Label: Young God Format: CD
This has got to be one of the oddest musical surprises in a long time, and an intriguing one too. Devendra Banhart recorded the twenty-one tracks on dodgy 4-track tape recorders, and the hiss is evident throughout — but just adds to the close-up intensity of his songs, played on acoustic guitar and only occasionally supplemented by handclaps, thighslapping and some off-key whistling.
Banhart has a strange falsetto singing voice which makes it hard to determine whether he is male or female at first, and the effect of listening to his vocals can be eerily estranged. His words and music flow with a deceptive ease, trickling through snatched fragments of songs which repeat themes and phrases, grasping the listener’s attention on tracks like the rolling nautical ballad of “The Charles C. Leary”, a song which soon returns to haunt the memory like it was heard a decade or a hundred years ago in a parallel universe. The same applies to the drifting assertion that “We certainly are nice people” on “Nice People”, a rambling head trip accompanied by verbal warbles and thumps on the guitar body – and there’s all manner of environmental sounds in the background throughout the album – birdsong, church bells, unidentified rustlings and crashes – which only adds to the weird dramatic multitracking choruses and offset string pickings of the songs.
Oh Me Oh My… has further highlights in the psychedelic musings of “Cosmos And Demos”; the epic song of friendship and love which is “Michigan State”, with its whistling interjections and peculiar yet understandably surreal lyrics about loving the way ears and faces lean; or “The Thumbs..” which meanders in a ghostly landscape where the song’s narrator wonders about being more like city girls; and “Hey Miss Cane” with its evocative bluesy twinkle to while away drifting hours in the imaginative realms of Devendra Banhart. Likewise, “Soon Is Good” surprises with an extended “soon” which snaps the attention into a strange timeless moment as peculiar as the Sixties-styled harmonies and guitar rounds of “A Gentle Soul” or “Pumpkin Seeds” , which could easily have leaked through time and space via a pastoral hippie wormhole.
Above all, it’s the curious familiarity of Oh Me Oh My… which provides its success – but this is the uncanny recognition of déjà vu rather than simple retro copyism. There’s a resonant freshness to songs apparently recorded only for personal consumption with scant concern for polished effects, and on the evidence of his début Banhart has a precocious talent which the world can only be better — and much stranger — for having heard.