If eccentricity really is the new black, Mr. Devendra Banhart would be blacker than tar at midnight. Banhart is a San Francisco-based art school graduate psychedelic folk genius who looks like Jesus, and this concept album (don’t run away!) about an old woman saving a cornfield by making sweet love to it watched over by floating red beards is hardly what you’d call normal, is it? However, if such albums are the result of this burgeoning insanity, sign me up for a lifetime of taking pills and eating mashed bananas, for Rejoicing In The Hands is simply brilliant.
The concept is so simple it’s beautiful: the majority of the songs on this album are just Banhart, an acoustic guitar and the occasional string section. The lyrics have been described as ‘stream-of-conscious,’ and this is a spot-on description. The surrealistic ramblings lend Banhart a sort of experience to his work-whilst he rambles about Elvis songs seemingly at random, you get a sense he has been around a lot longer than his tender years suggest. And then there is his voice. Oh, his voice. Angels singing day-long celestial symphonies could not compete with the simplest of songs on this album. Impossibly, his voice is a cross between the wide-eyed innocence of a twelve-year-old boy, the age and gravitas of an eighty-year-old man, the falsetto of Jeff Buckley and the vibrato of an ancient crooner. Absolutely perfect, glorious, beautiful. Adjectives have failed me. Buy this album, and you feel like every word, every syllable, and every letter is directed at you. Yes, it is that good.
The songs on Rejoicing In The Hands carry on the same theme of eccentricity. “This Is The Way” is a jolly song about how Banhart lives his life- He shares his breakfast, the soppy sod. Album highlight “It’s a Sight To Behold” is a wonderful piece of alt-folk-pop-psychedelia. I’ll run out of hyphens at this rate. Slower moments such as “Fall” and “The Body Breaks” do not feel out of place, and can bring a tear to the eye of the manliest of men. Banhart writes the songs on this album that Beck tried, and failed to do on his recent dirge Sea Change. “Dogs They Make Up The Dark” is a similar treat; warm and compelling. I see Banhart on a porch in fifty years time, playing on a rocking chair to an audience of rapt grandchildren; for Rejoicing In The Hands has that rare timeless quality- it will sound as fresh and new as it is today forever.
Whilst a folk album featuring a solo acoustic guitar would get somewhat samey in the hands of your run-of-the-mill folk band, Banhart is always twisting the songs into those that pull the fantastic trick of sounding completely different whilst never alienating you. For example, we get the sweet nostalgia of “This Is The Way” and then the savage thundering voodoo of “Poughkeepsie,” and yet the two sound exactly the same. Truly, this is the sign of an excellent songwriter. Banhart also endearingly keeps in the outtakes of the recording; you occasionally hear him messing up, and the production team laughing. This would be annoying with any other band, but it adds certain humanity to Banhart’s otherwise extraterrestrial recording.
There are better recorded albums, there are better production techniques, and the mixing is minimal at best. However, Banhart proves you need none of these to make an album of simplistic, uncommon beauty. Like Simon & Garfunkel with twice the acid and nearly that many quality tunes, Banhart proves to be the perfect antidote to the recent glut of soulless garage rock. To put it simply, this album is amazing. I have played and played it and I have yet to get tired of it. It may be hard to find, but I urge you to go out RIGHT NOW to buy it. Buy one for your mum, your dad, your sibling, your goldfish and the man who cleans your windows. If anyone deserves to be elevated to rock royalty, it’s this man. Mr. Banhart, it’s time for you to become huge.
(Young God / XL Recordings)
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.