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Devendra Banhart: What Will We Be (Warner Bros.) 

The unpunctuated title of Devendra Banhart's new album reads like a questioning of style and substance. After making the transition from his early ramshackle folk into the bombastic shape-shifting of 2007's Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, Banhart attempts here to appropriate his entire career, with mixed results.

Opener "Can't Help but Smiling," a dreamy, empty tune, and follow-up "Angelika," a prettily plucked ballad that segues into a jazzy samba number before returning to its innocuous beginnings, are indicative of the album's triumphs and failures. Some songs are lazy exercises in dreary folk (like the Spanish ballad "Brindo"), while some are impressive in fits and spurts (like the twinkling outro of the dirge "Maria Lionza").

Banhart is still too weird and talented for the album to be a waste, and it benefits from repeat listens. The cool, soporific funk of "Baby" is a charming throwback to the '70s, while the breezy, rollicking "Goin' Back" sounds like a long-lost Grateful Dead cut (and that's a good thing). "Chin Chin and Muck Muck" is too long, but pleasurable as it transforms from lounge jazz (about pederasty, of course) into quirky folk and, finally, drunken balladry. Meanwhile, the dark-disco bounce of "16th and Valencia Roxy Music" is a successful experiment, while the haunted, Western tones of "Walilamdzi" are among Banhart's most affective.

Still, Banhart misfires. The meandering, noodling of "Rats" and the trite ska of closer "Foolin'" make What Will We Be both a difficult album to completely get behind and a difficult question to answer.

More by Michael Petitti

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