Devendra Banhart, Nino Rojo


...the guitar lines that he lays down are absolutely beautiful

When an individual releases two albums that are intended to be a companion album, it becomes pretty hard to write two separate reviews. Devendra amplifies this problem, as Nino Rojo is culled from the same sessions that brought out Rejoicing in the Hands, and as such, eir’s playing, influences, and general sound are analogous to Rejoicing. However, there are enough differences in specific parts of Nino Rojo in which to write a review, starting off with the second track, “Ay Mama”, which has a double-harmonized set of vocals work magic alongside sweetly-wrought instruments. However, there are moments on Nino Rojo where Devendra creates a style of music that still feels a little hollow, music that could use more percussion, specifically “We All Know”. The oscillations in Banhart’s voice would be perfectly coupled with some simple foot-stomping added to the choice, and the album version relaying purely on a distorted cymbal and brass only portend a minor amount of the amazing possibilities of the track.

Some tracks are specifically crafted for a child’s audience, including “Little Yellow Spider”, which could be recreated by a class of kindergartners for a more impressive sound. It comes time and time again that Banhart’s voice just does not have the power or energy to pull this album, and eir’s continued insistence on being the primary vocalist on the disc holds this album back. It is only when Devendra picks up a second vocalist to supplement eir’s own voice in a track like “At The Hop” where the disc finally has a full feeling that it seriously lacks. The harmonizations on “At The Hop” bring out the nuances of Devendra’s guitar, something that just doesn’t happen on Devendra’s solo tracks. In fact, if “At The Hop” had the slightest dollop of distortion added to it, there would be no option but to air it in its entirety on pop-alternative radio.

The next highlight on Nino Rojo comes during “Noah”, a track that incorporates a chorus of voices and Devendra taking an ancillary role on the track, attaining a Rufus Wainwright-style of crooning for the two and a half minutes of the track. Devendra’s music is arranged with the most careful of hands, and the guitar lines that he lays down are absolutely beautiful, but the “selfish friend that I am” might be better off giving the microphone to other vocalists more often.