This Just In: Devendra Banhart Delivers on the Universal Language of Loss with the Achingly Beautiful “Memorial”

With sorrow behind his words, Devendra Banhart delivers a gorgeous, mournful dirge to the ones he’s loved and lost on “Memorial.”
“Memorial” – Devendra Banhart

The musicality that Devendra Banhart possess is without question one of the strongest in the industry. He has a penchant for captivating masses small and large with his arrestingly tender vocals and layered instrumentation. On top of it all, his lyrical wit and narrative-driven songs are nonpareil. It’s clear that this signature element of his will be on full display with his upcoming album Ma, and his latest single from it, “Memorial,” showcases it with dignified and poignant grace.

Written as a tribute to three friends who had loved him into being before their passing, “Memorial” delivers some of Banhart’s most personal work to date. Filled with passion and hurt, the track undulates with a simple yet evocative guitar strum pattern that accompanies the oscillating nature of Banhart’s unique vocals, providing a flair to this anthem of loss and acceptance. In the foreground, delicate strokes of the piano and whispered strings are heard, both adding a textured layer to the track that says a lot while doing so little.

I wish you had been at your memorial
seen someone proposing on stage
i couldn’t get through my song for you
when it came to saying your name

It’s this simplicity that makes this number so alluring. The theme presented doesn’t necessitate bells and whistles, instead, Banhart pours his very being into each word sung and guitar note plucked, which enraptures listeners within an instant. When combined with the sincerity that is echoed from beginning to end, one would be hard-pressed not feel the tear ducts getting ready to burst. This sincerity is also attached to each lyric, showcasing not only his musical talents but his lyrical ones as well.

Time, time, up and down the blue screen, its dawn and I’m insane
Loves just a word & not what the word means but I’ll say it just the same
Talking to an entity, made of endless night
I dream in TV dialogue, a world of shadow and light
I know it don’t work that way
but maybe you’ll come back someday
I know it don’t work like that
but maybe you can take it back

Now that there’s no need to say a word/can I still make amends?” Banhart delicately croons. When disusing the origins of the track, Banhart wrote that “some of it happening just like it says in the song.” This being in reference to the opening and closing lines, “I wish you had been at your memorial/seen someone proposing on stage.” The personal details attached to the track via its lyrics do an excellent job at providing snapshots of Banhart’s own life with each word sung as if flipping through an old photobook of his own Polaroid’s.  It’s intimate storytelling at its finest.

“Memorial” is one beautiful arrangement after another, seamlessly wrapping itself around the hearts and minds of all of those who choose to listen. Poignancy and intimacy collide to form an awe-inducing experience that provides listeners with the best possible example of why Devendra Banhart is an artist unlike any other, and by not listening and following along, one would only be doing themselves a disservice.

Ma releases September 13 via Nonesuch Records.

“Memorial” – Devendra Banhart

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