Cassadaga might objectively be the best Bright Eyes record, especially for anyone who didn’t come of age an emo kid. It marks, I think, Conor Oberst’s full arrival as a mature songwriter, as opposed to a navel-gazey sadboi with a knack for words. Some of that perceived maturity may come from having a bigger production budget than before, Bright Eyes having only fairly recently become well known. Moving away from shoegaze to bigger themes, attracting high-profile collaborators, recording in a real studio, etc. are all marks of artistic growth, made easier by success.
Devendra Banhart somehow manages to evoke visions of proper English gardens and South American exoticism in one take. It’s his mixed heritage, of course, and polyglot interests. This is exactly the kind of blissed-out openness that sounds like it wafted down from the Summer of Love. People back then weren’t afraid to be twee or sentimental, or childishly delighted by the world around them. That was the drugs talking, of course. Or maybe the air was just headier. Anyway, I miss the popularity of psychedelic music. It feels at-home to me.
Here is a song about being Jewish, or becoming so, or something. And romance with a Rabbi’s daughter. Weird spoken intro aside, it’s kind of a funky jam, as much as Devendra Banhart’s brand of psychedelic of Latin-spiced psychedelic folk music could be said to be funking it. Also, I think it’s a topic that needs to be more of an item in music. Given how many important entertainment figures are Jewish, there aren’t too many songs about it. It’s definitely its own genre in literature and in comedy, but it’s not exactly a big rock and roll aesthetic. More songs for Jews, please.
See, I’m still not done with my run of psychedelic folk music. Devendra Banhart is no substitute for the pleasures of Tyrannosaurus Rex, but then, nothing is, and the psychedelic pool is not easily refilled. I’ve been listening to Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon a lot lately, hence the flood of deep cuts, and it casts a nice spell, not least because it’s frequently not sung in English. A sustained sense of atmosphere is an underrated quality in a record, one that not enough artists shoot for, given that those who do often get called boring. But there’s a difference between consistency and repetition. Consistency means you can put on a record and be confident that your mood will be lifted and sustained for 72-or-however-many minutes.
Get outta here with your songs about seahorses, Devendra Banhart, go back to 1968 where you belong. Banhart very often sounds like he’s channeling the spirit of 60’s psychedelic folk music. Imagine peak Donovan, with more Latin flair. Which is not at all a drag. 60’s psychedelic folk is one movement that yearns for a full revival. We really could use more idealism and gentle fantasy in our pop culture right now. We need more songs about seahorses and wonderful things. We need pop stars who see the world as glittering and full of magic. We need some fucking whimsy over here, please.
I worry a lot about that phenomenon where the brain, after reaching a certain age, loses the ability to enjoy new things. I’m in my mid-thirties and it seems like only a matter of time before everything I haven’t heard, seen or tasted before appears to be garbage. So when I do become fascinated by something new, I feel very pleased with myself. Look, I only first heard Interpol a few years ago, and they’ve quickly become a band that I can happily listen to all day. They’re gone from nonentity to major favorite and I post about them all the time. It’s like a blossoming romance! Without any of the inevitable downsides! You can now point out that the only reason that my aging brain has allowed me to enjoy this music is because it’s reminiscent of things I already know and like. This is true. Interpol falls squarely into a category of the familiar. In fact, they’re everything I’ve always loved and can’t get enough of; dark, moody, jangly, wordy, atmospheric rock music made by men who look good smoking. I like it because I’m already primed to like it. And I’m okay with that.
Organ music is very underutilized in the world of rock’n’roll. Nothing brings a sense of portent to the proceedings like a good organ intro. And if it’s followed by a gospel choir – that’s a recipe for perfection. Why that’s not the formula for every hit pop song on the charts, I don’t know. (I do know: pop charts, and the songs on them, are stupid.) If you haven’t guessed, I freaking love it when someone takes takes unexpected elements from very unhip corners of the music world and uses them to their own weird ends. It’s diversification in action! So we of course have a Devendra Banhart song to listen to today, because he is a modern master of the weird and unexpected, and when he brings in that gospel choir there’s not a dry seat in the church.