Davendra Banhart | Oh Me Oh My | Review
Aquarius Records | Jim, along with Marcy and Windy
somewhere in between the magical voices of Marc Bolan, Karen Dalton, Syd Barrett, Tiny Tim, Daniel Johnston, and Nick DrakeDevendra Banhart -- who appears to be living his life as an indie-rock gipsy touring with whomever and squatting wherever, including a stint wowing locals here in SF -- crafts his neo-folk songs with the primitive instrumentation of voice and acoustic guitar, spanning a vast spectrum of fragmented emotions through a manic-depressive persona that can be as beautifully charming as it can be terrifyingly devastating. Michael Gira, who released this album through his Young God label, accurately described Banhart's voice with its skewed vibrato and unnerving warble as somewhere in between the magical voices of Marc Bolan, Karen Dalton, Syd Barrett, Tiny Tim, Daniel Johnston, and Nick Drake; and fortunately, Banhart uses that voice to tell a wholly unique set of stories that hold a succinct poetry. Hastily stitched from bizarre stream of consciousness associations and absurdist conditional clauses, Banhart's lyrics expand the realm of possibility into psychosexual surrealism. On occasion, Banhart's tales are anthropomorphic love songs, wistfully dreaming of archaic steam ships and the state of Michigan (yes, he pines for Michigan) with all of sexual cravings and romantic nuances of a young boy first pierced by Cupid's arrow; yet on other occasion, Banhart gnashes his teeth with such existential confusion that the targets of his epithets are blurred by his bilious rage. Within Banhart's language, reality has been realized as a swollen mass of malformed emotions compounded by the urgency that resonates within his voice.
Upon listening to this album, I've had the recurring, sinking feeling either that Banhart is destined to star in an upcoming Harmony Korine film or that he will be dead in a few years as victim of an unspecified gruesome tragedy. As I've tried and failed to assign such distinctly odd critical-doomspeak within various arguments and generalized thesis about the perception of the separation between art and life, I mention it because Banhart -- unlike any artist whom I've come across -- has been able to provoke such controversial thoughts. Far from me to wish Banhart or anybody ill-will, but true manifestations of horror defy logic and are very rare indeed. And this, gentle reader, is the real deal. If you recall, Andee began his review of Woven Hand's album with the bold statement: "I hate to gush, but gush I must, this is my record of the year. Done deal." As for me (Jim, along with Marcy and Windy), the debut from Devendra Banhart needs to be given serious consideration as a contender for record of the year 2002.