DEVENDRA BANHART Records) What Will We Be (Reprise
Since splashing on the national scene with consecutive acoustic records in 2004, Devendra Banhart has taken flak for diversifying his portfolio and stretching out to other genres. It’s mostly justifiable, both because his self-editor isn’t that strict and because we know how good he can be when he’s stirring his slinky, folky mood and not chasing a hundred different muses like they’re a flock of butterflies. WhatWillWe Be immediately rinses the taste of the overwrought Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon from our mouths with “Can’t Help But Smiling,” an uplifting, silky blend of exotic instrumentation and tropical rhythms. It’s smooth sailing through the album’s woozy, tender first half, but by the time we get to the disco of “16th and Valencia, Roxy Music,” the Led Zeppelin rock of “Rats,” and the Nina Simone jazz of “Maria Lionza” in lengthy consecutive tracks, it’s clear he’s wandered too far off the map once more. He doesn’t need to retreat to the comforts of his acoustic guitar (the bouncy, plugged-in “Baby” is among the best tracks), but some of his more experimental excursions should be saved for an odds-and-sods compilation later in his career. Lately, it seems like his whole career is one big odd-and-sods compilation.
— Robert Benziker