no-cover

Devendra Banhart – [Album]

Like
750
0
Friday, 13 November 2009

For six records, Devendra Banhart has plumbed the underground and built an impressive reputation for himself with his soul/folk strains but – wouldn't you know? – at the same time he signs to a major label (from XL Recordings to Warner Brothers) he's struck by the inspiration necessary to produce the definitive statement of his “New Weird American” music? From the opening bump of “Can't Help But Smiling,” Banhart finds and happily shows off his new, refined and refreshed blend of indie, soul, R&B and folk to listeners. Unlike previous efforts that sort of relied on warm but fuzzy production (read: slightly low-fi and hissy) to win the hearts of audiences, this time the fourteen songs on What Will We Be? are sonically spotless and forced to rely on the genuine quality of their songcraft to carry them over  instead of any show of community solidarity.

It just happens to work out that these songs represent a new high point in quality of craft for Banhart too though. Listeners will be asking themselves what they're hearing after introductions are sort of re-made with “Can't Help But Smiling” dusts off some old chestnut effects (the false fade toward the implies a cliché not heard from anyone unless its meant to be ironic since the 1970s) and Banhart continues to twist perceptions ever so slightl

The effect both is and isn't at all weird because it's presented to a modern pop audience that won't necessarily understand it, but because such designs are well-established in a historical sense, the singer is well-aware of how to use them. The joke is made plain as the laid-back but shiny folk of “Goin' Back” crests and recedes; What Will We Be? is supposed to be a classic-styled album in true vintage form, incorporating some of the biggest, most universally appealing sounds and ideas from the last three and a half decades. It has to be classic because everything a listener hears on it has been made so – historically speaking.

With that in mind, What Will We Be? simply slides out for listeners at their leisure and pleasure. It's just that easy to like. Banhart casts his spell effortlessly using the elements that made Paul Simon (check “Goin' Back”), Leonard Cohen (“First Song For B”), Leon Huff (“16th And Valencia, Roxy Music”) and even Randy Bachman (“Chin Chin & Muck Muck”) household names but also makes sure each tone is unmistakably his; on this album, Banhart is the star he's always been but burning even brighter because he's tapped into the essences of a series of bigger, older stars. The effect of that is a thoroughly unusual one – every ounce deserving of the generic title 'New Weird America' – but listeners will find it difficult to turn away from because every time listeners think they have what's coming next pegged down, Banhart will throw a curve ball like “Rats” into the mix to keep them guessing. In that action, Banhart reveals how seasoned he is and how comfortable he feels playing with his audience, but also how really very good he is at it; in the case of What Will We Be?, no matter how hard the curve, it's the sweetness of the singer's voice and the modesty of it, as well as the slippery, reassuring (what Lou Reed meant when he said that everything's “gonna be all right”) presentation of the jams that will keep listeners hooked and hanging on every word.

Artist:

devendrabanhart.com/

www.myspace.com/devendrabanhart

Album:

What Will We Be?
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

no-cover

Devendra Banhart – [Album]

Like
1
0
Tuesday, 09 October 2007

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but something about Devendra Banhart’s music in general—but certainly the 16 tracks that comprise Thunder Canyon specifically—always sounds incredibly old. Is it the combination of sleepy tempos and reverb-soaked vocals on songs like “So Long Old Bean” and “Seahorse?” The inclusion of samba rhythms (not heard much in pop songs for decades) in the corners of Latin-flavored tracks like “Samba Vexillographica?” Who knows really, but Banhart knows how to keep listeners glued to their stereos as he indulges those tendencies and more here. At no point does the singer break out of his self-imposed 60s AM radio trance on Thunder Canyon because he knows he doesn’t have to; through the fairly muted production and hazy instrumentation, Banhart is able to tune in from the other side of the proverbial cornfield without sounding contrived and, because of those things and the fact that he sounds very much alone while he’s doing it, he can make anachronistic things like the doo wop stutter in “Shabop Shalom” sound like the newest, coolest inventions on Earth.

Through the duration of the album, Banhart tries on as many of these vintage stylistic hats as he feels like wearing (13th Floor Elevators on “Tonada Yanomaminista,” Motown shuffle on “Lover,” Baptist revival R&B confession on “Saved” and more) without having to worry how silly they might look because he’s not trying to impress anyone—he’s doing it to make himself happy. More than anyone making music professionally right now, Devendra Banhart does not look for approval in what he produces; if people follow his work, then that means he’s not playing to empty rooms—but if they didn’t, he’d still play because it makes him happy, and that intoxicating spirit comes through on Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

www.devendrabanhart.com

Comments are closed.