Devendra Banhart/Noah Georgeson - Refuge Music Album Reviews

Devendra Banhart/Noah Georgeson - Refuge Music Album Reviews
The songwriter and producer team for a loving, referential collection of new age music that doesn’t always color inside the lines.

Just recently, the avant-garde composer William Basinski let his Twitter followers know that “some jackass has put up a lame new-age piano track” on Spotify under his name. Note the adjective he chose to distance himself from the imposter: “new age,” a neutral description or an implicit insult, depending on who’s playing and who’s listening. At best, it’s an experimental genre with respected practitioners like Tony Scott and Suzanne Ciani; at worst, it’s ambient music’s foil—a kind of spiritual muzak for yogis and masseuses.

Devendra Banhart’s unexpected turn to ambient piano and chamber drone with longtime collaborator Noah Georgeson falls somewhere in the middle of these two poles. Alongside guests like harpist Mary Lattimore and Vetiver’s Jeremy Harris, Refuge also features heavyweights from the worlds of mindfulness and Buddhism, which Banhart practices; two songs are available exclusively on the sleep and meditation app Calm. Though the album is staid and formulaic by design, it doesn’t always color inside the lines: It feels more like background music failing up than ambient music failing down.

It might be conventional to recap Banhart’s past as an inadvertent freak-folk progenitor whose fusion of rural American folk and Latin American rhythms grew from whispery acoustic origins into a broader psych-pop sound, but Refuge has little to do with any of that. It doesn’t even feature Banhart’s distinctively pinched voice, which sounds like that of a small, sweet, wizened goblin. The only through line to his past work is his reverence for Indian, Indigenous American, and West Coast spirituality: Banhart, a Venezuelan American who grew up in California, comes by these interests honestly enough, and it shows more tastefully here than in some of his pop music.

Georgeson, also a Californian, has worked closely with Banhart as a producer since 2005’s Cripple Crow. The pair initially bonded over childhood memories of the images of the Whole Earth Catalog, the smells of health-food stores, and the pastoral acoustic sounds of new age label Windham Hill, an often-overlooked influence on Banhart’s music. Georgeson has also cited as lodestars the new-age-adjacent composers Lou Harrison and Pauline Oliveros. “Coming from an academically rigorous world, I rejected this kind of music because it’s simple, gestural music,” he said. “It took me a while to come to a place where I was OK with that.” The coronavirus pandemic seemed like the perfect time to finally let their new age music flag fly.

Though Banhart’s strong artistic personality is inevitably suppressed here, he can’t keep it down entirely, and Refuge provides expressive takes on a variety of well-worn templates. “Book of Bringhi” has a gracefully falling piano figure torn from Harold Budd’s music stand. “A Cat” follows the infinity-sign drift of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, and on “Rise From Your Wave,” mournful Ólafur Arnalds-style harmonies peal on and on, with some worrisome minor chords wrinkling the mostly smooth waters.

It’s not the only time when the gentle waves of harmony part to reveal more substance. “Peloponnese Lament,” a songful piano-and-woodwind performance, features some of the pair’s strongest compositional work. “In a Cistern,” meanwhile, covers a shadowy acoustic arpeggio with squealing pedal steel and an interesting, ambiguous piano part that contrasts with the other songs’ gallant twinkle. On “Into Clouds,” big harmonics and basses roll around like boulders in a dry arroyo, perfect for tripping in Joshua Tree. Sharon Salzberg, who helped introduce the concept of “mindfulness” to the West, adds a guided meditation to “Sky Burial,” and sometimes her voice blends so cunningly with the drifting plucks and shivery strings that it draws your attention to what the music is doing. That’s a fault in meditation music and a feature in art music, but Refuge’s pedigree and history reveal just how shaky the boundary between those assumptions can be.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Devendra Banhart/Noah Georgeson - Refuge Music Album Reviews Devendra Banhart/Noah Georgeson - Refuge Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on August 23, 2021 Rating: 5


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