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)
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.