Liz Harris and Eva Saelens may not be household names, but as Grouper and Inca Ore respectively they have produced some of the most evocative and moving music of the past decade. Darkly mysterious and uniquely feminine in a music world where female art often means mockery of inappropriate rock chauvinism or transvestitism into such bad behavior, Portland’s Harris and Oakland’s Saelens share a knack for creating textured canvases of music that express intimacy through a disconnection from the materiality of their sounds. This aesthetic is expressed astutely on the recent reissue of a split featuring both artists that originally released on cassette in 2007.
Grouper’s side was recorded in a fit of depression, her futile daily search for a neighbor’s lost cat being the only light to her creative quest. Appropriately then, the tracks are gloriously lost-sounding, with a cathedralesque glow to the four piano-fronted tracks. “Fallow” dangles detached melodies against Harris’s sweet chanting voice like wind chimes set to play in minor keys.
Inca Ore’s half is even better, the nativism of her namesake shining through in moments of ritual minimalism spooky enough to humble the World Serpent Distribution crew. It’s about as lo-fi as they come, shaped more by the hollowness of its spaces than the roughness of its grainy fibers. “Baby Tiger, I Went Far Away” is nothing more than voice accompanied by a screechy reverberated violin while “Churpa Champurrado” is just pounding toms colored by whistles and whines. The more Saelens does with less on these tunes, the more breathtaking and room-stopping the music becomes. “Vista Maria” is perhaps the most noticeable case in point, an a capella off-key duet between Saelens and herself so nakedly lonely it’s practically voyeuristic.