Devendra Banhart, What Will We Be (Warner Bros.)
It’s been a frustratingly long wait for Devendra Banhart to fulfill the promise of his early career and bless us with the classic album that many of us suspect he has in him. Each of his previous six full-lengths have contained varying amounts of brilliance, but all fall short of essential status thanks to tossed-off gags and half-hearted filler. What Will We Be, his major label debut, would certainly have been a great place for him to make some sort of definitive statement. Unfortunately the faithful are going to have to keep waiting. Instead of the triumphant mainstream breakthrough this could have been, it’s a disappointingly mixed bag that fizzles in its final third and destroys what momentum had been built up to that point. The majority of that momentum comes from the two tracks most likely to generate buzz, one of which may be Devendra’s biggest chance at a radio hit and the other being one of his heaviest tunes. “16th & Valencia, Roxy Music” features a highly contagious hook built around a riff cribbed straight from Jack White—one that leads nicely into the Led Zeppelin-inspired stomp of “Rats.” That pair of songs makes for a surprising break from his folksier past, but also serves as a reminder of how deep his talents run. Sadly, beyond the delicately sparse “Last Song for B” and the whimsical multi-part suite “Chin Chin & Muck Muck,” each of which recall the better moments of Nino Rojo, these talents aren’t much on display elsewhere. Ultimately we’re left with a few contributions to a killer future Banhart retrospective and the continued wait for his “New Weird America” masterpiece.