Record Review by Adam McKibbin
This year’s presidential election was a reminder that Americans are suckers for a good story. Whether the point of focus is Hollywood or Washington, whether you’re a Hockey Mom or fallen pop idol, narrative always matters.
How does this pertain to a talented, eccentric, folk-fueled singer-songwriter named Larkin Grimm? Well, Grimm’s bio reads like the result of a brainstorm session in which an artist, publicist, critic and label exec sat around dreaming up the most compelling and sometimes contradictory twists and turns they could cram into a 27-year span. Of course, this really isn’t a lonelygirl15 sort of deal – but what a deal it would be. The CliffsNotes: Grimm was born into a religious cult, raised by a commune, lived in poverty in Appalachia, then got whisked off to a boarding school thanks to a scholarship from Coca-Cola, one of the dominant global symbols of the capitalist rat race. That led to Yale, Yale fatigue, world travels, Into the Wild-like isolation and near death in Alaska, a stint in Dirty Projectors and, after an extended game of cat-and-mouse, Yale graduation (guess it wasn’t too elitist in the end).
Wanderlust runs wild on Parplar – and when Grimm grabs your hand and races off, it’s well worth following along. She starts out with the somber, plaintively arranged “They Were Wrong,” a pretty tune that probably qualifies as neo-folk or anti-folk or freak-folk or whatever. It’s a fake-out, a false lullaby. She next charges off into “Ride That Cyclone” and, a couple songs later, “Dominican Rum,” highlighted by brisk finger-picking. There’s unmistakable jubilation in the music, like in the boot-stomping Appalachian bluegrass of “Fall On My Knees.” But these songs are hardly all about peace and love; there are apocalyptic visions and incisive, unique commentary on femininity in a man’s man’s man’s world. Her vocals are wonderfully emotive and adaptive throughout, whether on the helium-voiced, Eastern-influenced “Mina Minou” or the earthy, softly strummed “Anger In Your Liver.”
Grimm and Parplar are certainly a good fit for Young God, which has also given us Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family. Label boss Michael Gira served as co-producer and guidance counselor on the album, helping Grimm choose 15 album tracks out of a batch of around 50. They chose well; there’s hardly a misstep, and with such variety and short runtimes (five songs are under 2:00), there’s little chance for stagnation. Keeping it all in the family, Young God up-and-comers Fire On Fire guest on the album, fleshing out the harmonies and adding a variety of instrumentation. With music this interesting, an unusual upbringing or anarchic philosophical tendencies are allowed to play a supplementary role rather than serve as the solitary sales pitch. Long may she run.
More by this writer:
Jana Hunter - There's No Home
Akron/Family - Interview
Lisa Germano - Lullaby for Liquid Pig [reissue]
Karrie Hopper - An Unusual Move