Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer (Yellowelectric, 2011)

Since I was little I’ve always had this feeling of being different. Not special: actually in many ways I think I’m unremarkable, and I’m not so conceited to believe that I’m better than the majority of the faceless billions of people on this planet. Just, different. The way I think, the connections I make, the manner in which I perceive this, it’s often felt singular. Alien.

I imagine many of us have similar thoughts at some time in our lives, usually through puberty as we start to come to some sense of our particularity, growing into who we are and maturing into who we are becoming, finding our unique place in the world. Yet for me it never left, and though I’ve met people “on my wavelength” and some who’ve retained a more permanent tether to my distinctness, I still feel there’s an unshaped void inside that’s never quite found its other.

An intangible, unquantifiable nothingspace, its soft veil laying over me, thinly separating me from the people beyond. Thoughts and feelings move through of course, it’s a permeable membrane, but nothing ever completely, nothing ever thoroughly. This Great Filter always leaves seems to leave both sides wanting and forever apart, no matter how close.

Alien Observer, in all its obfuscated beauty, makes me feel seen. I imagine that Liz and I are quite different people, but this statement on feelings from the outside, and on spaces that tingle with an unplaceable absence, cuts right through the heart of me. It’s an ethereal anthem to lost souls, those of us who in some way seem to find ourselves on another side looking in, always trying to bridge the gap.

Everywhere you listen here there’s distance, held in suspenseful possibility that Liz might turn a corner and reveal herself in full light to make clear her intent, but never quite appearing. Vocals whisper, croon, hum, breathy excitations floating like moths in moonbeams never quite able to reach the light they follow, dancing over the endless reverb of guitar chords.

Alien observer

in a world that isn’t mine

Suggestions of words make themselves known when Liz allows them to be: the title track is almost completely open, that veil lifting slightly in the breeze in some intimate, transient moment of connection pointing towards this disconnect. Its isolationism is juxtaposed against the loving and needy closer “Come Softly”: I’ve been waiting for you to come gently to me, Grouper intones, a whisper in need over a few sparse chords for someone who we hope can make us whole.

Elsewhere we’re lost to helpless, hapless indistinction in the likes of “She Loves Me That Way” and spectrally dense “Vapor Trails”. The latter feels so close to understanding, words lost into distortion and yet totally suffused in an unassailable wist that shimmers out into a warbling, inevitable emptiness. The former meanwhile haunts in brooding chord loops, its shape a charcoal sketch black impression whose lyrics only trace suggestions of form, once again unable to move out of its abstractions and own unknowable, singular context.

This notion of ever being able to convey the totality of self to another person is of course a fool’s task; whether you’re perceptually different as me or not, we each are too complex, too specific, too ourselves to ever make the fullness of us completely known. But to find someone that, if only for a moment, can break through that veil and pull us to Earth: that’s worth searching for.