Best Albums of 2011: #20

Grouper - A I A / Alien Observer
Grouper is the moniker for ambient-folk, Portland artist Liz Harris and A I A / Alien Observer is her fourth full-length album. If you are into ambient music in any way, shape, or form, this should be your album of the year. In this double album, Grouper still uses an assortment of acoustic and electric instruments to create her majestic soundscapes, but never in a way that feels synthetic. Her whispered vocals stretch out through the mixes like comets with long tails of reverb bouncing through the night sky, always giving the tracks a very "human" feel. Rather than creating ambient music that place the listener wandering the stars lost in space, Grouper's vocals and acoustic sounds instead plant the listener on the ground in the midst of a labyrinth of fog and light.

Even in the song "Alien Observer", one of the most accessible tracks off the album, Liz Harris finds herself looking inward and seeing herself as the outsider looking in -- an "alien observer in a world that isn't mine". Ultimately, a lot of these tracks seem more concerned with exploring the complex soundscapes and emotions within the interior of a person and that's where it has often struck me. Despite how muddled and inaccessible these "songs" can be, I often found myself finding strange moments of clarity in the album while the ambient the soundscapes cleared out the exterior world for me. While A I A / Alien Observer is not as accessible as her previous album, it is no less expansive as a piece of art.

Best tracks: "Alien Observer", "She Loves Me That Way"

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