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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  Fair
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TOUR STOP

Larkin Grimm blends New Age and old time

Larkin Grimm told Yale: Drop dead.
Larkin Grimm told Yale: Drop dead.
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Larkin Grimm isn't from anywhere. On MySpace, the 27-year old psych-folk musical vagabond claims First City, The Universe, Antarctica as her hometown.

Grimm, 27, was born into a wayfaring family. Her parents were members of a religious commune devoted to spiritual and environmental healing. They moved to the Appalachian Mountains when Grimm was 6 so her father could learn the traditions of old-time fiddle.

So it's no surprise that Grimm's music is one part New Age, one part old time. Her 2008 album, Parplar, includes an eastern mantra ("Durge") set to the melodrama of a somber guitar and screeching violin. The same album features a banjo and fiddle interpretation of an Americana folk standard ("Fall on My Knees").

This set of acoustic tracks largely fits the eccentric vocal styles and exotic arrangements of freak-folk, the musical movement forged earlier this decade by Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart.

Grimm's record label, the New York-based, avant-garde Young God, emphasizes her social deviance as an expression of artistic brilliance.

Her biography is a heavy, sometimes suffocating presence in her work. She's described as an anarchist and radical environmentalist. She dropped out of Yale to hitchhike across Alaska because the elitism of higher education disgusted her.

Online, Grimm invites the kids she befriended as a young child living in a religious commune to contact her. "I am trying to find out what happened to the other kids and whether any of you still have your magickal powers," she writes.

At its weakest, Grimm's music suffers from self-indulgence. Sexuality is a fixation. On "Blonde and Golden Johns" she boasts prowess ("these lips have wrapped around some things more delicious than the songs I sing"). But that's tempered by a brooding sense of physical degradation ("I've been penetrated so I'm welcome everywhere I go").

At their best, Grimm's songs reflect her spiritual orientation. They're channels of psychic energy in various stages of healing and destruction. "They Were Wrong" shreds the optimism and reinforces the power of darkness. "All the Pleasures in the World" frames the natural beauty resting outside the walls in which we live.

Grimm is one-of-a-kind, a roaming artist ready to reside in Madison for a few hours next Tuesday night.

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