By: Jack Persinger
Have you ever taken a really great walk on a beach? Maybe it was the rolling waves of the Pacific in California, or the shores of a lake. Well let me tell you, this is one beach walk of an album from Venezuelan-American indie artist Devandra Banhart, and I mean that in quite a good way. Coming into this album, this was not a genre I dabbled in too much, but honestly these few listens of Ape in Pink Marble may have changed that. Banhart’s ninth studio album doesn’t see too much of a departure from the light, airy sound he established in his last outing, 2013’s Mala, but don’t think for a second that they are the same; Ape focuses on much darker themes, like those of death, longing, and sadness. Devandra’s 2016 release is adorned with his own artwork on the cover, an intriguing sketch of blue coloration. From the get-go, single and opening track “Middle Names” sets up the somber mood of the majority of the tracks that follow it, detailing Banhart’s longing and missing of a friend who has passed. His vocals are soft and immediate, establishing a close connection with the listener as his guitar sweeps along the track like the wind through a seashell. His playing is soft and minimalistic, but also captivating, with chords played with just enough energy to carry the soft mood of the album. But Devandra knows how to balance his instrumentals within the album, taking a backseat on the guitar when he needs to let other sounds take over, like the soaring synths found in the calm and collected “Jon Lends a Hand.” But an album full of mellow indie folk beach jams would get a little repetitive, and Banhart addresses this with two humorous, entertaining, and vital tracks to Ape: Spunky and cocky “Fancy Man” paints Devandra as a classy individual with high expectations and details this personality in a highly entertaining manner, while disco-ready “Fig in Leather” sees Banhart speak a humorous monologue over a catchy bassline and synth melody that will grab you by the collar immediately. While these two tracks stand out and add diversity to the album, they tend to be a black sheep for the album, not fitting in to the majority of Banhart’s tracks and adding to the incoherence of the middle of this 2016 release. But the second part of this album returns to the sound established in the first half of it, introducing lo-fi intrigue with “Saturday Night.” My favorite moment in the whole album comes in “Linda,” where 2 and a half minutes in Devandra slows his playing down to a single chord played over silence, increasingly slowing down to the chord being played at near-20 second intervals, adding to the mysterious and light mood of the song. Overall, this is an album I can see myself coming back to another day, as Banhart’s soothing voice and airy sound culminates in a truly fantastic indie folk album.