Portland singer and multi-instrumentalist Liz Harris, who performs as Grouper, opens the recent The Man Who Died in His Boat (Kranky) with two minutes of amorphous, undulating ambience called “6,” its buried vocals and feedback swimming in reverb. Its underwater murkiness feels like waking up after a long night’s sleep, still foggy in the head—except that in Grouper’s music the haze doesn’t clear up. Harris’s rudimentary acoustic strumming and narcotic, melodic vocals are comparably lucid and clear on the next song, “Vital,” but they’re likewise bathed in milky reverb, droning hiss, and atmospheric sounds (rain and thunder?). The 11 tracks on The Man Who Died in His Boat were cut at the same time Harris recorded 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (recently reissued by Kranky), arguably the most direct, tuneful album in Grouper’s eight-year discography, and it seems like a yin to Dragging’s yang. The diffuse atmosphere is as crucial as the songs themselves, which are so simple they’d feel almost formulaic without all the effects. This concert is part of Kranky Records’ 20th-anniversary celebration, which begins Thu 12/12 at the Empty Bottle, continues Fri 12/13 and Sat 12/14 at Constellation, and ends Sun 12/15 at Lincoln Hall. —Peter Margasak Benoit Pioulard, Christopher Bissonnette, and Justin Walter open. $18
Sound artist Tim Hecker recorded his newest album, Virgins (Kranky), with live ensembles in Reykjavik, Montreal, and Seattle, but you’d never know three cities were involved—fragmentation due to varying settings and personnel is negligible. That is, there isn’t any. Hecker also traverses a lot of aesthetic ground on Virgins, orchestrating squirming soundscapes in one moment (“Virginal I” is like a thicket of swirling wind chimes just before a storm, backed by a distorted, catastrophic rumble) and summoning a celestial chorus in another (“Radiance”). Hypnotic repetition is the album’s siren song, captivating your attention at least until you get distracted when Hecker piles up creaks, grones, and drones on top of his loops all at once. And he knows how to make fear into a sound: on the chilling “Live Room,” for instance, a smattering of keyboard and tinny percussion acts as a loose framework, even as it’s being annihilated and ravaged by a growling low-end buzz. This concert is part of Kranky Records’ 20th-anniversary celebration, which begins Thu 12/12 at the Empty Bottle, continues Fri 12/13 and Sat 12/14 at Constellation, and ends Sun 12/15 at Lincoln Hall. —Kevin Warwick Pan-American, Keith Fullerton Whitman, and Ken Camden open.