Devendra Banhart | Oh Me Oh My | Review | Donna Loffredo

he is entirely his own artist

Devendra Banhart's distinctive voice and surrealist lyrics blend to make a musical code that is initially overwhelming. But once the code has been cracked, the songs settle in with surprising ease. The 22 songs on the run-on titled Oh Me Oh My ... The Way The Days Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit turn out to be satisfying and even revelatory at times. Devendra Banhart's non-rational musings may be hard to penetrate, but there is a glimmer of profound meaning through the nonsense. Is he really singing about pumpkin seeds and sea salt and lots of teeth? Sure he is; there is nothing contrived about this artist. But you can't entirely dismiss lyrics like "my love has my favorite ears/they lean forwards when she hears."

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Devendra Banhart has been living in the this world. When he sings "Well you certainly are nice people!", he sounds as though he is terrified by and intent on terrifying these "nice people." He seems much more at ease when singing about the gloves he lost "on the way to the make believe sea" and other such other-worldly topics.

Devendra Banhart

There are quite a few stand-out tracks, generally those that are over 2 minutes long. Not to say that the many shorter songs are weaker, but the melodies are more distinct when they are fleshed-out in a full song. "Michigan State" may be the most accessible track; it has a gentle, flowing melody and catchy stream-of-consciousness lyrics: "You can't speak without your tongue/Don't try and drown without your lung/My snail has my favorite slow ... My sea has my favorite salt/The salt keeps the sea from feeling sweet/And my toes have my favorite feet/If I sweat salt and the earth sweats heat..." Also, "Pumpkin Seeds" edges towards an actual love song and "Soon is Good" is an incredibly low-key rumination on waiting.

These recordings are incredibly intimate, a direct result of the recording process. The only apparent studio trick are simplistic layers of Banhart's singing, one voice taunting and the other trying to keep up. Michael Gira, whose label (Young God Records) Devendra Banhart is on, explains that "The songs were recorded on various borrowed and usually broken 4-track cassette recorders by Banhart himself in various haphazard locations around the globe. These recordings were made solely for himself..." The natural sounds of his recording environments have not been edited out. There is a hominess despite the outlandish imagery that is evoked by the lyrics and the downright wierd voice that dominates the music. The only accompaniment is Banhart's own guitar, which is skillfully plucked and strummed. Voice and guitar has been around for so long, but no amount of technology and sophistication will ever override such simple power.

"Cosmos and Demos" has crashing sounds in the background and Banhart sings quietly as though he's sharing a secret warning. It's at these times, when there's a image of leaning over a fire while everything behind falls apart, that I feel like an intruder to be listening in. These days, music reviews often fall into an "artist A plus artist B equals artist C" format. Devendra Banhart defies such conventions; he is entirely his own artist.