On first hearing it, you may find yourself describing this album as the music of the spheres, but no matter, it took some balls to make it. It refreshes parts other tracts of sound fail to reach via a compelling blend of oddball production, idiosyncratic guitar playing and toying, almost wheedling vocals that emanate from the mouth of a man who looks like a latter day John the Baptist. I listened to Ape In Pink Marble – Devendra Banhart‘s ninth album – with the first presidential debate in full swing on the TV, muted of course and playing as a queasy pantomimic backdrop to the music. The LP’s title seemed perfect for the arteriosclerotic jousting being played out before me.
Beginning with the sweetly off kilter lilt of ‘Middle Names’ a la Velvet Underground, the record thereafter begins to sink into a unique groove from which it refuses to budge, as if Banhart is telling anyone who will listen “I refuse to compromise”. On ‘Good Time Charlie’, you get short and sweet discordance, on ‘Jon Lends A Hand’ you get Bolan on valium, while on ‘Fancy Man’ Banhart sings “I heard there’s a private zoo in Thailand”, followed by “I’ve watched all the latest shows on Bing Bong”. It sounds like Roxy Music sung by a Klanger, and as Donald Trump pouted under the lights, I thought “This is perfect!”
There’s also a vein of Kowloon funk slinking its way through songs like ‘Theme For A Taiwanese Woman In Lime Green’ (a sugary bossa nova, heavy on the reverb with strings and things); ‘Fig In Leather’ (Japanese disco with the line “I will take the time because you’re a lady”); and ‘Linda’, a song replete with Banhart’s finger picking that makes each note arrive hesitantly like words spoken, one after the other, feeling for articulation. It’s a mournful, jazzy soup sung from the perspective of a woman and remains compelling in its strangeness.
Banhart possesses a distinct sonic sensibility that is quite unlike anything swirling in the mainstream, a queer mix of muffled eastern mantra and compressed western rock that seems dipped and then drowned in a vat of opium oil. Buy this record, download it, acquire it. It’ll shake you out of your torpor, drop you into someone else’s and, while there, make you wonder what the hell it is you’ve been listening to.
Ape In Pink Marble is out now via Nonesuch Records Inc.