Banhart finally sounds content with himself and his own sound.
Kev Kharas 2009-10-26
Devendra Banhart's always had trouble fitting in, though you don’t suppose that troubles him too much – it’s more that people have never quite known where to place him.
Was 2004 breakthrough album Rejoicing in the Hands a product of New Weird America? It was weird and American, but was it particularly new, or just an idiosyncratic spin on pysch-folk? Avant-folk? Freak-folk? It’s amusing to imagine critics fretting over the terminology while Banhart himself just kicks back in a park somewhere, tossing a Frisbee around, fiddling with Rizla papers, charming Natalie Portman over olives and humus.
That slacker image probably does Banhart a disservice: in 2009, five years and four albums on from Rejoicing..., the bearded one has amassed a surprisingly weighty back catalogue, albeit one characterised by breezy, light-hearted acoustic guitar music.
What Will We Be doesn’t dissuade us too much from that mealy-mouthed description, opener Can’t Help But Smiling setting Banhart up for another carefree amble in the park before Angelika shuffles into view sounding primed for one of those happy-clappy phone ads. It’s all a bit too pleasant, but as soon as the wholesomeness threatens to grate Banhart will take us off elsewhere – Angelika, for instance, disappears halfway through into a sultry daydream of New York’s Latin barrios, while Chin Chin & Muck Muck cuts short a sleepy ballroom slow dance to talk about wild boars in that Turkey-necked throat wobble Banhart’s now surely claimed as his own.
This is the story of What Will We Be, really – after years of (occasionally wayward) experimentation, Banhart finally sounds content with himself and his own sound, and even when he’s wandering through three or four musical styles per song, it’s tolerable – enjoyable, even – because it sounds his, and never presents anything other than a direct response to the album’s titular pondering.
What will he be? Not New Weird America, psych-folk, or a freak. Not Jim Kerr or one of the Everly Brothers, Nick Drake or El Canario, all of whom he occasionally sounds like here. He’s simply just Devendra Banhart, playing music and enjoying himself.