Devendra Banhart’s last album, Mala (2013, Nonesuch), was relaxed and playful. It was the soundtrack to many of my most pleasant memories, and I still consider it one of my favorites. Ape in Pink Marble stylistically follows in the footsteps of Mala, but is significantly darker and much more difficult to digest. It seems to fill the room with a mysterious black mist, and consequently I’ve been thinking of it a lot like a shadow to its lighter counterpart Mala.
The opening track, “Middle Names”, is incredibly poignant. It sets a serious, brooding tone for the album. The lyrics are simple and to the point, but hit you in the gut with a longing for the past. The next track, “Good Time Charlie”, is also lamenting, yet smooth and warm. However, the end is abrupt and uncomfortable. Obviously the abruptness is intentional, but I feel as though it detracted greatly from the song.
The pleasant moodiness continues until the tracks “Fancy Man” and “Fig in Leather” come in. They seem to disrupt the flow Devendra creates at the beginning of the album. They are meant to mimic the parodies found on Mala, but they seem forced here. “Fancy Man”, on its own, is fun to listen to, though obviously lacking something lyrically. To me, it felt unnatural. However, I don’t think it felt as unnatural as “Fig in Leather”. This track opens in a way that really reminds me of “Thinking of You” by Sister Sledge. I liked it from the first few notes, but I still didn’t think it belonged on the album. However, once the vocals came in, especially at the end, it lost me. The way Banhart sings the chorus frankly makes me uncomfortable. It’s a bit creepy and off-putting. Again, I think the lyrics sound forced and uninspired.
Immediately following these two odd-tracks is the lovely “Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green”. Here, I really hear an influence of 60’s Tropicália, especially the music of Caetano Veloso. It’s breezy and almost cheerful. The rest of the album follows the trajectory established in its early tracks. I find “Mourner’s Dance” to be a pleasant change of style on the album. The synth is cozy and warm. Other highlights at the end of the album include “Saturday Night”, which is the probably the most accessible, radio-friendly song on the album, and the haunting “Linda”.
Ape in Pink Marble requires more than one listen all the way through. Musical links between the tracks are made more apparent the second and third time around. The oddities “Fancy Man” and “Fig in Leather” do seem to be distractions from the rest of the album, but overall, Ape in Pink Marble is quite beautiful. The beauty is melancholy, ethereal, a bit effortless—but it’s definitely there.