Freak-folk, as the name would suggest, is a mix of acoustic and typically folk instruments with some freaky vocals and lyrics. Usually there is a clear psychedelic influence, either in the music or on the artists themselves – I recommend looking at Sufjan Stevens 2010 performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon if you want to know how to pull off neon and wings. Despite being used as a term in the 60s, freak-folk really came into being in 2004 thanks to Devendra Banhart’s The Golden Apples of the Moon, Joanna Newsom’s Milk Eyed Mender and Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs. All equally brilliant. All equally bizarre.
Song(s) to Ease You In
Sufjan Stevens – “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”
Carrie and Lowell (2015)
Sufjan Stevens – “Chicago”
I am breaking the trend here and giving you two options. Why? Firstly, freak-folk has two leanings, the beautifully but haunting orchestral track or the simplistic, but just as haunting, acoustic track. Sufjan is the master of both these styles and, despite the fact he teeters on the edge of freak-folk, is a great way to ease you into its unique vocal and instrumental arrangements. Secondly, I honestly couldn’t decide between the two tracks because they are both brilliant. Whether it’s the lyrics, “There’s blood on that blade / Fuck me, I’m falling apart” or exultantly disconcerting brass and string these tracks will mess with your head a little bit, just as anything psychedelic should.
Song You Will Love
The Tallest Man on Earth – Love Is All
The Wild Hunt (2010)
A brilliant example of how acoustic doesn’t necessarily mean simple. The Tallest Man on Earth is the stage name of Kristian Matteson, despite the fact he is only 5”7. His open-tuned guitar and gritty yet silky vocals are hard not to love. The difference between the playful “oh oh oh oh’s” and the intensity of “Love is all, from what I’ve heard, but my heart’s learned to kill” is what gives this song complexity and fervour.
Song For The Fan
Joanna Newsom – Peach Plum Pear
The Milk Eyed Mender (2004)
So it was impossible to not include either the godfather or godmother of freak-folk, Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsom. I went with the godmother. Partly because if freak-folk had an essence it would be this track and partly because I don’t know if I will get another opportunity to include a track with a harpsichord on it.