Devendra Banhart: WHAT WILL WE BE


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'What Will We Be' Podcast

Jennafer McCabe talks about 'What Will We Be.'

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In the past decade, freak-folk artist Devendra Banhart has accumulated fans through his outlandish persona and avant-garde musical amalgamations. Yet his latest record What Will We Be is a domesticated offering that leaves you uncertain as to whether it is a refinement or a sanitization of the tangled fusions that attracted followers in the first place.

The album opens with the momentarily promising "Can't Help But Smiling," but by the end of the track, you can't help but hope it gets better. Fortunately, it does-but only intermittently. "Angelika" starts as an overly-plucky pop piece that then breaks into Banhart's characteristic vibrato and growling, exaggerated rolling "R's."

Banhart's work is usually an intriguing pastiche of genres. Here, rather than blending polar elements, he compartmentalizes them in near-direct emulations. "Goin' Back" offers a modernized and softened version of Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years," and while the later Beach Boy-style harmonies on "Maria Lionza" are cleverly employed, the ironic dance-inspired "16th & Valencia, Roxy Music" at first feels misplaced, only to hold its own by the end. One of the only self-sustaining songs on the album is in the Zeppelin-replica "Rats," with Banhart channeling Robert Plant's caterwaul against sprawling guitar and epic grandiosity.

The question remains: Can gems like the Spanish "Brindo" and jazz-folk "Chin Chin & Muck Muck" atone for the frequent banalities and mishaps? "Foolin'" is just awkward with the self-appointed love savior Banhart delivering the human population "one song, one soul at a time." Undoubtedly, What Will We Be is subdued, but hopefully Banhart's truant eccentricity won't fully eclipse the underlying whimsy.

Contact Jennafer McCabe at [email protected]

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