What Will We Be
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2010, Volume 17, #3
Written by John Metzger
Thu March 18, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Over the past eight years, Devendra Banhart has sculpted seven studio albums. Most of them entered the world rather quietly; only his 2005 set Cripple Crow was surrounded by an onslaught of hype. Although the outing undeniably established him as an emerging talent, he also received more attention for it than he probably deserved. Cripple Crow, like many of the efforts that preceded it, was too scattered to matter, which left many to wonder whether his publicity campaign had peaked too soon. Banhartís adventurous streak continued on Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, though it, too, was a hit-and-miss affair.
Between these two efforts, despite their deficiencies, Banhart has laid all of the groundwork that he needs for his future. His latest set What Will We Be essentially bridges the gap between them as he slams the Donovan-esque impishness of Cripple Crow into the late í60s, California-bred ambience of its successor Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. What Will We Be marks Banhartís debut for a major label, and the album feels like the realization of his vision. To his credit, Banhart tightened the reigns of his typically wayward gestures, lending his songs the kind of focus that previously had been missing from his compositions.
Throughout What Will We Be, Banhartís lyrics continue to follow elliptical paths. They have a tendency to lean toward being nonsensical and strange, like stream-of-consciousness poetry. The underlying theme that serves as fodder for Banhartís musings is the prospect of love, but he surrounds his expressions with hallucinatory images that hover like wisps of smoke in the air. It seems as if, at times, he has chosen his words based upon how well they sound together rather than how precisely they convey his ideas. There is a vagueness to his work, which lends a feeling of playfulness to What Will We Be, and this complements his arrangements quite nicely.
On the surface, Banhart is not a very innovative artist. In crafting What Will We Be, he borrowed at will to concoct a mishmash of styles that ought not function cohesively but curiously do. His music marches to its own freewheeling beat. Although it sometimes raises more of a ruckus and plays with a worldly spectrum of colors, What Will We Beís prevailing obsessions seem to revolve around David Crosbyís If I Could Only Remember My Name, never more so than during the harmonic convergence of Maria Lionza.
Elsewhere, Angelika slips from a fragile folk tune into a sensuous samba, its tribal meditation conjuring hazy flashes of spirits dancing in the flesh before a flickering flame. There are dashes of disco and glam-rock (16th & Valencia Roxy Music) and gentle infusions of reggae (Foolin) and soul (Baby). There are faintly ominous blues-baked grooves (Rats) and persuasive incursions of sunshine-kissed country (Goin Back). In many ways, Banhart has managed to harness his eccentricities and polish them for the masses, all without sacrificing his restless energy. What Will We Be might not be the masterpiece that Banhart seems destined to make, but it certainly steps closer to his goal than ever before. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
What Will We Be is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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