Rejoicing in the Hands
Uncountable numbers of bands have happily helped themselves to T. Rex's blueprint of strutting glam pop, but young singer/songwriter Devendra Banhart has found partial roots in Marc Bolan's earlier, more overtly folk-tinged work. Banhart's voice possesses a haunting quaver that recalls Bolan's unearthly keening, but he matches it with a wide appreciation of Bolan's many—and often more musically accomplished—late '60s peers, like the Incredible String Band. Banhart's debut album, Oh Me Oh My . . . , showed his potential in a fragmented way (it mostly consisted of very short demos), but Rejoicing in the Hands has far more memorable songs, not to mention being better produced, with label boss Michael Gira adding a minimal rhythm section and string overdubs that enhance Banhart's direct, intimate appeal. Throughout, Banhart plays some deft guitar ("Poughkeepsie," "Tit Smoking in the Temple of Artesan Mimicry") and warbles reflective, often playful lyrics ("Now because my teeth don't bite/I can take them out dancing, alright!"), culminating with the breathtaking voice-and-piano "Autumn's Child," which, like Rejoicing in whole, is at once attractive and unsettling. NED RAGGETT
Devendra Banhart plays the Crocodile Cafe with Joanna Newsom and Vetiver at 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 5. $10 adv.
The Milk-Eyed Mender
Remember how, in the '60s, no one quite knew what to do with Nico's socketed, darkly colored voice? Yeah, me either—I wasn't actually there, but nonetheless, hearing San Francisco's Joanna Newsom, I can imagine what it was like to listen as Nico's singular sad drone crept into "All Tomorrow's Parties." It isn't that Newsom and Nico sound the same, it's that no one on earth sounds like either. On this debut, the classically trained harpist has a shrill child's voice capable of stealthy incisions. Her neo-hippie arts-and-crafts-fair-meets-fairy-tale aesthetic is well served by this faux innocence, and vice-versa. Throughout Milk-Eyed, which follows two self-released EPs, Newsom is her own accompanist; the sparse, mostly strings- or keyboards-only arrangements leave light, airy space for her storybook tales and that puckish, oddly alluring voice. In songs about bean sprouts, constellations, and blue seas Newsom takes the strangest words from her wordbook and rhymes them audaciously using an almost medieval syntax. She's a modern minstrel, minus the modern part. "While yonder, wild and blue/The wild blue yonder looms/'Til we are wracked with rheum/By roads, by songs entombed," she sings tenderly on "Swansea," while playing around with prog-folk, psych-orch, and French pop on her harp. "And I do not know my own way to the sea/But the saltiest sea knows its own way to me," she says in the gorgeous "This Side of the Blue." It seems plausible. LAURA CASSIDY
Joanna Newsom plays the Crocodile Cafe with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver at 9:30 p.m. Sat., June 5. $10 adv. She also plays in-store at Eas Street Records, 20 Mercer St., at 3:30 p.m. the same day.
Rasputina has a novelty lineup (two female, cello-playing singers and a male drummer) and a novelty concept (goth-metal fiddle-folk alt-pop) and some silly song titles ("Saline the Salt Lake Queen," "Momma Was an Opium Smoker"), and the name of their album is really stupid. But they are not a novelty band, which might make you sad if you love that sort of thing; but once you hear the songs, you won't be sad anymore because you will be too busy banging your head. In a more boring world, this ridiculous, fun, weirdo, avant-garde, down-to-earth album would not exist; let us thank leader Melora Creager for her twisted vision of what a band can be. These songs and fragments of songs and stories shouldn't work together at all—dark-funk banger "High on Life" and fake field-recording orchestral polka "Wicked Dickie" don't have much to do with each other, and don't even sound like they inhabit the same universe. But here they are, all smashed together, and Creager makes it seem natural. Only a great songwriter could pull off a hilarious hair-metal ditty like "If Your Kisses Can't Hold the Man You Love," in which, managing to sound like both Lita Ford and Lene Lovich, she advises jilted wives to stop sniveling and go sleep with sailors. Then she turns around and bangs out operatic death-bubblegum stuff like "The Mayor," all portentous pizzicatos and harsh disses of an unnamed politician who might in fact be our president: "He don't care about environment/He has made this a shitty place." If she goes overboard sometimes (the breathless flirts-with-racism spoken piece "My Captivity by Savages," the marsupial love song "Possum of the Grotto"), at least she has the good sense to go smiling. MATT CIBULA