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Music Review: Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be

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What is Devendra Banhart?

I have a hard time trying to define him, his music, or his true intentions for being on this planet. It’s a stretch, I know, to start to question an artist’s sanity let alone existence, but Banhart and his brand of “naturalismo” — or freak folk to the rest of the unenlightened world — blur the boundaries of convention and genre so well and so much that his sound becomes his own distinction.

Yes, in a way, Banhart is his own genre label.

It’s hard to believe that What Will We Be is Banhart’s seventh full-length album and yet also his major label debut. If What Will We Be sounds as if it was recorded in a carefree, calming, and surrounded-by-friends environment, then Banhart and the band succeeded in recreating that lazy fun-filled experience during their getaway in a sleepy northern California town for the rest of us to enjoy.

From top to bottom, What Will We Be is consistent in mood, flow, and passion. The opening “Can’t Help But Smiling” says it all in establishing both the mindset and tone that Banhart wants to set. The Cat Stevens-esque “Angelika” then transports you to a sun-filled grassland where it’s nothing but tranquility as far as the eyes could see, before rituals of dance and ganga use arise when night falls during the song’s second half.

No, this isn’t your mother’s excursion to Woodstock — although that would be cool. And this isn’t the making of a tree-worshipping cult — although that would also be cool. Banhart’s music has a way of making you feel like everything’s all right without having to really say it.

From the pseudo-funk of “Baby” (similar to the earlier hit “Lover” but more mid-tempo), to the serenity of “Walilamdzi” (and no I can’t pronounce that either), to the drama-filled what-to-do-on-Saturday Night swinger “16th And Valencia, Roxy Music” (with the much sympathizing lyrics “Tonight we ain’t goin’ find our lovers”), to the Jim Morrison-oozing bluesy “Rats”, Banhart always brings the comfort and an ethereal atmosphere to give you the freedom to wander or join his own excursions.

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