Devendra Banhart looks like a dreamy-eyed sheep, his long sideburns curled around a chin drawn square as he howls tiny-speaker vocals over a death-rattle guitar. Hardly a shaman, not nearly a Lomax-purist, Banhart is more a psychedelic troubadour who projects the vague longing of early Marc Bolan and the non-sequitur genius of Syd Barrett. All this, plus a falsetto that could school Tiny Tim and a captivating live show, makes Banhart a shoo-in for indie folk’s next big thing.
“It’s been amazing to watch the transformation, just in these few months,” says tourmate Guy Blakeslee, another psyched up singer-songwriter who records as Entrance and has watched Banhart’s audiences grow from an enthusiastic few to a dense, shhh-enforcing crowd, all in the course of a winter tour.
Both art-school fool and son of a South American convict, Banhart is beyond affect and has plenty to sing about, even at his baby age of 21. His preoccupations with childbirth, physical deformity, and wordplay probably have something to do with his near-military-brat upbringing, which suggests a close matriarchal relationship and fast need of friends. That’s my take, anyway.
Banhart found a kindred soul in ex-Swans man Michael Gira, whose Young God label agreed to assemble Banhart’s mess of four-track recordings and answering-machine messages into a proper album, simply titled Oh Me Oh My…The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit. Released last year, the album trickled into critics’ ears and began to build a base for Banhart’s current upswing in popularity amongst the thrift-store-suit-jackets-over-sweaters set.
Devendra has already cemented a reputation as an old-timey, crackle-voiced genius. With the full-throttle blues of Entrance as opener or, in a nice turn of showmanship, a tag teaming co-headliner, the quiet of Banhart’s 78-rpm worldview is given proper frame. On stage, Banhart nearly falls from his seat with earnestness—even when, in a drunken state, he forgets the words and just idly picks a broken melody and waits for inspiration to come again.
Devendra’s debut is out now on Young God Records. Entrance’s is out on Tiger Style.
Five Other Stoner Bands
These Brooklyn kids have names like “The Deacon” and “Panda Bear,” and they sound like a crazed drum circle, but louder and with other instruments and chant-ing. Magnificent shit. Best record: Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (released under the name Avey Tare & Panda Bear, but good luck finding that one)
Finnish group that hovers between Judas Priest-y metal and lush medieval folk stuff. You can laugh at the singer’s trilly little inflections or bonghit out to their heavier, Faust-like drone bits. Best record: Sunrise
Nagisa Ni Te
Hazy progressive music and Nick Drake-influenced folk getting gently strummed by a Japanese hippie (hence you don’t have to worry about gay lyrics because it’s all in his native tongue). Best record: On the Love Beach
Six Organs of Admittance
This New York-based band is the reason the term “acid folk” was invented. Spacy fingerpicking, majestic electric guitar, and fucking tablas are all over last year’s Dark Noontide. These are the kind of guys who blink a lot when they’re outside in the daytime. Best record: Dark Noontide
No Neck Blues Band
This is a given if you’re into that whole free-rock heavy hippie music vibe, but in case you’re a neophyte, these guys are the bosses of it. Tribal, transcendent, and stronger-willed than you are. Best record: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Names Will Never Hurt Me