A I A
If you're one of the unlucky souls who missed out when Liz Harris released the two-part Grouper set A I A in 2011 in a limited-edition vinyl format on her own Yello Electric imprint, you've got another chance to get your hands on it in this first CD issue (two discs totaling eighty minutes) courtesy of kranky. Though A I A's two parts, Dream Loss and Alien Observer, contain songs written and recorded over a four-year span (Dream Loss the earlier of the two), they play very much like a singular, unified whole.
What word might best describe it? Mesmerizing, haunting, and hypnotic equally apply, and the spell these plaintive tracks cast is potent indeed, especially when Harris adds her soft voice to the instrumental mass she shapes from materials unknown. There are moments when recognizable sounds declare themselves—the music box that sings its cryptic song in “Wind Return,” piano at the start of “Moon is Sharp,” and guitar (or at least what sounds like it) in “Alien Observer”—but more often than not Harris shapes her source elements into a cloudy blur. The material is at its most transfixing during tracks like “I Saw a Ray” and “Strangers” where her mournful, sometimes multi-tracked voice intones against glimmering backdrops.
These beautifully sad settings suggest that Harris has some direct line to the unconscious and is able to bring its deeply buried contents to the surface. Her spellbinding, ethereal incantations exude a time-worn feel that calls other associations to mind, though they're invariably of the idiosyncratic and highly personalized kind; for me, they include the gothic, black-and-white imagery of The Brothers Quay, Miss Havisham's decaying mansion in Great Expectations, and the films Night of the Hunter and The Innocents, and, while it is admittedly a too-common reference point, it's hard not to be reminded of Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti as “A Lie” plays. I'm not in the habit of quoting directly from promo text, but in this case kranky's statement that “Harris has created an exquisite sonic universe where she is the sole inhabitant, and we should consider it a privilege to listen in” captures it nicely.