Devendra Banhart can be many things. At times fractured and strange, other times simple and honest, Banhart is considered to be at the forefront of the freak-folk movement in New Weird America. First gaining notice from demo tapes he made in his bathroom (for the natural reverb effect), Banhart has grown into a persona with worldwide popularity. He’s one of my favorite artists, so this was a very difficult list to make. Here it goes!
10. “A Ribbon”
This song sounds like a lullaby Tim Burton might sing. An uncertain folk ballad on stilts, this is the type of song that made me fall in love with Devendra Banhart: delightfully eerie and wonderfully weird.
9. “Now That I Know”
The true magic of this song occurs when Devendra hums a matching line with a viola. It snakes a bridge between verses, and I can’t get enough. Also, I’ve always liked the line “I may not know how to treat or give you what you need, but I am a gentleman who says what he means now.”
Anyone who claims that Devendra Banhart is just another weird folk musician is completely wrong. “Seahorse” begins with easy-going, acoustic picking but transforms into a Brubeck-tinged groove that eventually gives way to an Americana roots rock jam that Crosby, Stills, and Nash would totally dig.
7. “Shabop Shalom”
If you really love Devendra Banhart, you’re probably a pretty kooky twerp who likes extended monolog openings that use words like ‘thaumaturgical.’ Glorious spoken word intro aside, this song makes me do a kind of shoulder dance that borders on a shimmy. And if you don’t like it, “get bent!”
6. “Little Yellow Spider”
This was the first Devendra Banhart song I ever heard, and it’s probably one of the pinnacle pieces of his earlier work. The first time I heard that trademark warble, I knew I was hooked. Not to mention, “I came upon a dancing crab and I stopped to walk it shake / I said dance for me just one more time before you hibernate and you come out a crabcake” is a line that still makes me laugh.
5. “Samba Vexillographica”
I have a soft spot for samba, and this sun-dappled number hits it. The almost French-inspired “ahh” backing vocals sigh with a relaxing easiness, and I can’t help but smile. Wrapped up with a utensil-jam outro, this song is simply beautiful.
4. “16th & Valencia Roxy Music”
Off his newest album, the first with a major label, Banhart gives us this dark and grooving beauty. “I know I look high but I’m just free-dancing / I know I like hypnotized but I’m just table tapping” sums up a lot about what Banhart’s music is about: living out loud.
3. “Lazy Butterfly”
Drawing from Indian influences, this droning vignette is a beautiful, freak-folk chandelier. Banhart’s voice, sometimes warbling, sometimes snarling, moves with gypsy grace through the layers of guitar strums and winding hooks. Also, “seashell fingernails scratching at me” makes me think of a sea-monster clawing its way out of the incoming tide. Cool.
Anyone who had the misfortune of seeing “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” knows that this was “my song” for both Michael Cera and not-Ellen Page. Despite the fact that the movie is basically just Juno’s uglier stepsister, the song still rules. It’s happy, it’s groovy, it’s all the yummy gumbo you want in a summer jam. Plunky bass lines and lyrics like “I wanna be the pear tree; I want you to climb all over me” are meant for sandal-weather.
1. “At the Hop”
This has always been one of my favorite Devendra Banhart songs. Lyrically, it’s one of Devendra’s finest works. The feel of the poetry moves between the innocence of a nursery rhyme and the sexual pulls of adolescence. Elegantly simple and aching with longing, this song will forever be the soundtrack for moments in my life when I really miss somebody.