Wed Nov 18 2009
After his patchy, scratchy last album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon—plus a spell in the hospital for nervous exhaustion, a world tour and a well-gossiped-about relationship with Natalie Portman—Devendra Banhart has the air of a man who has returned to himself, with a big sigh of relief. For nonmusical indications of this, check out the singer’s MySpace profile picture, which shows him looking weather-worn and wearing a huge cardigan. “I go to bed at 8:30, I drink warm milk, I watch my shows—I like it,” he recently said.
This refound sense of direction is plainly audible on Banhart’s new album, What Will We Be. It’s a honey of a record, filled with songs so warm and inviting, you practically want to lean into them. “Goin’ Back to the Place” is a fuzzy take on Sweetheart of the Rodeo--era Byrds, “Angelika” a twinkly romance of nursery-rhyme simplicity. Part of the problem with Smokey was that it sounded like a breakup album doing its best to be a party album: a bundle of erratic psychedelic fantasies. What Will We Be has the subject of breakup at its center—at the album’s midpoint, you get the mirroring “First Song for B” and “Last Song for B”—but the overall mood is one of openhearted celebration.
And playfulness, of course: “16th and Valencia” suggests Dr. Teeth playing Roxy Music. At this show, it should make for a perfect match with Banhart’s unreliable taste in pants (he’s described his current look as “gay Orville Redenbacher”). A welcome return indeed.—Sophie Harris
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