Saturday, August 13, 2005

album review! devendra banhart: cripple crow

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out of the copious amounts of genres within the scope of independent music, the two that are the most popular in the early 00's are post-punk/neo new-wave/dance-punk and neo-folk/freak-folk/weirdos-with-guitars-and-too-much-time-on-their-hands. that's not a 10% dis; fresh cherries from yakima has been classified as "hipster-folk". anyways, dance-punk is like the popular friend who gets all the well-dressed, good-looking girls in school, at the mall, at the doctor's office, etc. neo-folk is the cute friend that gets the girl sometimes, but for the most part: "he's cute, but he's not my type. i only like him as a friend."

devendra banhart is at the forefront of the "freak-folk" scene, thanks to his talent for left-of-center subject matter and his outrageously unique (or weird, depending on who you ask) voice. he released two albums last year, nino rojo and rejoicing in the hands, both of which were sitting along franz ferdinand on many "best of 2004" lists (sidebar: "a ribbon" was one of my favorite songs of the calendar year). both of these albums hinted at the extreme potential he's had. certain people say he hit his stride with both albums, where others say that he reached his peak. enter cripple crow, with its sgt. pepper's-esque cover and joanna newsom featured among the people (and ghosts! scary!). who knew that he would take the influence of sgt. pepper's lonely hearts band this far?

by the way, sgt. pepper's isn't the best album ever made, as it were argued by rolling stone magazine. it's not even the best beatles album. my vote goes to abbey road. the melody of songs on side-b? fucking genius. "her majesty," at 17 seconds, is better than almost any song on sgt. pepper. that's just one man's opinion.

what was the point of that tangent? nothing. now, onto devendra banhart:

track one: "now that i know"--
the album starts off how almost every folk album starts: fingerpicking. i'm not complaining, because i love fingerpicking. the track has a faint echo, as if it's being played in a church at 3am. devendra sings a hushed tone, like he's trying not to wake up the church mice. is that a cello? whatever the instrument is that kicks in while devendra hums a melody (i guess you can call it a chorus), it fits perfectly with this track.

track two: "pensando enti"--
the title, and the lyrics are all in spanish. this song also prominently features shakers. it starts out as a folk song, then, by the chorus, breaks into an acoustic salsa jam. being a bilingual singer is a pretty impressive feat. i took spanish for three years (head of the class all three, as well), but obviously i wasn't good enough, because the only line i understand is, "it's really hot, but you're cold," or something to that effect. i think i'm wrong, but it's okay; it's my review.

track three: "heard somebody say"--
the song starts off with a simple, carly simon-esque piano line (yes, carly simon. i have her greatest hits cd in my bedroom). "i heard somebody say that the war ended today, but everybody knows it's going still.." this record has a classic feel to it.

track four: "long haired child"--
funky! if you don't tap your feet within the first five seconds of this song, then you obviously have some insecurities with yourself. couple that with devendra's trademark shaky voice, and you have a new song to request for indie night at your local club. the breakdown (or second movement) has a rollicking, almost motown-ish guitar line. is there at least ONE song on this album that's not fucking excellent?

track five: "lazy butterfly"--
remember what i said about the sgt. pepper's comparisons? this song is the reason for it. with a sitar and a retro-sounding bassline (retro as in sgt. pepper's, not retro as in the cure), devendra (with the occasional help of a couple female backing vocalists) sings one of the catchiest melodies i've heard all year. this is something you'll be humming at work, for sure. another excellent song. goddammit.

track six: "quetate luna"--
this one starts out with a little acoustic fiddling. devendra sings another melody in spanish, and after a minute and fifteen seconds of just his voice and guitar, the drums and handclaps kick in, for a little more latin flavor. listening to devendra banhart sing in spanish is kinda like listening to dizzee rascal in english, most americans don't know what the fuck he's saying, but it sounds brilliant.

track seven: "i do dig a certain girl"--
over a nice, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line, this song is what jack johnson would sound like if he weren't gut-wrenchingly boring.

track eight: "i feel like a child"--
starting off with studio chit-chat and whatnot, the shakers come in, and another funky, classic-sounding joint is made. it kinda reminds me of the jackson 5 with an acoustic guitar. trust me: i know what i'm talking about. simplistic, yet very poignant lyrics about being a child are included. "i need you to help me reach the door, and i need you to walk me to the store, and i need you to please explain the war, and i need you to heal me when i'm sore.." eight tracks in, and i haven't found a lackluster song. this is a good thing; i'm not looking for one.

