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Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be

on October 28, 2009, 3:45pm
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Devendra Banhart is well known for his brand of high wackiness. Whether he’s dancing as an Indian god in the video for single “Carmensita” or cavorting naked on the album cover of his side project, Megapuss, Banhart never seems shy. Thus, it may surprise some fans that his most recent release, What Will We Be, is rather…. quiet.  The album, Banhart’s seventh, is much more austere than portions of his previous record, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. The upshot of that is that in place of the raucous energy, there is much more musicality.

What Will We Be features more of Banhart’s trademark floaty, hippie-ish style that has earned him the genre label of “freak folk.” The difference is that there aren’t really any wildly unique songs on this album, in the spirit of “Shabop Shalom” or “Love” from his previous release. The songs on this album recall Smokey‘s standout tracks “Seahorse” and “I Remember”, and take that free-form experimentation a bit farther.

Standout tracks include “Chin Chin and Muck Muck”, which bounces along with a pleasant energy, and sometimes features the pleasure of Banhart’s bare voice without backing music. Also rolling around in this musical landscape are a touch of light-hearted percussion and some dramatic but judiciously used piano, making this one nonsensical storyline that you’d like to stay in for a while. “Angelika” sees Banhart back in his well-loved Spanish for parts of the song, and his obvious joy in the language comes through in his voice. “Rats” opens with some groovy guitar, and ends, somewhat comically, with its title- Banhart coughing and then intoning, “Rats!” as if he’d dropped something on his toe.

“Can’t Help But Smiling” is charming in its language play, showing that though Banhart has calmed down, the agile songwriter is still experimenting with form. “Maria Lionza” is relaxed and playful, a song to bliss out to after a long day. Reed instruments played thickly in the background give the song nice texture. Indeed, there are no “bad” tracks on this album, only those that bleed together in their quiet, wavy way, blending on and on into the next. Things end upbeat, with a quick drumbeat in “Foolin'”.

Overall, this album has less memorable moments than some of Banhart’s previous efforts, but has more music to show for it. There are good tracks here that will lead to many pleasant afternoons spent drinking beer in a hammock and considering the melody, which is really what Banhart’s music is best intended for in the first place. Newcomers to Banhart should find this album a good jumping-off point, and any fan of his previous work should bolster their collection of chill-out music by picking up What We Will Be.

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