Devendra Banhart, Niño Rojo
Tiny Mixtapes | by David Bohm
...we should be so lucky as to be so wondrously perplexed with all we hearI've been playing an unhealthy amount of online Texas Hold'em lately, and I've more often than not been wanting to have the new Devendra Banhart record as the soundtrack to my descent into play money poverty. Now, while I'm not sure these two facts are connected in any intrinsic way or holds any commentary on the nature of each, it is always a strong endorsement of anything if it can shirk your attention almost completely away from the annoyance of losing $20,000 play dollars to a guy named "PokeHerPro" holding a full house, jacks over sevens, and flutter you to a gable of lysergic metaphor and endearing bestiality. It certainly is the case that Niño Rojo, Banhart's second release this year, finds itself decidedly further through the looking glass than its predecessor, the year's folk landmark, Rejoicing In The Hands. And while songs from both records were recorded in the same session, in hindsight, the latter found Banhart more contained to cohesive structure in his storycraft to feed a sense of honest melancholy and well... rejoicing, whereas his latest effort quite readily unleashes his stream of consciousness imagery to a much greater depth, often delving on absurdist plateaus more likely touched upon in his answering machine days but nevertheless rending the rickety old cogs beneath our ribs at a hairbreadth's turn.
It is a settling in of sorts and a testing the waters by the beatified patron saint of this new fangled "freak-folk" casing. After the initial adjustment to recorded life without tape hiss on his last outing, it was more than apparent that Banhart's rightful place is in the proper studio setting with endless embellishments at his disposal to create his unique and timeless piquancy. The collection of songs on Niño Rojo run the gamut of his psyche, and while in turn not lending themselves to a comfortable and measured flow, they do more to one's estimation of the man's imagination and diversity than anything previously released. "Little Yellow Spider" floats on a sparse acoustic line as Banhart proceeds to rattle off his quite idiosyncratic ode to animals of all sort on our mother earth and the changes they do incur: monkey to sand, crab to crabcake, pig to pigman. The desperation in his voice on "Horseheaded Ovarian Flesh Wizard" as he urgently and repeatedly implores to "hose down the deck before they die," is as unsettlingly enticing and bone-chillingly offsetting as anything I've heard of him yet. And how he traverses the gap between a notion such as this and the chorale, Hair-esque, bass-driven fervor of "Be Kind," I cannot seek to tell, but come on; you don't really want to know either. Word also has it (it hasn't) that the man has be known to regale many a box social with rousing old-timey minstrel-craft, much in the vain of songs such as the horn laden "We All Know" and the show stopping send off, "Electric Heart."
As well as Devendra Banhart has always captivated with the uncertainty of his wordplay and his Eastern-tinged guitar frantics, it is often the case that his simpler and softer songs are all the more compelling for the contrast they provide. Banhart certainly has a lot to tell and he likes to get as much out as he can, but it is the lines of simple grace and elegance that are more often the more memorable for it. There is such sad and joyous truth to the admittance on the somber "Noah" that "not everyone can relate to what you and I appreciate." And this is why we are listening! Decades from now, the playful and decadent "Owl Eyes," and "Water May Walk" will be listened to anew by the generation we breed and will smile upon them from the transdimensional ether of untouched musical agelessness. And for anyone who has really taken the time to let seep in the music of Devendra Banhart, statements such as these will seem as far from hyperbole as ever possible. That one too.
While not as immediately consumed fully as a whole as Rejoicing In The Hands was, when given time and taken apart to be put back together anew, Niño Rojo clearly states the depth of Banhart's presence, if admittedly, not quite making a clear purpose just yet. But alas, we should be so lucky as to be so wondrously perplexed with all we hear.