Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A smorgasbord of consciousness - Devendra Banhart

I had never even heard of American-born, Venezuelan-reared, Devendra Banhart until a couple of weeks ago when I received a rather urgent sounding SMS from Scott, my nephew, telling me that I had to listen to him. With all the chaos of the Public Holiday Season, I didn't get a chance to go out and buy any of his music until yesterday - but now, with his latest album What Will We Be already almost worn to oblivion by playing it so many times, this very unique artist has already reached a pretty prominent position on my list of very best discoveries.

His music is hard to categorise for a whole lot of reasons - not least because it is so individualistic anyway - but also because it shifts from place to place in the most unexpected ways, sometimes between songs, sometimes within them. It's like a string of beads, with different shapes and different colours, but where the thread links them, and makes them seem to belong, together.

And that thread is, of course, Devendra Banhart's unique musical stamp - a stamp characterised by jagged, angular phrases, often articulated through the percussive precision of acoustic guitar and piano, which give the music a solid, instantly recognisable, framework within which everything else grows and flourishes.

There is an almost stream-of-consciousness feel to much of this music, with new ideas emerging out of nowhere to replace old ones, like a seed blown in from somewhere, germinating, growing and ultimately blossoming. You see this in songs like 'Rats', where an electric guitar lends moments of hard rock to a background of funky blues that then gives way to bits of dancey pop; or in 'Brindo', where the album's ever-present world music roots, Latin-American infused, actually break through the ground, grab you by the feet and hold you in place, while the rest of your body sways to the music's eclectic beats and rhythms.

What Will We Be weaves its unique, freaky, folk-like thread through the boppy poppy beat of 'Baby', through the nostalgic jazz/blues trumpet of 'Chin Chin & Muck Muck', through the reflective sax and carillon-like tolling of 'Maria Lionza' - through everything, really.

The album is a smorgasbord of ideas, nothing ever resting in the one place long enough to grow mould, and every flavour blending and contrasting with everything else in a way that makes you know that this is the work of the one very, very clever, and daring, chef.

If you don't listen to this album closely enough, you might think it was cobbled together, with a whole lot of half-formed ideas thrown into the spotlight, each for its own 15 seconds of fame, and then forgotten. But listen to it properly, and you will see that it is in fact a brilliant mosaic of modern life - where things rush past, are savoured for a moment or two, sometimes for a little longer, sometimes a little less, but where someone is able to pick out each bit, blend it with each other bit, and infuse it with that special, secret, unifying, defining, ingredient.

In What Will We Be that 'someone' is, of course, Devendra Banhart, and his personality and character give this album that special, distinctive flavour that you will, I'm sure, want to try in many, many dishes yet. I look forward to sampling the rest of his output.

Thanks, Scott, for one of your very best recommendations.

1 comment:

  1. Este artista está en mi lista de los mejores discos acústicos del 2009. Si tienes un momento, ¿qué te parece mi lista?. O si te interesa publicarla en tu blog también, te lo agradecería.