Freak-folk is a decent genre signifier to attach to Devendra Banhart (the guy does mostly dress like he’s living out Lord of the Rings day to day), but it’s a quaint way to describe Brightblack Morning Light. The label has stuck with the band since its self-titled second album started getting press. It’s hard to imagine that the classic-rock-referencing folk of Banhart and the like could even come close to being similar to the droning haziness that permeates and drips off every Brightblack Morning Light song.
Even the old hippie label doesn’t do the trick: Band members Naybob Shineywater and Rachael Hughes recorded the band’s fine third album, Motion to Rejoin, in a hut in New Mexico while using solar power (that really makes Al Gore look like a slouch, don’t it?), and the band’s last album was released on what looked to be recycled paper grocery bags. Motion to Rejoin is the band’s most palatable song cycle to date — in so much as songs about hologram buffalos that move at a glacial pace are palatable — and it finds the duo expanding its foggy drones to incorporate more overt elements of doo-wop and soul.
“Hologram Buffalo” is the Motion to Rejoin’s first song proper (it’s prefaced by a short intro), and it’s the album’s main draw: The track coalesces from a Rhodes and drums sketch to a howling, muddy soul slow burner. Imagine what a whispering Diana Ross would sound like as a man, high on peyote, baking in 100-degree heat for 73 days and backed by a band playing cacti and sticks as rhythm instruments and you wouldn’t be far off.
Lyrically, the band is as hokey as ever: “Nobody wants oppression/ we don’t need oppression” Shineywater promises on “Oppressions Each” like it’s something he recently realized and had to get down on tape. But most of the time, the lyrics really aren’t making much of a dent (luckily, with songs called “A Rainbow Aims” and “When Beads Spell Power Leaf”). They’re so bogged down in the band’s sonic glide through the sun-baked wilderness, that Shineywater’s voice becomes like the wind hitting your ears as you concern yourself with what’s surrounding you.
Motion to Rejoin’s main strength is the cinematic quality all the songs have — it almost makes you feel sorry Sam Peckinpah isn’t around making westerns for Brightblack to score. The songs toward the latter half of the nine-song, 50-minute album begin to blur, but overall the album introduces a good, anachronistic headspace to enter into. Motion to Rejoin is a mellow, slow-moving, naturalistic album made in a time that’s fast-moving, high-strung and sterile.