track nine: "some people ride the wave"--
what sounds like a false start starts off this song. a child-like piano based number. a fun song with a voice mimicking a trumpet (or is it..?). reminds me of "maxwell's silver hammer", but only a little. yes, another beatles reference.

track ten: "the beatles"--
you should have known that was coming. "paul mccartney and ringo starr are the only beatles in the world." and then, devendra sings in spanish again. it's a minute and fourty-five seconds long, and my lamenting the absence of a lackluster song continues.

track eleven: "dragonflys"--
this is a hushed, short (fifty-nine seconds) acoustic track featuring devendra and a female backing singer. shit, it's good, too.

track twelve: "when they come"--
a chilled-out acoustic guitar riff, and lightly beaten drums, this song appears to be what iron & wine would sound like if sam beam had a slightly higher, and excessively weirder, voice. too weird for starbucks, but i could see some indie-yuppies sipping their chai teas to this song.

track thirteen: "in niel"--
there's the cello again. this time, it's being played over a darker guitar riff. this reminds me of "a ribbon" off of nino rojo, only better, and minus banjo. i shouldn't have to tell you that devendra sings in spanish on this song, too, because the novelty is gone. you should be used to it. i also shouldn't have to tell you that i still haven't found a song that's even average, let alone bad, because the novelty in that has also disappeared.

track fourteen: "mama wolf"--
another chilled-out folky song. i could see iron & wine definitely covering this song. i would suggest it, those iron & wine royalties will come in handy one day. there's an actual wolf howling at the end of the song. predictable, but i'm delighted to hear it, nonetheless.

track fifteen: "how's about telling a story"--
remember what i said about track fourteen? the same goes for track fifteen. maybe even moreso. this amazing acoustic song is only 1:21. i wonder if sam beam would keep the "goddamn" in the song, or if he would change the lyric. oh well.

track sixteen: "chinese children"--
without a doubt the most brilliant title on this album. "if i lived in russia, i'd still have chinese children." another funky song, with a country-ish feel. quirky lyrics, great melody. geez! another great song!

track seventeen: "sawkill river"--
the beginning of this song reminds me heavily of "the greatest song in the world" (or whatever it's called) by tenacious d. [editor's note: it's called "tribute," idiot.] i suppose i should tell you that there are no vocals in this song. it's okay, it's still a very good listen. i'm not bullshitting you.

track eighteen: "i love that man"--
a sparse acoustic track, once again highlighting devendra's favorable use of the word "goddamn". i can't tell if the lyrics were written from the perspective of a woman, or a homosexual man, but it's a very well-written song.

track nineteen: "luna de margarita"--
a dark, melancholy song using what sounds like a viola, devendra once again sings in spanish, and makes an amazing song out of it.

track twenty: "korean dogwood"--
this sounds like something that would play in a movie as the protagonist is waking up and the sun shines into his bedroom. this song prominently features slide guitar. another indie-yuppie, chai tea-sipping soundtrack. doesn't mean that it's not a good song, though.

track twenty-one: "little boys"--
what starts off as a doo-wop tune, sung from the perspective of a pedophile (please, no micheal jackson jokes), turns into faster-paced soul song with the lyrics "i see so many little boys i want to marry.." i'm serious, no micheal jackson jokes. some people might see this as off-putting, but i think a song this disturbing further contributes to the genius that is devendra banhart.

track twenty-two: "woman"--
a soulful piano-based track, with devendra softly singing an ode to someone. this is, in my opinion, the best way he could have ended this album. impressive, yet short (1:57) song.

summary: in my opinion, devendra banhart created his best body of work on cripple crow. there are twenty-two tracks, and the run time is one hour, fourteen minutes and sixteen seconds. for such a lengthy album, devendra does an amazing job keeping the listener captivated for the entire duration of the album. so, to those that think that banhart peaked with rejoicing in the hands, you probably need to listen to cripple crow before you make a decision. in my opinion, the first six songs alone are better than 70% of the music i've heard all year. with this album, devendra banhart has proven that he's without a doubt the greatest songwriter in the neo-folk genre, and one of the best songwriters in music, period. i thought silent alarm was going to be this year's best album. for the first time all year, i have some thinking to do.


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