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Devendra Banhart's departure from arcane folk

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Devendra Banhart
Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Release Date: 09/25/07
XL Recordings

A lot of people hate Devendra Banhart. He's definitely one of the most polarizing artists that I listen to. I've explored innumerable avenues of elucidating this matter and nothing has come close to sating me. Within the indie community there are splintering factions of naysayers who say, "That's where I draw the line!" The line, of course, divides the obscure from the conventional means of expression. Devendra definitely fit snugly in the former until now.

Whether you think he's a bumbling hippy, who let his own freak folk gimmick get to his head, or a distinctive innovator devising masterful records, one thing is certain: Devendra Banhart, who plays at the Orpheum on 10/13, is deliberately trying to make his obscure music more accessible to the masses. He's done so on his latest XL released effort by simply making his vocals and his overall tone more digestible. Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon is a mesmerizing collision of free jazz, 70's rock and roll, Brazilian folk, sock hop, and even motown elements. Banhart's prior efforts comprised a tremendously divisive style of singing yet in certain fringe communities he has been regarded as the herald of the freak folk (or to be politically correct Naturalismo) movement.

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The album commences with the acoustic Spanish ballad "Cristobal", which features Gael García Bernal. From "Quetate Luna" on his 2005 release Cripple Crow to "Todos Los Dolores" on his 2004 release Rejoicing In The Hands, Banhart has always incorporated his multilingual abilities. On Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, we see songs built upon Spanish, Portuguese, and at times a combination of the two. "Cristobal" tends to solidify the haters' bones of contention because of the creepy, heavily reverberated crooning. Hell, it even bothers me he had to pull the celebrity guest appearance card, but the girls won't be complaining. Though if you don't dig farther, you won't reach the ingenious gems.

Devendra Banhart - "Seahorse"