Born in a commune in Memphis, Tennessee, Larkin Grimm is a musician, writer, sculptor and painter residing in Harlem, New York City. Her tastes veer towards outsider art and difficult music. Her roots are loaded with Southern folk, blues, old-time and country. Larkin has worked with producers Michael Gira of Swans and Tony Visconti. She has sung backup for Patti Smith and shared bills with Thurston Moore, Joanna Newsom, the Mountain Goats, Dirty Projectors, Bill Laswell, St. Vincent, John Zorn and many undiscovered geniuses. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Welcome to the music of the future. Here, have a gluten-free strawberry cupcake with cashew cream icing. It will help you to understand the universe of She & Him. This album is so beautifully recorded. It is warm, clear, an organic spa treatment for the ears. It makes me feel so sad for all the brilliant, passionate, hardworking musicians I’ve met who will never have the opportunity to give their songs this level of polish. It is a travesty of art that a rich Hollywood actress is the only singer who can afford to make excellently recorded records anymore, with a 20-piece orchestra backing her up. But at least someone got to do it. Zooey Deschanel, thank you for employing those engineers and session musicians. I’m sure they needed the money and enjoyed taking the time to craft their best product with you.
At their best, She & Him are a modern-day version of the Carpenters. There’s something a little too perfect about everything they do and yet the songs are beautiful. Classics is a collection of covers of jazz and pop standards; it’s among the best things you’ll hear in Urban Outfitters or Starbucks and you can put it on for your grandma at Christmas and she won’t turn the volume down. M. Ward’s guitar tones are so soothing and his playing so masterful, sensitive and responsive to the other instruments in the mix. Zooey Deschanel’s voice is well trained and inherently interesting, constantly growing and unfolding with new characters like a singing chameleon. I like these two. They have incredible range within a narrow category of very, very safe and pleasant music. And someone has to be pleasant so the rest of us can be edgy.
Listen. It would be so damn easy for me to rip this shit apart, swallow it whole, shit it onto a tile floor, and suck it up with a vacuum cleaner while dressed up like Bettie Page. But I’m a feminist, damn it! Zooey Deschanel has worked really hard to improve her voice beyond the false country twang of her first albums. She has perfected a certain style of singing, exactly the style of singing used by wealthy socialites to perform cover songs at weddings and other social functions.
Why do actors sing standards? It allows them to show off their talent for interpretation. Actors are voracious consumers and interpreters of culture. It makes a lot of sense for She & Him to record an album of standards. It’s an easy, logical step forward.
But a lot of people really hate it when actors make music — there is a real prejudice that makes us see actors as inherently inauthentic. The thing is, music is a universal language for expressing the unexplainable. We expect authenticity from music more than from just about any other art form. So even if actors as popular as Angelina Jolie and George Clooney made an album, critics would pan it and question its value before it ever came out. Still, there have been some amazing albums made by actors. I love Marlene Dietrich’s creepy recordings. When Scarlett Johansson made an album of Tom Waits covers in a sultry deadpan voice with David Bowie singing backup, I was like, “AWESOME! Go, Scarlett!” I even listened to Paris Hilton’s reggae songs (terrible) and Lindsay Lohan’s weird melodramatic goth-pop (embarrassing). I am trying to support you, ladies. I am on your side.
Perhaps if you are going to sing a song made popular by Chet Baker (“It’s Always You”), you should try method acting: Get hooked on heroin, knock your teeth out, blow all your money and make sure that the only time you get a fix is from your producer when you enter the studio. These are extreme measures but I’m sure they would improve the authenticity problem. On the other hand, you could spend more time with Britney Spears, or join Madonna’s Kabbalah circle. I definitely think dabbling in the occult could help with this lite-pop problem.
Musicians play other people’s songs to call attention to lesser-known artists who have inspired us, and so that we can grow as musicians and songwriters. Some performers play other people’s songs because they can’t write anything as good themselves and they want to show off their musical chops to the world, riding on material that has already been vetted. Either way, it pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to try things we didn’t know we were capable of. So Zooey, Queen of Quirk, TAKE A DAMN RISK. Take a risk. It will be worth it. Your adoring fans will go there with you. Don’t let your new major label whitewash you into the poster girl for arty cuteness. Take a risk. Cover “Strange Fruit.” Cover “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Cover Dolly Parton’s “Just Because I’m a Woman.” Cover Nico’s “Frozen Warnings.” Make an album of Woody Guthrie’s protest songs. Sing Buffy Sainte-Marie. Sing Diamanda Galás. I fucking double-dog dare you to record a cover of Diamanda Galás’s “Double-Barrel Prayer.”
I’m sure the process of learning all these “classics” has helped She & Him to grow and discover new parts of themselves. I’m sure it felt awesome to make this album so perfect and beautiful. But I really expect more from these two. They have surprised me more than once with the high quality of their albums, and I know they are capable of making art. Remember the Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg collaboration? Like that. They can do it.
So please, She & Him, keep working. You have the privilege of all the time in the studio and money to live on that a musician could ever need. I hope you have inspiration and the camaraderie of artists and thinkers. Go win your Grammy. I’m sure we’ll be hearing your voice ringing out of cinnamon-scented speakers every time we go shopping this year.