“Hello, is that you? Come right in, take a seat.”
When Devendra Banhart extends an invitation your way you should accept it. He is unpredictable, witty and charming and he conveys this throughout his music. His body of work has grown and vastly diversified since the release of his debut, Rejoicing in the Hands, twelve years ago. While Banhart’s musical style has changed over the years, he has managed to hold on to the nuances that made him an attractive musician and writer. He is a storyteller of spontaneous and impulsive acts of love told humorously set to a combination of jovial bass lines, heart-rendering synth, playfully giddying guitar riffs and hooks and slow tempo drums – just listen to ‘Shabop Shalom.’ His latest, and ninth studio album, Ape in Pink Marble, plays like a collection of short stories instead of a novel. There is no one defining sound, which is both a blessing and a hindrance.
Banhart’s previous album, Mala, signified a shift from the hippie-folk aesthetic to a contemporary myriad of psychedelic-electric-folk-funk (folktronica, if you will) as heard in ‘Your Fine Petting Duck.’ This musical makeover extended to an overall image overhaul. He cut his curls into a neatly tousled dark do, appeared in a print ad for The Kooples, and he continues to wear a sensible array of vintage cardigans and colourful shirts. On Ape in Pink Marble Devendra has grown up. He has calmed down, become slightly subdued, perhaps.
The songs throughout Ape in Pink Marble are predominantly gentle and alluring. ‘Middle Names’, opens with a pensive acoustic guitar and Banhart’s smooth vocal croons, “I’d love to be there right now but I’m heading in the other direction.” It’s a lovely composition that possesses a sort of transcendental dreamlike tone which continues into ‘Good Time Charlie.’ The rogue streak in Barnhart’s music comes awake in the final ten seconds of the song with a jarring digitalised pattern, just to show that he hasn’t totally lost his ability to defy the expectations of his audience. ‘Jon Lends a Hand’ is easily Barnhart’s most beautifully written song on the album, it overflows with sentimentalism and a rhythm that effortlessly embodies wistful romance. It’s an addictive melody, and certainly one that will be studied by lotharios in training.
The slow, seductive tempo that dominates Ape in Pink Marble makes it Banhart’s most sedate piece of work. His former wandering musical tendencies that often diluted the overall quality of previous albums have been addressed. However that is not to say that the upbeat, and erratically playful melodies are absent. ‘Fancy Man’ and ‘Fig in Leather’ serve a much needed rejuvenation to the otherwise lulling songs. These, the former in particular, are exceptionally entertaining and infectious 1970s inspired funk-pop arrangements.
‘Mourner’s Dance’ sounds like an homage to Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks’ theme tune with a dominate synth recreating the iconic arrangement (and creating a scenic image of Douglas Firs) with a sporadic and sedating oriental influence. The song eases sumptuously into lead single, ‘Saturday Night’, which I have heard friends liken the tempo to a slowed down version of Phil Collins’, ‘In the Air’, an apt description, to be fair. ‘Mourner’s Dance’ and ‘Saturday Night’ work exceptionally well together, and after a few listens to Ape in Pink Marble you may find that you will form various couplings of songs. Perhaps this is due to there being at least three different musical styles to discover throughout the album. It can feel a little confused at times.
Devendra takes on many guises in the songs. He plays the joker (“I’ve got a dumb dance inside my pants man”), the romantic (“There’s no one I ever knew / Quite as beautiful as you”) and the life philosopher (“Love’s the only lesson everyone knows how to teach”) proving that his ability as a songwriter is a strong and intricate as his mastering of dynamic music compositions. However, the melodies are caught between retro electro and soothing folk melodies, which may divide listeners of Ape in Pink Marble, you’ll crave one of the genres more than the other. I was more inclined towards the former and would have liked for there to be more of it.
When you take a seat to listen to Ape in Pink Marble be sure that you choose one that’s suitable for both lazily lounging and sudden bursts of foot tapping and swaying.