Devendra Banhart: "Heard Somebody Say"


By Scott Reid | 2 August 2005

This is the cover for Banhart’s upcoming Cripple Crow. A terrifying Sgt. Pepper throwback with cultural figures replaced by an inordinate amount of nature, friends, musicians, wooden figures, ghosts (!) and, because that’s just the kind of place someone like that would be, Joanna Newsom. They all stand behind Devendra, who’s kneeling near the bottom, looking a tad soulless, a crow outstretched on his shoulders. A much larger crow—a dude wearing the suit of a monstrous, gimpy overlord with a cane—sits above them all.

Looks like your average, run-of-the-mill conservative product, I know, but this Banhart guy’s just full of surprises: a hippie singing an anti-war song? Believe it: one of the strongest of his new album’s 22 tracks (in 74 minutes!), "Heard Somebody Say" ("...that the war ended today / But everybody knows it’s going still") is about as subtle with its message as "Give Peace a Chance." The message? "It’s simple," Banhart enunciates in his usual warble, sounding cornily humanist where most pacificists/left-wingers just end up sounding like condescending dicks: "We don’t want to kill."

The sentiment gets repeated (not so much chanted as lightly harmonized; this is folk, but the effect is there) amongst a fuller arrangement than we’re used to—piano, acoustic guitar, assuming drums, a mini-choir—and a simple vocal melody/structure that perfectly carries a potentially ridiculous protest song from an always-potentially-ridiculous artist. It’s a break from the album’s creepy Peter Pan-isms and, uh, "Little Boys" (Eccentric Tori Amos-like characterizing or creepy pedophile, you decide), and it works where most of the record’s psych-imagery/odd humour struggles: it has a point. Cripple Crow doesn’t have nearly enough tracks like this.