Record Reviews

Larkin Grimm - Parplar

parplarYoung God Records

These songs are about possession and parasites, predators and prey. Their content is both intimate and abstract, like they issue from a deeply layered personal mythology. Larkin Grimm’s sound falls unevenly between a homespun, raw bluegrass belonging to her native South and an urban, bohemian folk music of her adopted base of New York. According to her website, Larkin Grimm grew up in a new age cult in Tennessee and Georgia after her parents met in SF in the 60s. She identifies as anti-war, and an environmentalist and anarchist. But in keeping with other contemporary folk music, politics are writ small in this music, playing out in a parade of disturbing images that let us view the times in a cracked and darkened mirror. I’m tempted to wonder why today’s Iraq and Afghanistan war era folk music shrouds its politics in such a web of metaphor, in comparison to the more overt politics of folk music in the Vietnam War era. But when you listen to those old Bob Dylan records, he was using a lot of metaphor too.

I keep an eye on Young God records, as a longtime fan of Michael Gira, who runs the label. Gira has traveled a long way from the Swans era of sadomasochistic sludge-punk to somnambulistic industrial power rock to current folk-rock god with his group the Angels of Light. This process surely has perplexed many. But in interviews going back to his more aggressive, electrified music days, he always cited Bob Dylan as an influence, and it makes sense that in his full maturity as an artist and now, label entrepreneur nurturing younger artists, Dylan’s shadow would be kicking around in the background somewhere, hands in pockets, half-profound and half-vain showman. And in the artists who have appeared on Young God, notably Larkin Grimm and Devendra Banhardt, there is a similar mixture of the authentic and the pretentious. The artist as holder of a secret inner world and the artist who, despite these claims to a secret world, crafts tunes meant for broad consumption and employs whatever gimmicks suit the moment.


Grimm’s lyrical lunar transmissions sometimes veer into precious absurdisms, something she holds in common with Devendra Banhardt. But one gets the feeling that her new-age/occult gospel is no schtick — that she really believes, to quote from her website, that after a Cherokee shaman gave her hallucinogens which gave her a “first jolt of golden light to the brain,” she was “was possessed by a forest spirit” who taught her how to sing. Who’s to say that the golden light isn’t real, or the forest spirit, if the music holds up? And it does. Her voice is by turns hypnotic, soothing, grating, and eerie. Swirling atmospheres of mandolin, dulcimer, guitars and layered vocals create, as with other recent releases on Young God, deeply post-industrial acoustic moods, sounds that are both raw and refined, antique and electrified, carefully noisy. Evocative of obscure woodlands, giant smoking junk piles, dim lamplight, abandoned mines.

–Justin Allen

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