Part of Devendra Banhart's appeal is the sheer magnitude of his iconoclasm. Nobody sounds quite like him. With his wobbly, warbling falsetto, colorful but unusual lyricism, and penchant for musical and vocal outbursts that run counter to the slow-bubbling acoustic folk informing his arrangements, he's like the crazy uncle who, whatever his neurosis, is a thousand times more interesting than the rest of your family. Like Will Oldham, there seems to be a willful self-consciousness to Banhart's vocals, but there's also a quality to his performances that demands rapt attention, as if an alien had been beamed into our midst. If it is an act, neither breaks character all night.
The lyrics of his first album, Oh Me Oh My, are near-inscrutable bits of imagery and poesy, like, "If my snail is cold and comes to a halt, then my sea has my favorite salt." With his quirky, wrenching delivery and unsteady strum, Banhart invests them with an unusual level of feeling. His latest, Rejoicing in the Hands, is more polished, losing some of its hermit/nutcase cachet while demonstrating Banhart isn't dependent on it to bring his songs across.