The first time I was acquainted with Devenda Banhart was somewhere on the California coastline in 2006. My then girlfriend tossed a folder full of CDs, the size of a Harry Potter spell book, onto my lap before we began our trip to Eureka. Opening the binder, my face became a mosaic of emotions not unlike Bastian when first opening The Neverending Story. Up until this point, I was mostly listening to the aching vibrato of AFI and the muscle constricting pangs of Thursday. She admonished my catalog. “We’re going to listen to ‘Cripple Crow'”, she said, assertively. Though she may have also yelled out, “this album is super weird and fun.” It was during this same serpentine, adolescent-fueled odyssey of an adventure that she played “No More Hot Dogs” by Hasil Adkins, his wily, unhinged vocals snapping and barking like a cracking campfire log. She laughed from behind the wheel as we worked our way up past San Luis Obispo. In the backseat, our friends Jeremiah and Chris snacked on wafer cookies and gas station fruit.
All of these memories start bubbling up like a photo in flames when I listen to Devendra Banhart’s latest album, “Ape in Pink Marble”. The Houston-born musician eschews fable-like bells and exotic instrumentation in favor of stripped down compositions and hushed narratives. This is more “Veneer”-era Jose Gonzalez than it is mystic-era Devendra Banhart. The salacious and sardonic lyrics still slink and slither – and the artist’s humor is forever intact – but he’s also somewhat more confessional in his most recent opus. The lithe witch doctor has tapped into his inner Cass McCombs and his outer Bill Fay, particularly on “Theme for a Twaiwanese Woman in Lime Green” (though you cant argue that the song’s title is decidedly Banhart).
The lanky rain dancer acquiesces to the flicker of the night stars and takes a seat for songs like “Souvenirs” and “Saturday Night”. It’s comforting to be wrapped up in the linty shawl of a nocturnal and at ease Banhart. No dust-blowing, no kaleidoscopic posturing. And while some reviewers may find “Ape in Pink Marble” to be more banal than quietly rapturous, here is a routinely veiled artist revealing himself, under atypical circumstances, to his fans and peers. Glowing in a saltwater moon. Lonely and sprawled. A crime scene of kicked over toy blocks.
The post-fireworks sky fades to black with the album’s closing song, “Celebration“. A cozy, reflective burning candle that reminds you of where the 35-year-old artist has been, where you, the listener, will be. And how the marriage of your memories – and his – will be joined in some overcast reverie. Like My Morning Jacket’s blissfully sad “One in the Same”, “Celebration” is the perfect punctuation to an album that transcends time and place. And suddenly I am there again, watching the pockets of trees pass in the redwood forest. And she is describing Devendra Banhart to me, as her fingerprints brand the CD-R, one more time.