Devendra Banhart recently described the music of his youth in Venezuela as 20-years behind the United States, a sentiment that he credits for his embrace of the music of the ‘60s and ’70s, two vital influences he approaches with bright-eyed exuberance.
What Will We Be, his seventh release since 2002, falls righteously in the arms of mid-20th century music. Basking in vibrant Tropicalia, expansive folk, and heady rock, Banhart is unapologetic for recycling sounds of the past. Wide-mouthed choruses define the bubbly opener, “Can’t Help But Smiling,” and “Angelika” is a shifting, segmented composition that engages each verse with youthful joy, moving tempo – and language – with each cycle. “Baby” is propelled by staccato guitar themes and a breezy shuffle.
Unfortunately, these tracks are the first three on What Will We Be, and the 14-song set slowly loses pace and doesn’t recover, despite the playful “Chin Chin and Muck Muck” and the reverberating “Rats.” Instead, the pseudo-disco of "16th and Valencia, Roxy Music" and the acoustic meandering of "Meet Me at Lookout Point" set the focused approach adrift, interrupting the flow in favor of a broader spectrcum of styles. Nevertheless, Devendra Banhardt is creating music that is as unique as it is familiar, and he does so with refreshing passion. What Will We Be could be better, but it is still a diversion worth taking.
What Will We Be is out now on Warner Bros.