Devendra Banhart's debut is a mixture of song fragments, whistles, handclaps, chants and some of the most oddly affecting, full-blown songs you may hear all year. Recorded on four-track--and occasionally on ye olde answering machine--the music rolls out slowly and sometimes abrasively. Banhart's juxtapositions can describe something like flesh in a way that makes it seem like a foreign entity, with vocal tics fluttering in the upper registers of dreamy and quickly switching to a panic-stricken vibrato.
If any of this sounds familiar, remember Marc Bolan. We're not talking about the Marc Bolan pop god who put the boogie back into rock in the early '70s. Nope, we mean the wizard-loving, unicorn-doting barefoot Bolan. In fact, percussive vocal tricks that Banhart uses on "The Charles C. Leary" are a dead ringer for Bolan's on "She Was Born to Be My Unicorn" from his 1969 LP Unicorn. Perhaps the only other performer worth noting with regard to Banhart is Karen Dalton. This unsung vocalist sang like Billie Holiday, drank like Bukowski and eventually ended up Dumpster-diving to get by before she died a beggar's death. You can hear her vocal quavers in some of Banhart's songs like "Hey Miss Cane" and "The Thumbs," which is basically a variation on Dalton's take on "Ribbon Bow."
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Pointless references aside, this record would signal nothing if it weren't filled with beautiful, slippery songs that register in the brain like old favorites within minutes. It might also lose people even quicker. Just like you can usually spot a liar from across the street, you can spot the spirit under this record; it's alive and it bleeds, just like the rest of us.