Ape in Pink Marble (Nonesuch)
Devendra Banhart seems like a good idea. Handsome, talented and raised in Venezuela and Los Angeles by free-spirited parents, Banhart dropped out of art school at 19 to busk on streets, and subsequently came to the attention of Swans’ Michael Gira, who released Banhart’s home recordings to wide acclaim in 2002. Banhart’s experimental hippie shtick suggested a young Beck who traded the loveseat for a hammock under the palms.
Banhart has since tamped down his signature warble and expanded his stylistic palette to a thinness; the songs on Ape in Pink Marble, while agreeable, are a bit pat and bloodless. There’s the reggae-by-numbers “Mara,” the kind of genre exercise Flight of the Conchords would undercut with genuine humor, whereas Banhart sounds merely arch. On the seduction groove “Fig in Leather” he ickily coos “I’ve got frigid air to keep it cool / I will take the time ’cause you’re a lady, top-quality lady, quite powerful lady.” On “Souvenir,” there’s a fleeting wistfulness, along with plummy bass runs and woozy guitars—but overall, it’s hard to tell whether Banhart’s a mediocre satirist or just comfortable in the shallows.
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Dead Oceans)
I have a problem. There’s music I love, and then the voices kinda ruin it for me. It’s not that they’re bad voices—after all, I love plenty of terrible singers. These are just irksome. And there’s no getting around them.
There’s a reason I bring this up. Illinois guitarist Ryley Walker’s fourth album has some flat-out dazzling instrumental passages—lead-off track “The Halfwit In Me” concludes with dynamic, blossoming interplay between electric and acoustic guitars and a nimble rhythm section, invoking a blend of Nick Drake and Tortoise. Other songs reprise this gorgeous organic quality, as if they’ve spilled onto a tablecloth and are spreading out, making patterns on the fly.
And there’s Walker’s voice, which blooms at us beseechingly and then swallows words, seeming to insist we lean in and listen to his stories. As the irritating album title might suggest, they are the stories of a poetry-damaged, self-absorbed troubadour. Walker’s a rounder and a rover—passionate, you understand—and he might believe in God or not, but don’t worry baby, he’ll share his restless, sensitive love—tonight.
Gonjasufi emerged from Southern California in 2008, lending his grouchy, space-blues howl to a Flying Lotus track; his FlyLo-assisted debut, A Sufi and a Killer, came out in 2010. Callus, his third album, is aptly named, as Gonjasufi works the same sonic terrain he always has. He is a stylist, and that style is corroded, dirgelike trip-hop, dark and industrial if not exactly threatening—it’s as if Kool Keith and Ween spawned a talented and troubled but cosseted youngster—the sludgy, clamorous drums even sound like muffled pots and pans.
Gonjasufi treats his voice like a lead instrument in the mix—he doesn’t try to distract with lyrics, and there’s no particular indication that you should struggle deciphering them. They mostly fall in let’s-bother-Mom territory: “Don’t let the church hypnotize you”; “In my last life I was a Satan too.” But there’s also some absurd whimsy: “Do you know what Satans do?”; “Eatin’ chicken and you’re so self-righteous.” And after enough noisy blasts, “Ole Man Sufferah” and “Krishna Punk” sound like sprightly pop songs, albeit sprung from a dumpster.