Devendra Banhart - Oh Me Oh My… | by Jason Thompson

Brilliantly original, mesmerizing, fantastic, and all that other stuff we say when we're at a loss

When I recently inquired to Kerstin Posch over at Young God recently if they had any grand, new interesting things to hear, I was quickly sent a package containing a couple new releases. One of them was this, Devendra Banhart's oddball assortment called Oh Me Oh My… I thought I had heard some very fascinating things during my tenure as a music critic, but seriously, nothing could have prepared me for this.

This album has already been mentioned in the bigger music mags, and damn well it should be. You often see us critics tooting horns about the next groundbreaking thing. I often see us doing it and usually pay no mind. To me, a groundbreaking album or piece of music should seriously cut away from the norm and not just be some kind of fucked-together hybrid of overly familiar shit we've heard until our ears are deaf. But in Banhart's case, this album defies all sorts of labels, categorizations, and even largely music itself. It is almost like seriously being in someone else's head and hearing all the music that their brain might dish out on the fly. I know I'm prone to singing to myself during the day, and making up melodies and lyrics that I know will never be remembered or jotted down. Well, Oh Me Oh My… is exactly that. As if Banhart just had a tape machine rolling all day and caught his every last strange musical thought.

This is a rough album, indeed. As stated at the Young God site, it wasn't recorded for demo purposes or any other purpose to snag a deal. It was recorded for Banhart's own personal pleasure. It's very lo-fi and the tape hiss has been left intact. But you know what? It wouldn't be the same at all if these tapes had been cleaned up or the songs re-recorded. So much of the spooky charm that lies within the 22 songs here is because of its audio verite.

It's just Devendra and his guitar, sometimes with a little odd percussion, sometimes with some scary banging noises in the background. His vocals are most always double-tracked, with the second one sometimes slipping away from the first as if he wasn't sure about the words. His singing is literally chilling, quickly bouncing between a scary falsetto and a calmer, "normal" tone. His lyrics should be heard to be discovered. I don't want to start throwing them about here because I really want each of you reading this to hear them for yourself. It's really not the same thing in this case to read them and pass judgment. You need to hear them within the context of the individual songs.

That said, let it be known that Banhart is in no short supply of brilliant imagination. The pretty "Michigan State" is my favorite song here, as it captures the wonder of a child's poetry and the crystalline naivete that adults still can't seem to eject from their lives no matter how old or "mature" they think they've become. Devendra Banhart is a bare bones songwriter who lets his musings, no matter how deceptively simple they may first seem, burn like the sun itself.

You know, so many people will still cite Brian Wilson and having this childlike "genius" to his songs, but the man has nothing on Devendra Banhart. In one fell swoop, on Oh Me Oh My… he has totally broken the Wilson myth and completely eclipsed the entire beach boy's catalogue. You try to imagine the worn out supposed greatness of Smile being this fascinating. Pet Sounds? Christ, come on already, that was muzak for those who didn't get all the surfing and hot rods and girls.

The first time I heard this album, I wasn't sure. It hit me heavily and it was really strange and weird and was this for real? Yes, it was. And that's the best thing about it. There is no pretension. It's just Devendra Banhart singing his songs, oblivious to whatever else there may be out there. Can it be duplicated? Fuck, no. I don't even think Banhart could duplicate the sheer wonky madness that is this album, and I don't think I'd want him to. Yes, I do want him to make more music, but this album is as completely perfect as it gets in this day and age. Brilliantly original, mesmerizing, fantastic, and all that other stuff we say when we're at a loss. Spend whatever money you have to to hear this album. You'll never be the same again.