Davendra Banhart | Oh Me Oh My | Review

Banhart wants to trip you out using only layers of jangling guitars and multi-tracked vocals

To say that the voice of Devendra Banhart's voice is an acquired taste is probably something of an understatement. He ranges between wavering quiet and letting loose with a high register, howling-at-the-moon crazy type of yowl. In a recent review that I'd read of this particular disc, the person writing had even gone so far as mistaked Banhart for a she (apparently didn't do enough research and decided to trust their ears, which would definitely be decieving at moments).

Given the surreal world that Banhart paints with lyrics, though, I doubt he'd even be concerned with such a slipup, and would probably actually find it rather humorous. With a full album title of Oh Me Oh My...The Way The Day Goes By The Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs Of The Christmas Spirit, his songs follow the rambling example of the title and odd worldplay is a staple. It's netherworld folk music, recorded for a trip through wonderland or a couch in a living room with a big batch of pharmaceuticals.

The formula for the album is pretty simple in terms of construction, and it seems that employing a huge batch of instruments and creating epic soundscapes isn't the concern. Banhart instead wants to trip you out using only layers of jangling guitars and multi-tracked vocals (which he often does quite well), pushing to extreme limits his smaller-sized palette. All of it seems to have been recorded in a serious lo-fi way, making tape hiss and outside noises another consistent element in the mix. Cramming 22 tracks into an album of 50 minutes, he also doesn't let anything ramble on for too long, instead satisfied to combine song fragments with actual songs and short little bits that add to the scatterbrain spirit of the disc.

"The Charles C. Leary" jangles along with an off-kilter blues feel while Banhart twists his voice into another instrument for the chorus and you can literally hear cars driving by in the background of the recording. "Michigan State" is a weird little ode to the state by the great lake as he adds double-tracked, warbly vocals like, 'You can't talk without your tongue/ You can't drown without your lungs.' The beginning of "Lend Me Your Teeth" has Banhart whistling two different parts which add up to something like a poor-man's theremin, while the track builds to a fall-off-the-tracks full-on freakout with literally 3 different vocal tracks (that range between yelp and howl) layered over increasingly loud acoustic guitar.

Imagine the most stripped-down and lo-fi version of something that the Elephant 6 might have done and you're getting somewhat close to the directions that this release moves both musically and lyrically. Technically, it's only vocals and acoustic guitar (both stretched to their limits and multi-tracked at most times), with outside elements that happened while recording becoming part of the songs themselves (like the aformentioned car and other noises clanging around in the background). At moments hilarious, and at others downright disturbing, it's a release that definitely isn't for everyone, but definitely has a unique charm about it.