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What is New Folk? A Genre Profile

From Joey Rubin,
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New Folk is called many things -- including Freak Folk, Psych Folk, Indie Folk, Alternative Folk, New Weird America, and Naturalismo. In contrast to earlier forms of Folk music, New Folk is generally marked by abstract lyrics, unusual songwriting forms, and sonic textures associated with Alternative and Indie Rock. The genre's central figure is singer and guitarist Devendra Banhart, who, in 2004, assembled the compilation The Golden Apples of the Sun, which featured many of the movement's prominent figures, including Joanna Newsom, Iron & Wine, Six Organs of Admittance, CocoRosie, and Vetiver.

Origins of New Folk:

The roots of New Folk are, of course, old Folk music. New Folk musicians are generally inspired by non-commercial Folk recordings, like in the [i>Anthology of American Folk Music. Another forerunner was guitarist John Fahey, who mixed jazz and classical elements into his explorations of form. Bob Dylan, with his surrealistic lyrics and masterful ability to scramble varied American music traditions, has been greatly inspiring to New Folk artists. Many acts from the late '60s/early '70s also shaped the scene, including Pentangle, The Incredible String Band, and the godmother of New Folk, Vashti Bunyan.

New Folk Under the Radar:

Although New Folk became popular in 2004, many of its key acts began performing and recording years earlier. Devendra Banhart's debut, Oh Me Oh My... was released in 2002 on Young God Records, the label owned by Michael Gira, founder of Angels Of Light, a New Folk collective active since 1999. Iron & Wine, the musical pseudonym of guitarist and vocalist Sam Beam, issued its first record, The Creek Drank The Cradle, in 2002. Animal Collective began self-releasing their odd and imaginative albums in 2000, before gaining critical attention with 2003's Here Comes The Indian.

New Folk Is The New Thing:

The New Folk genre garnered much critical attention in 2004. Although its recognition as a style hinged upon The Golden Apples of the Sun compilation, several breakthrough New Folk albums had already earned rave reviews earlier that year, including singer-harpist Joanna Newsom's debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender; Iron & Wine's excellent Our Endless Summer Days; the hazy folk-pop of Animal Collective's Sun Tongs; CocoRosie's eerily beautiful La Maison De Mon Rêve; and Devendra Banhart's seminal Rejoicing In The Hands.

New Folk Gains Wider Appeal:

The news of New Folk's arrival was powerful enough to wrest Vashti Bunyan from seclusion. In 2005, she released her first album in 35 years, the beautiful Lookaftering. Guitarist Ben Chasny's Six Organs Of Admittance also rose to prominence in 2005 with the meditative and exploratory School Of The Flower. Devendra Banhart reached even greater success that year, issuing the accomplished Cripple Crow to glowing press.

Folk was expanding to new lands, as well. From 2003 to 2006, Argentinean Juana Molina issued three strong albums of Electronica-influenced New Folk, and Brazilian Cibelle released a pair of albums, most notably 2006's excellent The Shine Of Dried Electric Leaves.

What's Next For New Folk?:

As of early 2007, New Folk appears to be going strong. Joanna Newsom's 2006 sophomore album, the orchestra-enhanced Ys, was ranked highly on many critic's lists for the best albums of the year. In 2007, Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie, Animal Collective, and Iron & Wine all have new albums planned for release. Though its forms of expression will likely continue to evolve, the New Folk artists' commitment to exploring new avenues of expression will hopefully remain strongly intact.

New Folk Artists Worth Exploring:
  • Devendra Banhart
  • Joanna Newsom
  • Iron & Wine
  • Vashti Bunyan
  • Animal Collective
  • Angels Of Light
  • Vetiver
  • Six Organs Of Admittance
  • CocoRosie
  • Espers
  • Jolie Holland
  • Wooden Wand
  • Cibelle
  • Juana Molina
  • Feathers
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