Your Name day?
rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL)
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 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.
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.”
the Buried and Me
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.
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.
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
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