Larkin Grimm: Parplar | David Morris

It's all too easy to forget what music we would be left with if people like Larkin Grimm weren't out there stretching the kind of boundaries that a very highly skilled / schooled musician can't touch.  

Although the moniker Freak Folk was used as a way of herding all the slightly off-kilter sheep into one easily judged fold, Larkin Grimm does share certain traits with a few of her contemporaries in the pen. But James Jackson Toth has dropped his Wooden Wand pseudonym and with it the the lo-fi sound. Devendra Banhart is cavorting his Megapuss all around LA and cropping up in style magazines. Not that I blame him, I doubt he would deny part of his appeal was a fashion all along and he seems like a very decent fun-loving fella. MV & EE are still doing what they were doing before they ever even knew they were getting name-checked in the Wyrd basement. Other acts like the excellent Mi & L¹au have gone a little quiet as of late.
Larkin Grimm still sounds like a coyote outside the margins, and she sings like someone who has lived there her whole life.

Everything on Michael Gira¹s label Young God (Mi & L¹au, Devendra Banhart, Angels Of Light, Akron Family) has a very singular feel to it. The album artwork templates, the excellent session musicians drawn in to work on a record and lately the instruments used themselves. There is a certain tone or undercurrent running through each of the albums he puts out. I wouldn¹t say Michael Gira stamps these acts with the YG brand, but there is definitely something he is listening for when signing bands, producing records, or playing on them himself (he does both here on Parplar).

When the bands aren¹t practicing a restrained, backwoods acoustic melancholy they all seem to be fluent in slightly unhinged backwoods rockers. Banjo led blusters like ŒRide That Cyclone¹, the second song on Parplar, are highly charged, lyric rich and captivating. Pulsing with the same energy that drives great Angels Of Light tracks, (like ŒBlack River Song¹) with haunting minor key backing vocals. Larkin Grimm delivers a world weary mysticism with quick wit and a knowing smile:

³Search for joy but don¹t expect it. Life force shines when you collect it, disappears when you neglect it, all love fades when you reject it²

Parplar is a rich meal when eaten all in one go. The lyrics delve in and out of dark cave spirituality, sexuality, madness and the body in general and as such I feel inclined to switch it off after tasting a few tracks. On one of my favourite tracks, ŒDominican Rum¹ Grimm sings:

³The macrocosmic spiralled eggs inside my uterus are sparkling and bursting with the greenest yellow pus.²

Throughout this song Grimm switches from one narrator to another. One is ³wanking in the corner waiting for a nuclear war² another¹s ³tits are made of silicone just like the earth and sea² and the bees are ³up and vomiting outside the old beehive². Once one or two of these slightly disturbing images start swimming around your mind the sudden intrusion of twenty more is a little overwhelming. It takes a while to cotton on to the lyrics, as their syllables are matched very well to the rollicking tune, and camouflage themselves in the music. When they reveal themselves they aren¹t entirely unexpected or massively shocking but they do force you to re-appraise the mood that the accompanying music creates, as if you¹ve been tricked.

When Grimm adopts her most affected vocal styles, as on ŒMina Minou¹ and ŒDurge¹ they can be pretty grating on my ears. I find that Parplar¹s best moments are often it¹s simplest. The tracks ŒAnger In Your Liver¹ and ŒThey Were Wrong¹ are more mantra-like than stream of consciousness, and achieve a greater communication, with minimal instrumentation and simple repetitions on an acoustic guitar.

Though I find the record to be hit and miss, Larkin Grimm has the ability to sing touchingly, spookily, humourously and angrily. It is always a pleasure to hear a singer who is not at all interested in turning his/her voice into a trademark, but is rather exploring all it¹s capacities for expression. She is also in no danger of gaining the attentions of the incense addicted afficionados of new-age therapies, crystals and persian rugs (Tori Amos for
instance?) as she is too sharp (or jagged) a lyricist. Her observations are often scouring and seething which suggests she is the kind of songwriter who will go on making interesting records. I imagine some of them will be more to my taste than Parplar, despite it¹s handful of great songs.