Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Taking a listen

Larkin Grimm — Parplar

Some of the most revered musicians are quite often referred to as being an “acquired taste,” though it’s also a casual way of saying that their music is wholly inaccessible to most. Tom Waits comes immediately to mind. Much of his music sounds like a cluster of noise and grunts to many, but good luck in getting tickets to his shows. I get the same feeling of intrigue from listening to psychfolk singer Larkin Grimm’s Parplar that I did the first time I heard Waits’ Bone Machine. It sounds somewhat foreign and abrasive upon first listen, yet it possesses qualities so morbidly fascinating that it begs for repeated plays. There’s not a single commercially viable track on the album, but that’s obviously not what the aptly-named Grimm was going for when she wrote it. From top to bottom, every track on Parplar has distinct characteristics that make them quietly unsettling. Some will leave you downright squirming in your seat depending on your anatomy, though lyrics like “The macrocosmic spiraled eggs inside my uterus/are sparkling and bursting with the greenest yellow pus” on “Dominican Rum” might be equal opportunity stomach-turners, though the shrill, bansheelike backing vocals in that particular piece would cause most to skip to the next track before ever making it that far. The themes of Parplar range from militantly feminist to overtly sexual, though Grimm eschews subtlety in favor of simply beating the listener over the head with them, both lyrically and stylistically in many cases. However, it’s still appreciable in its experimentalism and music in general relies heavily on artists like Grimm to take the artistic leaps seen all throughout Parplar.

The Annuals — Such Fun

It’s clear to see from the title of the Annuals’ follow-up to their 2006 debut what type of experience that the Raleigh indie-pop band intended to bestow upon the listener. The album’s big, lush harmonies and arrangements nearly sweep you off of your feet with their complexity, while its merry exuberance rarely takes a break from the opening notes of “Confessor” to the sleepy, yet gradually intensifying “Waking.” It seems like the reasonable successor to the unexpectedly-popular Be He Me, especially since moving from the indie label Ace Fu to the much larger Canvasback. Though many of the same elements that made Be He Me so charming found their way over onto the sophomore release, it almost seems to miss the second-rate production values that were evident in their debut. The band attempts to do far too much in too little time and the album in turn suffers from a complete lack of a musical identity. It jumps from arena-blasting prog rock to heartfelt Americana to uncomplicated indie-pop, sometimes within the same song. The Annuals only occasionally achieves the harmonious and melodic tightness of predecessors such as Broken Social Scene, most notably on the only-slightly messy “Springtime” and rocker “Talking.” Much of the album is spent dabbling in alt-country territory with wildly varying result. “Down the Mountain” and to a lesser extent, “Always Do,” come off like weak stabs at drawing comparisons to Ryan Adams with their pedal steel-melancholy. It’s still a fun listen despite suffering from a near-terminal case of attention deficit disorder, but it leaves one to only wonder where the real identity of the band lies.

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