Rejoicing in the Hands
Young God Records
Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands
Devandra Banhart’s hiss-saturated, home-recorded debut for the label, Oh Me Oh My, was a transcendental trip to his twisted and gloriously idiosyncratic world. If Oh Me Oh My was Devendra’s stunning introduction to the wide musical landscape, then Rejoicing in the Hands further marks his emergence as the most unique and important new voice in the music today.
Born in Texas, and named by an Indian mystic, Devendra is a vagabond artist in the purest sense of the word. Living with his mother in Caracas, Venezuela, Devendra lived a different kind of street life: “You don't go out after 8 [in Caracas] because it's too dangerous. You don't wear nice sneakers because, while here [in New York] you may get assaulted, there you just get killed."
Devendra had been recording songs unintended to be heard by a large audience until he was persuaded by awed friends (who allowed/encouraged Devendra to record some of his earliest material on their answering machines) to seek an outlet to release his untainted poetics. Michael Gira of Young God Records was that outlet. Enraptured by Devendra’s youth, charisma and undeniable talent, he released Devendra’s home recordings as is in 2002.
Devendra is “devoid of a single drop of post modern irony...he's the real thing,” says Gira. As a result, when the time came to record Devendra’s long awaited follow up to the critically lauded Oh Me Oh My (named the #2 Alternative Album by The New York Times), Gira knew that a glossy studio finish would not do justice to Devendra’s unblemished outsider musings.
Instead, the antiquated southern style house of engineer Lynn Bridges eventually became the backdrop for Devendra’s art when Bridges contacted Gira and invited them all to her house on the Georgia/Alabama border. It was on that house’s unvarnished wood floors that Devendra’s stool sat for 10 days. He played for 12 hours each day. Ceaselessly. With a mic on his voice, his guitar, and on the room, Devendra recorded 32 songs from an original submitted batch of 52. Sixteen of those songs are found on Rejoicing in the Hands, almost completely as they sounded from that dusty room (the remaining 16 to be released in the fall of this year.) Keeping with Devendra’s unadorned aesthetic, only small overdubs were added in New York City to the tapes.
Devendra’s unique voice (think Marc Bolan doing stream-of-consciousness folk), lyrical vision, and prolific nature is sure to establish him as the most important new folk artist of this millennium. His lyrics are both the product of an experienced, vigilant city dweller, and a rural Appalachian hermit.
On the epic, image-laced “Insect Eyes,” he mixes both physical, mortal imagery with star-gazing symbolism: “Each strand of her hair / Is really insect eyes / And each hole in her tongue / Is always occupied / By the milk of the sun”. On “Poughkeepsie,” his ode to NYC, Devendra’s striking imagery is at its most memorable: “Summer days she stays by the window / Her saggy flesh it sweeps the floor”.
But Devendra is not without a quirky sense of humor. On the standout “This Beard is for Siobhan,” (Siobhan being a close personal friend of Michael Gira who first introduced Devendra to the Swans frontman) his humor is at its most anthropomorphic: “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out and sing / I could take my little teeth out and show them a real good time”, all sung in his trademark quavering vibrato.
More than a musical wunderkind, Devendra is also a writer and artist. When he is not singing, he is drawing. He is currently finishing up and looking for distribution for an illustrated novel entitled Rejoicing In The Hands Of The Golden Negress, which is full of the same intense imagery that fills each of his songs.
Devendra is a singular artistic talent whose world awaits you on Rejoicing in the Hands, and this time he’s prepared to take you farther and deeper into his strange and humble world. With his next record entitled Nino Rojo slated for release in September, 2004 is looking to be the Year of Devendra.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-04-13