Under Review: Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be

Once again, we’ve come to the timeless story of a weird indie artist signing to a major label.  You should know the drill by now: any rough edges that gave the artist’s early records their distinctive charm have been smoothed away in the name of corporate marketability, and the resulting record is pleasantly bland.  Okay, maybe that’s not the whole story, but listening to What Will We Be, it’s painfully clear that Devendra Banhart himself hasn’t even answered his own album title’s inquiry.  Where previous records of Devendra’s have come across as eclectic campfire gatherings, What Will We Be sounds forced, overproduced and distracted.  Instead of sounding a relaxed nomad pausing to lift some weary spirits with a song, Devendra too often sounds like, dare I say it, Jack Johnson.  Someone somewhere in the production process of What Will We Be decided that songs like “Goin’ Back” and “Meet Me At Lookout Point” should feature cold, slow-as-comatose arrangements rather than more tender, ballad-y ones.  The two-piece pairing of “First Song For B” and “Last Song For B” are as indistinguishable as they are sluggish.  To Devendra’s credit, What Will We Be has a few bearable songs in its chore of a 50-minute running time.  As on past albums, several of the songs are in Spanish.  On “Brindo” and “Williamdzi,” Devendra sounds eerily (in a good way) like Caetano Veloso, and the delicate, tropical musical accompaniment compliments that imitation very well.  The final track, “Foolin’,” shifts moods completely as producer Paul Butler of A Band Of Bees creates an instantly catchy reggae atmosphere.  It’s that kind of fun-loving experimentation that’s dreadfully missing from the rest of What Will We Be, making it another case in support of indie artists keeping at a beard’s length from The Man.

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~ by E. on October 30, 2009.

3 Responses to “Under Review: Devendra Banhart – What Will We Be”

  1. the Man! jeez! the Man ruins everything.

  2. Devendra recorded the album before signing onto Warner Bros.

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