Album Review: Devendra Banhart – Ape In Pink Marble

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Devendra Banhart has done a pretty phenomenal job at staying in his own musical lane, as his avant-garde, folky style with a hippie flare has remained unique to him. While a few songs are sporadic rays of sunshine, Banhart’s 9th album release Ape In Pink Marble (on Nonesuch Records), for the most part, is quite melancholy and calm. His newest work is alluringly minimalistic and therefore parallels his earlier albums like Rejoicing In The Hands. This time around, it appears Banhart has gained inspiration from various parts of the globe. He also draws from different musical genres, making Ape a culturally eclectic record.

The first track, Middle Names, is absolutely beautiful and delicate, with Banhart’s dramatized, pronounced vibrato really captivating the listener. The song is slow-paced and morose, but certainly not disappointing. While the lyrics describe the hesitation and conflicting emotions associated with seeing a former love unexpectedly, Banhart’s soft vocals accompanied by his gentle guitar picking, encourage us to take a break from the chaos of reality in exchange for a few minutes of pure tranquillity. What more could you ask for? This is sincerely a lullaby for adults. Jon Lends A Hand is another memorable song with a charming, comforting melody and the resonating sounds of the koto (this traditional Japanese string instrument makes an appearance consistently throughout the record).

The album briefly picks up speed with Fig In Leather, a more upbeat, disco-esque tune, and tongue-in-cheek Fancy Man, which stylistically could have been a song off of Banhart’s 2013 album Mala. Some of the lyrics even incite a giggle, especially as he sings “I’ve got a dumb dance inside my pants, man…and I’ve watched all the latest shows on Bing-Bong”.

There’s no denying the samba influences in Theme For A Taiwanese Woman, slow reggae rhythm in Mara, and hints of East Asian folk in Saturday Night as well, all emphasizing the worldliness of Devendra’s artistry. Linda is a hypnotizing song with lonely lyrics and a romantic melody, with Banhart’s voice almost trembling throughout. Most of the song is a haunting guitar instrumental with intentional breaks of silence, really requiring our undivided attention throughout the piece.

All in all, Ape In Pink Marble is exceptionally graceful, harmonious, and serene, authentically capturing Banhart’s more subdued side. While every track flows seamlessly to the next making for a very cohesive record, it’s worth paying close attention to each song and examining all the subtleties to truly appreciate and respect the direction he took with this album. With such an expansive collection of work, equally fascinating and intricate, there’s no doubt all us loyal fans are already waiting patiently for his next marvel.   

Julia Kwan