DEVENDRA BANHART was one of the main beneficiaries of the American acid-folk explosion just after the turn of the century.
He came in as part of that movement with bands like Vetiver and Espers and became almost the George Best of the movement: piratically handsome with that dusky hair and huge hoop earrings, a brace of albums that followed on each other in quick succession – Rejoicing In The Hands and Nino Rojo – which were as fresh as they were odd as they were quality – he could seemingly do no wrong.
I remember seeing him as a touring, occasional member of Vetiver at Reading Arts Centre in late 2005, and one of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for when he rather cheekily returned for a solo encore of “At The Hop” (yes: that song which weirdly got picked up for a Cathedral City cheddar ad campaign).
Yet somewhere around the point when the 21st century entered its second decade, Devendra seemed to lose his way just a little. This is no crime, of course. 2013’s Maia was really liked but … well, maybe not adored.
And certainly, for his main-stage show at End of the Road in 2016, he got a little lost somehow.
But he’s rolled back into town. Last year’s LP Ma somehow had that red blood resurgent in its veins; now comes an addendum, a Ma-plus if you will, in the shape of the four-track Vast Ovoid EP, which comes on dreadfully pretty, white vinyl 12″.
The lead track is “Let’s See”, the lyric video for which you can enjoy below. It’s a bluesy sketch, with that Edward Lear free-association intact: “Swatting a fly / With nuclear bomb / Minimum eye / Pattern is gone”. It has a real one-chord chant thing going on and it’s very Devendra.
Second track “It’s Not Always Funny” is so charming. It’s a 60s’ Latin-inflected confessional, Devendra miked up close, with sunshine pop brass drifting through on the breeze. It could’ve come out on A&M. There’s even a little of that vocal vibrato of yore. Proper tune ahoy.
The title track itself, “Vast Ovoid”, seeps in on dark pulses and a captured Latin street scene, before coming over all sorta Moondog, with rattling bells and a real prepared music feel. Devendra then arrives, pronouncing that “all the word is wasted”. It’s mannered, it has so many ideas, one minute flowing through an almost madrigal formality, the next an acoustic strum. There’s probably a good EP’s worth of ideas in this two and a half minutes alone.
The EP rounds off with a Helado Negro remix of “Love Song”. Like Devendra, remixer Roberto Carlos Lange has a heritage spanning the Americas, being as he is Ecuadorian-Floridan. He takes a languid and pretty Devendra strumalong, one of those carefree little busked greats he can just peel off effortlessly, and dances a light electronica across it. Quite lovely.
As an adjunct then to Ma, Vast Ovoid is a neat little artefact. It’s bursting with nuance and ideas. That once-trademark vibrato maybe only rarely spotted herein, but he’s back. Oh yes, he’s back.
Devendra Banhart’s Vast Ovoid EP is out today via Nonesuch Records and may be purchased here on vinyl and digital formats.