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Devendra Banhart: What Will We Be


Devendra Banhart

Album: What Will We Be
Label: Warner Bros.

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Devendra Banhart has found focus. Sure, over the course of six full-lengths, whether he was simply alone with his fingerpicking and tremolo, or gathering friends for psychedelic spirit journeys, Banhart did lock into hypnotist grooves. But on this, his major-label bow, the (now beardless!) prince of freak-folk has harnessed his many left-field tics and energies to craft his most elegantly driven work yet. The newly honed approach is present from the opening plucks. “Can’t Help But Smiling” finds Banhart projecting his vocals through ’60s folk licks, and the loose, feet-up interplay is a thing of real beauty. The single “Baby” continues to firm up that balance, featuring Motown guitar jitters that recall The Strokes as beachcombers. Sandwiched in between is “Angelika,” which comes as close to Cat Stevens as Banhart has ever sounded, and marks a moment of clear transition: The tropicalia intermission that splits the song in half doesn’t distract from its warmth. Indeed, he gets the intra-song wanderlust out of his system at the midway point during the butterfly-chasing of “Chin Chin & Muck Muck.” It’s a vibrant centerpiece that curves wildly through jazz, more tropicalia, showtunes, and folk, but then finds its way back. And whether it’s the psych-rock of “Rats” or glam of “16th & Valencia,” all of these songs feel unified in that way. They’re at home for now.