Devendra Banhart - Ape In Pink Marble

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Singer/songwriter and visual artist Devendra Banhart emerged in the early 2000s and was soon considered an icon of the freak folk movement. In the years that followed, he expanded and experimented with his sound, perhaps hitting peak meandering with 2007's Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Still touching on multiple genres, 2013's Mala offered a more cohesive set. With Ape in Pink Marble, Banhart continues to reel in diversions and delivers his most understated album in over a decade. The palette is playful but restrained, with acoustic guitar, synths, mallet percussion, and Mellotron among its tools. Consistently reflective in sound and tone, relative excursions include the synthetic disco strings of "Fig in Leather" and the impression of underwater electronics on "Saturday Night," which features muffled, manipulated drum sounds, synths, and koto. The stringed instrument also shows up on other tracks and contributes to unusual textures that mix electronic and organic sounds that are just slightly out of the ordinary but retain a bedroom-recording feel. (The album was recorded mostly in the songwriter's home.) Another example of such offbeat timbres is the prepared guitar on "Mara." A poppier entry is the goofy "Fancy Man," which was co-written with Noah Georgeson and Josiah Steinbrick, Banhart's co-producers and frequent musicians on Ape in Pink Marble. The song's plunky, percussive tones and sustained atmosphere still fall in line with the rest of the tracks. Meanwhile, album highlight "Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green" is a whimsical bossa nova where guitar and light drums are accompanied by spacy synths and lyrics like "There's no one in the world that I love/And that no one is you." The album's overall effect is one of strolling along a seaside path, maybe with a stray dog and a straw hat, in a less-frequented village somewhere far from home, and it's one of Banhart's most satisfying.