More love, less weirdness on Devendra Banhart’s ‘Ape in Pink Marble’

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - 9:33am

Devendra Banhart

Devendra Banhart Buy this photo
Nonesuch Records

 

Devendra Banhart’s new album, Ape in Pink Marble, is an easy, luscious ride. The album drifts seamlessly from one track to another, with little stylistic variation. The vibrato in Banhart’s voice makes hazy the line between reality and fantasy. This is the intended effect of the LP, as Ape in Pink Marble comes across like a dream that you slipped into.

Banhart is an enigmatic figure. He’s of Venezuelan descent and sings some songs in Spanish, and his bilingualism adds a layer of mystique to his persona. Yet this is just a small detail in his charismatic public image. As a major figure in the freak-folk scene, his music is approachable, yet retains a dash of the psychedelic. This cocktail makes for relaxing yet eccentric sounds. Banhart’s music is not over-the-top experimental, but has just enough weird shit in it to qualify as interesting.

Ape in Pink Marble is Devendra Banhart’s ninth studio album. Unlike his previous works, no songs are sung in Spanish. It is also instrumentally minimalistic. Now, no one would have ever accused Banhart of being overproduced, but this album feels particularly sparse. That’s why the sometimes-bizarre nature of the vocals can create a jarring contrast between the simplistic production and strange lyricism. Banhart sings on the final lines of “Fancy Man,” “Sometimes I get to think / Is this fancy thing / Is this a fancy thought?”

As the words tumble out of Banhart’s lips, the listener is transferred to Banhart’s semi-sarcastic conscious. The next track is the disco-inspired “Fig in Leather.” Banhart sing-speaks over the beat like a character from Alice in Wonderland who just invited you to his tea party. “Hello is that you / Come right in, have a seat / Remove your shoes, enjoy some fruits / Did I mention, ‘have a seat.’ ” Following the distinct absurdity of these two tracks, Banhart brings us right back to his comfortable, lucid soundscape.

This album, like many other of Banhart’s, is built around love. There are no blazon declarations or cascading harmonies of romance. Rather, it feels lived in — like when you remind someone you’ve known forever that you still really care about them. On “Lucky,” Banhart gently reminds his paramour, “Ooh, what I want to say to you / But I’m so very, very lucky.” Banhart later sings on “Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green,” “There’s no one in the world that I love / And that no one is you.” Rather than build up his romantic counterpart, Banhart offers little to no information on her distinct qualities. This inherently creates a far more intimate foundation for their relationship. Only Banhart knows the details, we’re just along for the ride.

Ape in Pink Marble thematically varies from his previous 2013 release, Mala. On Mala, Banhart exhibited a soft yearning for love. This is evidenced in “Won’t You Come Over” which seems pretty self-explanatory. Banhart, it seems, is now singing from a state of emotional satisfaction. His weird-in-a-good-way artistic expressionism is still present, as he reflects on his incognito nature on “Good Time Charlie,” (Ann Arbor shout-out? Is Devendra Banhart a Michigan fan in secret, is this the hidden connection in all of his albums? Maybe we’ll return to this later.) “Mostly been a bathroom stall / A night or work blow-up doll.”

Yet on Ape In Pink Marble, there is a steady and relaxing charm throughout. The same charm that you experience when you find a desk chair with really good lumbar support. The album’s a lovely and safe dream, with Banhart being our reserved navigator.

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Ape In Pink Marble

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Nonesuch Records