Devendra Banhart The Black Babies EP

[Young God; 2003]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles:  folk
Others: Six Organs of Admittance, The Mountain Goats, Vetiver

One of the things you'll immediately notice about Devendra Banhart is his eerie, yet beautiful, acoustic sound. His recordings are extremely lo-fi and very intimate sounding, almost to the point of sounding ghostly. The Black Babies is a collection of eight short songs, some of which appeared on last years Oh Me Oh My album from the same label. The music appears to come from a different time and place, while also sounding somewhat black and white in tone. Opting to keep the production value as simple and pure as possible, Banhart's songs could be compared to the great blues guitarist, Robert Johnson. All his songs are recorded on a four-track recorder and usually contain a high level of tape hiss. He claims this is what happens when you don't know what you're doing, but I think it's pretty apparent that this is part of his intent and charm.

In addition to tape hiss, there are moments on Banhart's recordings where you can hear various sounds coming from the distant background. It usually comes by way of a car passing on the street, the sound of the phone ringing, or even gunshots from nearby. This is another one of the unique qualities that The Black Babies possesses. The most important component, however, is the sound of Devendra's genre-defying voice. At times it's very old-fashioned sounding, while other times it's high pitched and aggressive. He's also not too embarrassed to throw in an occasional whistle to add different textures to the sound of a song. On a song like "A Surgery I Stole," we see that the primary concept of Banhart's music is to push an innate level of melody in basic song writing. The song "Cosmos and Demos" is a track compiled of individual thoughts, and visually reminds me of Harmony Korine's movie, Gummo.

In a time when most music is heavily produced and meant to capture a listener immediately, Davendra Banhart is an artist that does things in his own simplistic way. At first, I was kind of annoyed with what I was hearing, but eventually became quite fond of his style. On some levels, it's some of the strangest music I've ever heard; even if the main idea of it is to remain completely simple and pure. Furthermore, I'm always amazed when an artist like Banhart can take the most basic elements (guitar and four-track recorder) and, in the end, make something much larger than the sum of its parts.    

1. Bluebird
2. Surgery I Stole
3. Cosmos and Demos
4. Onward the Indian
5. Lagoon
6. The Charles C. Leary
7. Long Song
8. Old Thunderbird

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