Devendra Banhart, Oh Me Oh My

Vice Mgazine | by DAPHNE CARR

Blissed Out
Devendra and Entrance take the edge off

Devendra Banhart looks like a dreamy-eyed sheep, his long sideburns curled around a chin drawn square as he howls tiny-speaker vocals over a death-rattle guitar. Hardly a shaman, not nearly a Lomax-purist, Banhart is more a psychedelic troubadour who projects the vague longing of early Marc Bolan and the non-sequitur genius of Syd Barrett. All this, plus a falsetto that could school Tiny Tim and a captivating live show, makes Banhart a shoo-in for indie folk’s next big thing.

“It’s been amazing to watch the transformation, just in these few months,” says tourmate Guy Blakeslee, another psyched up singer-songwriter who records as Entrance and has watched Banhart’s audiences grow from an enthusiastic few to a dense, shhh-enforcing crowd, all in the course of a winter tour.

Both art-school fool and son of a South American convict, Banhart is beyond affect and has plenty to sing about, even at his baby age of 21. His preoccupations with childbirth, physical deformity, and wordplay probably have something to do with his near-military-brat upbringing, which suggests a close matriarchal relationship and fast need of friends. That’s my take, anyway.

Banhart found a kindred soul in ex-Swans man Michael Gira, whose Young God label agreed to assemble Banhart’s mess of four-track recordings and answering-machine messages into a proper album, simply titled Oh Me Oh My…The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit. Released last year, the album trickled into critics’ ears and began to build a base for Banhart’s current upswing in popularity amongst the thrift-store-suit-jackets-over-sweaters set.

Devendra has already cemented a reputation as an old-timey, crackle-voiced genius. With the full-throttle blues of Entrance as opener or, in a nice turn of showmanship, a tag teaming co-headliner, the quiet of Banhart’s 78-rpm worldview is given proper frame. On stage, Banhart nearly falls from his seat with earnestness—even when, in a drunken state, he forgets the words and just idly picks a broken melody and waits for inspiration to come again.