Rejoicing in the Hands
(Young God/XL; 2004)
By Scott Reid | 20 April 2004
In many ways, Rejoicing In The Hands—Devendra Banhart’s second full length and first studio recording—is this year’s You Are Free, a powerful albeit slightly monotonous statement from a songwriter entering their prime, finally reaching a level of songwriting that is able to appositely match their vocal strengths. Though the two records rarely sound similar—though a case can certainly be made for the gorgeous closer "Autumn’s Child," which has a stunning Cat Power vibe—they certainly share a common aesthetic, one which gives Rejoicing an incredibly warm and personal feel.
“This Is The Way” sets the tone for most of the record with Banhart’s acoustic finger-picking—usually kept to simple, rhythmic repetitions (even despite a few flourishes where he proves himself a more than capable guitar player like on instrumental “Tit Smoking In The Temple of Artisan Mimicry”)—and his distinctive vocals, ranging from Nick Drake-level quietness to theatrical and every stop in between. “A Sight To Behold,” “Poughkeepsie,” “Fall,” “This Beard Is For Siohban” (the closest the record gets to upbeat) and “When The Sun Shone On Vetiver” all add noticeably fuller arrangements to this template, though the results are just as desolate and moving as his most minimal compositions. Unlike many artists that use a transition into a studio setting as an excuse to embellish their songs with layers of needless and distracting extras, Banhart rarely goes too far. \
Not surprisingly though, many of the most thrilling moments still come from the unadorned numbers. “Will Is My Friend” is one of the album’s many three chord ballads that bears a downright haunting melody, at once evocative and familiar: “This is the water in which we wade / And this is our father / and this is how he strayed.” “The Body Breaks” is another highlight, Banhart’s voice quietly breaking over the unassuming guitar line, continuing in his oddly romantic vein: “The body stays and then the body moves / And I’d really not dwell on when yours will be gone / But within the dark, there is a shine / One tiny spark that’s yours and mine.” It’s one of many subtly affecting moments that make Hands the kind of album that reveals itself over many listens, growing better with each.
The startling part about it all being that this only constitutes part of what he recorded during these sessions; an untitled track also leaked around the same time as this record was announced and it stands amongst the best of this record and could very well be a part of his next, which, lucky for us, comes out later this year. Of course, it’s impossible to know at this point whether he snagged the majority of the session’s worthwhile cuts for Hands, leaving a hit-and-miss collection for the second release, but there is one thing we can be sure of: though his songwriting talent has never been in question
(check out “Hey Miss Cane” from his debut), Rejoicing In The Hands is an effortless transition for Banhart from an obscure lo-fi artist to a slightly more accessible songwriting talent. Let’s hope he manages to keep this up.