Devendra Banhart: Re-hoping in the hands (UK) | by Sasha

9 out of 10

A quiet bolt of lightening is the best way to describe the impact of hearing Devendra Banhart’s album, ‘Rejoicing In The Hands of the Golden Empress’ [to give it its full title], for the first time. It is a total revelation, liberation and salvation you had no idea you needed. This 23-year-old New York-based (via San Francisco) artist sounds simply as no-one else around: an antidote as much as a narcotic, as his US label boss [Michael Gira of Young God Records] and the album’s co-producer remarked.

‘Rejoicing In The Hand…’ is Banhart’s second album [Oh Me Oh My’ was issued in Oct. 03] but first to be noticed widely despite being another precious gem in front of the completely-preconditioned pop-market. Each track is worth treasuring like the air you can inhale outside city limits… Pure, cleanly recorded to hear every breath, including a screwed-up song intro, words enunciated clearly… Communication per excellence.

Song titles such as ‘Dogs They Make Up The Dark’ and ‘This Beard Is For Siobhan’, delivered chiefly by voice’n’guitar [with a very little help of piano and strings], works in a surreal manner. By that we mean an individual artist which is as rare as a great Hollywood movie these days. Dealing in tracks, although some barely pass the one-minute mark, that are of the conventional length, his magnum opus is five-minutes worth of ‘Autumn Child’.

Banhart is storytelling, supplying imagery, engaging brain cells for exploring the new, unusual musical settings, spiritual, pensive, dreamy, hypnotic qualities… Lyrical, delicate, nimble, yearning, wistful but never downright melancholic… It is a majestic album the famed organ NME erroneously termed - folk. There may be shades - as well as the legendary 60’s UK folk-idol Vashti Bunyan duetting on the title track - but this is BLUES as it used to be done originally, perhaps - the Robert Johnson update! One of DB's greatest assets is sounding vintage and post-modern, transcending time, it is all three tenses at once… It alloys time into a seamless entity that freely and easily moves within.

Basic, rudimentary, often stark and utterly acoustic, it carries its great melodies in the vocals that are just - divine! It is an ancient voice - like it has lived through cotton-picking days and grieved around nightly campfires for decades. The timbre in his voice simply tugs at your emotional strings and he uses it to act song characters, bringing them subliminally to life… Coming at you as if perched on a veranda and playing for its own soul, oblivious, elevated [from the dreary wakening hours] whist cleansing from the predictability, stereo typicality, bull…

This is music made by a consummate [obsessive?] artist and it is enough to look at the hand-crafted cover. Each world loveringly executed… Not many of such like around, methinks. Nor there are as many artists who’d drop next album within four months: yep, his next long-player, ‘Nino Rojo’, is due out in late September. [DB apparently recorded 32 songs from the 57 submitted to the label!?]

Art, and music in particular, speaks to you or it doesn’t. There is no rationalising it and learned humans have spent epochs analysing and debating taste but that is not the crux of the form; what matters is the bond an artist can establish with a listener… These are also pacifying songs and if played to the US soldiers in Iraq, they’d down their weapons and pish off home. If I were a religious person, I'd thank the Big Guy for such uplifting talent in the downward spiralling world!

Memorize this name - Devendra Banhart. Extra-f**kin’-ordinary!

Live date:
30 May - ICA, London