The maddening irony of reviewing a watermarked disk of What Will We Be is that it forces the writer to hunt down her quaint, much neglected boombox—a gesture that implicitly bears a Devendra Banhart stamp of approval.
Compared with Banhart’s past eccentricities, his debut on a major label is an elegant and restrained work that invites rather than provokes. There are fewer moments of unbridled incantations and childlike coos, and instead, an orchestra of seasoned players composes lush and sprawling midtempo backdrops. “16th & Valencia” will be the album’s commercial breakout, thanks to its uplifting Roxy Music–inspired melody. Longtime fans will embrace the return of Banhart’s vocal excesses on the post-punk collage “Rats” and Latin-inflected ballads like “Maria Lionza.” What Will We Be is more like a happy musing than an exasperated rhetorical question.
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