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What’s Your Name day?

By John Brodeur

Devendra Banhart

Smokey rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL)

The reliably odd Devendra Banhart continues to surprise—and, more than ever, reward—with his fifth record. He’s long tread the fine line between clever and stupid, to borrow a phrase, and Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon is no exception. The difference between this and earlier releases is the newfound ease with which Banhart inhabits his various personas—from the South American lothario of “Samba Vexillographica” to the high, tentative warble that he’s perfected over his still-brief career (he sounds less like Tiny Tim now, haters), he brings his schizoid style to each song with swagger.

Although he’s aided by a rotating group of musicians, Banhart is a colorful cast of characters all by himself. Those who’ve been put off by his precious, hippy-dippy tendencies won’t be easily won back by tracks like “So Long Old Bean,” which calls up a Disney-esque string arrangement to back Banhart’s wish-upon-a-star lyrical flights (“Don’t tread on me/When you float downstream/On a moonbeam . . . I’m a little firefly/Landing on you”). But the role-playing takes on a new weight with “Bad Girl,” where he croons “I’ve been a bad girl/I ain’t playin’ fair” over an understated slide guitar and tom-tom beat. He opens up into that signature falsetto for a clever, but effective, “wah wah wah” chorus, then goes full-voice for the song’s final lament (“Mama I ain’t waiting/No I ain’t waiting/But I’m still holding on”) over a Wurlitzer that sounds lifted right out of “Rich Girl.”

On the 8-minute album tour-de-force “Seahorse,” a series of classic sounds—Hammond organ, brushed drums, flutes, broad vocal-harmony swells—serve as a springboard for Banhart’s helium-addled ramblings (“I’m high and I’m happy and I’m free . . . I want to be a little seahorse”); the song’s last three minutes sound like Crazy Horse, and Banhart’s vocals reference, intentionally or not, everyone from Jim Morrison to Van Morrison.

As if to clear the table, he closes the album’s first half with the playful, Frankie Valli- (or Jackson Browne?)-biting “Shabop Shalom.” Wondering “Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” over a lovingly re-created music bed, the track is a patchouli-stinking doo-wop ode, with Banhart talk-singing “There’s a fire in the deep end of my heart/Giving me the heebie jeebies . . . Darling, I’ve watched you cakewalk to the Immaculate Conception for far too long,” before breaking into garbled Yiddish over the outro.

The album is, predictably, too long—the guy can’t seem to make a record with less than 16 songs—but the second half finds its way with an irrepressible experimental streak that includes stabs at garage rock (“Tonada Yanomaminista”), gospel (“Saved”), ’70s R&B (“Lover”) and reggae (“The Other Woman”). Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon won’t leave you with any better idea about who the real Devendra Banhart is, but odds are you’ll be willing to stick with him a little longer to find out.

Roky Erickson

You’re Gonna Miss Me original soundtrack (Palm Pictures)

When Keven McAlester set out to make a documentary about Roky Erickson in 1999, he assumed there might not be much more to it than a celebration of the music. After nearly 30 years of his psychological disconnect, Erickson’s small apartment was awash with the cacophony of multiple radios and sonic devices all turned on at once, his means of keeping the voices in his head at bay. However, much as Terry Zwigoff discovered when he made Crumb, the family dy namic itself was fraught with troubles that became ap parent immediately. During the course of the filming, one of Erickson’s brothers took over his care, moving him from Austin, Texas, to Pittsburgh. As opposed to Skip Spence or Syd Barrett, Erickson is a burnout story with a happy ending: He returned to Texas a relatively well-adjusted man. The CD companion to the documentary is a perfect introduction to Erickson. Thoughtfully assembled, it embraces both Roky’s monster-movie narratives and his un abashed romanticism—it’s hard to imagine a world without either “Starry Eyes” or “You Don’t Love Me Yet.”

—David Greenberger

Between the Buried and Me

Colors (Victory)

Colors is the sort of grandiose statement a band are lucky to be able to make once in their career, an epic recording that should have great influence outside the narrow genre that birthed the current generation of American metal artists. Like Dillinger Escape Plan’s Miss Machine and Mastodon’s Blood Mountain, Colors successfully combines a progressive metal style with classic influences such as Pink Floyd, Queen and Faith No More.

You have to work for the reward here: The album’s 65 minutes are meant to be listened to continuously, in one sitting. Although 2005’s Alaska allowed critics and scenesters to better understand the band’s complicated artistic aspirations, the band’s spastic stylistic experimentations, usually attempted in single songs, earned them some early critical disdain. So, Colors is a gigantic middle finger to critics who insisted the band packed too much into each song on their first two albums.

Colors is also a challenge to the sometimes narrow metalcore/metal scene that can love a band for their breakdowns, then hate them for the same minutes later. It’s a prog-rock opera in the most classic sense: From Pink Floyd-inspired interludes through a hoedown that replaces a breakdown, to a Tom Waits-inspired swamp dirge that interrupts a speed-metal run, Colors uses the entire palette to paint its highly affecting picture.

“Informal Gluttony” begins with tribal drumming backed by “uga chaka” chanting. A slinky bass line creeps through the percussion; a Middle Eastern guitar line trumpets the beginning of the musical adventure, then the singer screams the war charge. It is all very metal until the anger stops and the pathos begins—strummed, clean-tone guitars back up lead singer Tommy Rogers as, like a saddened Freddy Mercury, he laments, “Feed me fear/Informal/Feed me fear/Gluttony.” The whole is far more emotionally draining then any metal album should be. The band may be trying too hard, but it is damn well worth the listen.

On the final track of the album, “White Walls,” Rogers roars repeatedly, “We will be remembered for this!” He’s right. Whether Colors is the best thing you have ever heard or entirely too challenging and abrasive, it is impossible to forget.

—David King


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