Larkin Grimm | Harpoon | Review | Lee Jackson

...a delirious, minimal dream of spectral wanderings that combines an accessible, but scattered, pop sensibility with ornate vocal embellishments.

Larkin Grimm arrives under the same bustling avant-folk banner as Lau Nau, Josephine Foster and Spires That in the Sunset Rise. Her fractured tone poems revolve around gentle acoustic strums and fingerpicking, hand percussion, bells, flute and some multi-tracked vocal harmonies. With “Harpoon” she weaves a delirious, minimal dream of spectral wanderings that combines an accessible, but scattered, pop sensibility with ornate vocal embellishments. The cover sketch of Grimm spearing a gargantuan serpent through the skull is the perfect visual compliment for these empowering, occasionally sexually charged, musical evocations.

Opener, “Entrance,” is a shimmering bath of guitar plucks and percussive clatter, with Grimm’s layered siren vocal extolling one whose “face is like a big black cloud, and his voice is like a thunderstorm…” to dramatic effect over an Eastern tinged melody. “Going Out” is a caustic stumble of a repetitive vocal mantra and tribal percussion which serves as a declaration of sensual longing that might leave one wondering if he/she could be “strong enough, strange enough, and dark enough” for this feral angel, while “Patch it Up” teeters on rustling free-folk branches before the music fades to reveal just Grimm’s vocals singing the haunted chorus -- a sweet trick, indeed, with a voice as disarming as this one.

Then there’s the gorgeous “Pigeon Food,” a bittersweet slice of Carter Family old country fingerpicking crossed with the psychedelic production value of Comus. Grimm’s high-pitched voice describes in near Buddhist terms all the different little creatures that will eventually devour her: mind, body and soul. Her vocals, intertwining in vibrant tonal patterns with infectious harmonic backing, arouse a tingling catharsis that far outshines the song’s brief two minutes. It’s simply a knockout. “Future Friend,” on the other hand, combines blissful guitar strums and operatic harmony swirls into nine minutes of spacious, improvised freedom.

The title track is a breathtaking number that likens Grimm’s romantic struggles to a mythical whale hunt in which she “is standing on the pier with a spear in one hand and my sweet golden heart in the other,” and asking: “Which one do you want: heart or harpoon?” Grimm’s ambiguous climax of caterwauling laughter and percussive crashes could be as much directed at herself as her harpooned lover, and serves as powerful juxtaposition to the mournful pleas of the opening. Her subject matter isn’t really anything new, but her musical settings are so unusual and unpredictable that it seems like it is. Another case in point: the gut-wrenching goodbye of “Go Gently,” which could serve just as easily as deathbed hymnal as a farewell to a lover.

Of course, there are plenty of artists that Grimm could be likened to. I’ve already mentioned quite a few above. Chan Marshall of Cat Power is another, and Devendra Banhart, but Grimm is reaching back further here and occasionally revealing the same soul depths that marked the classic works of Buffy St. Marie and Linda Perhacs, albeit from her own skewed perspective. It’s simply a stunning debut, anchored upon Grimm’s defiantly strong (and occasionally wounded) perspective on love and loss. “Harpoon” deserves a closer look by all fans of soulful, challenging, haunted folk music. 8/10 -- Lee Jackson (29 June, 2006)