Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be

Review Score: 7.5

Major label debuts are always cause for concern, no fan wants his favorite artist to be changed by corporate views. The fear is especially high when talking about a very niche folk artist such as Mr. Banhart. With that said, everyone can rest assured that the major label release doesn’t hamper the by now familiar brand of Devendra Banhart freak folk / americana.

What Will We Be starts off quite underwhelming. Can’t Help but Smiling is a pleasant little piece of americana that does a good job for an intro track, but after that comes a string of distinctly average songs. Angelika in particular did nothing to boost my confidence in the album. The entire first half lacks any real moments of greatness, all of it being a slew of slow paced crawlers without much going for them be it lyrics, melody or structure.

At this point listening started to become a drag but luckily the quality started to rise sharply as the second half of the record began. This I attribute to the ever more pronounced free jazz elements that start to shine from Chin Chin and Muck Muck onward. It all comes together perfectly on the absolutely amazing Rats. The influences and different aspects to this track are too many to mention, what it does is come very close in structure, melody and feel to a Doors track, and that’s always a plus in my book. Right after comes Maria Lionza and its another great track with more blissful saxophone goodness backed by acoustic guitars before eventually melting into all out jazz and then back again to a fast paced sing along of “Who do you love?”.

These moments of very natural and seamless interchange between folk and jazz, often multiple times on the same track, are where What Will We Be truly shines and shows it’s strengths. The first half does drag quite a bit, but its all worth it when you know brilliance like Rats awaits you at the end. So, a potentially great album that falls short of the mark.


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October 2009
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