sat 15/06/2024

Album: Devendra Banhart - Flying Wig | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Devendra Banhart - Flying Wig

Album: Devendra Banhart - Flying Wig

Offbeat singer-songwriter's latest is an electronically adventurous misfire

In a tangle of the blues

Had Devendra Banhart been born between 1940 and 1950, he’d likely be a household name. His output – very loosely – sits between Cat Stevens, Syd Barrett and Richie Havens, studded with a greatness not widely acknowledged. He had a spell around 15-20 years ago when he seemed about to commercially explode. That didn't happen but he’s settled to a solid career and done much gorgeous work since.

2013’s Mala album, a career highlight, was followed by two that appeared to dip into the alternative possibilities of 1960s Latin American songwriting (do check the luscious Helado Negro remix of "Love Song"). Like all artists who constantly explore, not everything can work, and his latest, his 10th solo studio album, is sonically adventurous but not compulsive.

Banhart created the eccentrically titled Flying Wig in a rustic Topanga Canyon cabin, appropriately once owned by Neil Young, a similarly restless creative. He worked it into its current form with fellow singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, who produces. Together the pair explore a woozy, cuddly, electronically smeared downtempo sound, wrapped around pared-back lyrics, often opaque, themed around loss, being lost, feeling trapped, lost love, escape, and loneliness. In terms of classic reference points, it’s faintly akin to Talk Talk or late period Japan.

It doesn’t sound like anything else he’s done, which is admirable, but on a couple of listens, only two songs really stand out. The rest of the album is more of a mood thing, noodling pleasantly along like floaty chill-out. In fact, in his new low-key husky-sexy singing voice it’s pretty hard to decipher what he’s even saying on a couple of numbers, washed over by warm synth burble.

The basic issue is that these songs don’t hook the listener in. Except for “The Party”, a slow reverb guitar love song which reminds vaguely of Bright Eyes’ wonderfully opiated-sounding Christmas album, and “Charger”, a delightful song which achieves what, presumably, Banhart and Le Bon hoped the rest would; heart-delighting, almost ecclesiastical electro-folk, wispily lovely, hazy and beautiful.

Below: Watch the video for "Sirens" by Devendra Banhart

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