DEVENDRA BANHART: Nino Rojo
...the man continues to experiment
Earlier this year, Devendra Banhart took the idiosyncratic, lo-fi intimacy of his first recordings and made them swell on the excellent, earthily ornate Rejoicing In The Hands. NiÃ±o Rojo, the singer/ songwriter's second batch of songs for 2004 and third full-length in all, forces listeners down an even steeper rabbit hole, taking more chances and, suitably, failing more often. He treads precariously close to audience alienation: Casual listeners might be shocked to learn of the singer's not-so-secret hippie leanings whenÂ—amid chants of "Oh! All the little animals!"Â—he sings of a "happy squid" that "moves so psychedelically" ("Little Yellow Spider"). Luckily, the missteps are almost always offset by Banhart's ever-charming croon and willingness to toy with his sound. "Be Kind" romps like nothing the singer's done before, bolstered by a shambling doo-wop backbeat and electric guitar riffage. Likewise, "Ay Mama" inverts Rejoicing's "Todo Los Dolores," employing sickly horns and smoothing each Spanish syllable into a flurry of meditative incoherence. Guest turns by Michael Gira ("Electric Heart") and Vetiver's Andy Cabic (the bittersweet "At The Hop") buoy the album's playful spirit, but NiÃ±o Rojo's real joy comes in discovering that rather than sticking with an already winning formula, the man continues to experiment. It's easy to play folk straight; Banhart, happily, chooses to keep it bent.