Liz Harris’s soprano is angelic, but by no means delicate. If the distortion-induced haze and cascading bass lines of Helen’s The Original Faces (Kranky) were a mid-winter white-out, Harris’ sanguine, vivid vocals would be the bright beams of the headlights on the only truck on the road during the storm.
The Oregon-based Harris is best known for her experimental drone/ambient/folk work as Grouper, but in Helen, where she’s joined by friends Jed Bindeman and Scott Simmons, she finds herself in slightly more shoegaze, dream-pop territory. Luckily, Harris’s voice is an ample match for a thick wall of sound, especially Simmons’ complex, relentless bass lines, like that in “Violet” (streaming below) or “Grace”. The bass plays a powerful role in most of these songs, transforming The Original Faces from an avant exercise in noise rock to a bonafide pop record… well, almost.
The whole record is worth a listen for Grouper fans and shoegaze-lovers alike. Some tracks are quieter than others, but the musical dichotomy is most compelling in the heavier tracks like “Dying All The Time” and “Violet”.
The Original Faces is out now on CD and LP via Kranky.