At a fundamental level, the respective musical approaches of Liz Harris and Jesy Fortino have more commonalities than differences. Seattleite Fortino’s songs as Tiny Vipers are delicate, gorgeously spare pieces, primarily driven by her vocals and acoustic guitar plucks. And as Grouper, Portland’s Harris takes that same idea but washes it in disorienting sheets of reverb and delay, taking folk music to a foggier, more psychedelic end. This fact, in addition to their proximity to one another, is what makes their collaboration as Mirrorring more inevitability than surprise. Yet, only those with a particularly effective crystal ball would have seen that Foreign Body‘s six lengthy, spacious folk-gaze tracks make up some of the best material in either artist’s catalog.
It’s not wholly inaccurate to identify Foreign Body, the duo’s Kranky debut, as a simple Grouper-plus-Tiny-Vipers equation. The two singer-songwriters ultimately combine their unique aesthetic qualities into a richer whole, Harris washing Fortino’s performances in ghostly atmosphere, and Fortino grounding Harris’ space-folk sounds with a crisper, earthier delivery. However, that alone doesn’t quite account for the level of depth and breathtaking beauty unearthed within these warm, humming mixtures of ambience and intricate melody. Foreign Body is a complex, yet often quite minimal work, evolving slowly but always doing so in a way that seems to unfold in a way that each bit of echo and sustain carries with it a chill, a flush of endorphins, or a detached sense of euphoria. “Folk” really doesn’t apply here.
The unique sonic ideal underlying the music of Mirrorring (intentionally spelled with two Rs) is most strongly conveyed through a track like “Fell Sound,” which opens the album in as broad and cosmic a manner as possible. Massive and intimidating, yet paradoxically quite gentle, it flows outward from some looping ambient effects, Harris’ voice gently breaking its slow orbit, and something as simple as a chord change around the four-minute mark somehow coming across as devastatingly profound, even if Harris’ lyrics themselves prove particularly difficult to decipher.
Fortino and Harris treat Foreign Body with the same delicate grace as heard in their own catalogs, but the sum total of their efforts here is headier and much fuller sounding, not to mention, at times, incredibly epic. Of the six tracks on the album, two hover around nine minutes each, comprising almost half of its total running time. One such sprawler, “Mine,” evolves in a way similar to the progression of “Fell Sound,” with amorphous minor key waves backing Fortino’s expressive vocals, only to slowly disintegrate into more subtly metallic and dissonant effects, ultimately culminating in a noisy cacophony of static and drone. By contrast, the slightly longer “Cliffs” takes a while before it really seems to be going in any particular direction, yet once it does, converges in a mélange of escalating strums and darkly beautiful ambience.
Nothing on Foreign Body could be described as “concise,” necessarily, but the closest thing to it, final track “Mirror of Our Sleeping,” boils the duo’s spectral beauty down to an eerie melody that hums as if played quietly through neighboring walls, its chilling skeleton both haunting and enchanting. It’s not so much the album in miniature as a shadow cast from its denser, more towering compositions, which are, essentially, the product of two dark, gentle souls merely doing what they’ve done all along, just simultaneously. It’s a funny sort of irony that by building a series of small, subtle movements on top of one another, Fortino and Harris constructed something huge.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.