Devendra Banhart - Nino Rojo

Subba Cultcha | by Ross Breadmore

this album is strongest when melancholy is the word

Remember Mrs. Doubtfire? Late-nineties comedy proving that divorce was nothing to fear as long as your dad was willing to imitate a fat, annoying Irish hulk. Remember the annoying little girl who would over-pronunciate every word as though it were a biscuit-tin escaping? Well, if she were to grow up, grow a willy and buy a guitar, she would no doubt sound like Devendra Banhart. Not that he sounds like a small girl, but he has a cool habit of twisting his mouth until he has given every letter more time than it surely deserves.

Opening track, and albums only cover, Wake Up, Little Sparrow is a sad tale of winged apathy, but minimalist lyrics feel luscious and warm thanks to Banhart’s skill for rounding a word off as though it was it was the last time he would be allowed to sing it. However, his vocal dexterity reaches greater heights on Ay Mama, as he meows and sighs through barely intelligible lines, but manages to make the whole thing sound irresistible. Some of the tracks that follow can verge uncomfortably on amateurish pub-song territory, but clean sparse production never allows Banhart’s considerable talent to be confused with the ramblings of pierced textiles students.

Undoubtedly, this album is strongest when melancholy is the word, the upbeat songs could never smother you as much as My Ships, a short beautiful rant of a song. Sister invites more layers of sound, and results in what I think is Nick Drake slumming it with a pocket full of dark things. Although Be Kind cheerfully pisses on the atmosphere that proceeds it, Electric Heart puts a fitting full-stop on a very engaging album; the final song being an episodic story of love, plinking & plonking just enough to make you press repeat on the whole thing.