its own mystery. Running for less than two minutes, the song doesn’t waver, it stays the course and plays to the strengths of this group and this sound.
“Motorcycle” is streaming below and will be part of the band’s debut full length The Original Faces,out September 4 via Kranky.