Drastic Elastic

Devendra Banhart's latest bends and stretches, but doesn't break his spell

Banhart isn't without personal boundaries, porous as they may be. When his house buzzed with studio-building energy, he holed up in his writing room. "There's this kind of weird solitude amongst so much activity," he says.

Fittingly, a lonely wind can be felt blowing through the final quartet of songs, as though the party has subsided and the bandleader is left with nothing to distract him from his ruminations. Three of the tracks — the subdued, heartsick reggae of "The Other Woman," the lulling piano ballad "I Remember," and the brief, delicate inhalations of "My Dearest Friend" — treat the feelings of loss that come with crumbled love. But even those moments are laced with hope, sounding no more hardened or closed off than the rest of the album. "My Dearest Friend" ends Smokey Rolls with a completed circle; Banhart breathes "I'm gonna die of loneliness" before reassuring the listener (and, presumably, himself) "My dearest friend/You'll soon begin/To love again."

Despite what recently published articles in the British press may claim, Banhart insists that Smokey Rolls is not to be mistaken for a breakup album. "I feel a little bit confused, because I never mentioned any such thing. I don't want to perpetuate that kind of bullshit," he says. "It definitely was a hard year, but I feel like there's a lot of hope on the record. It doesn't totally represent my experiences with my present or ex-lovers. Of course, everyone makes it into the songs. But to say that it's about one certain thing . . ."

Half-baked: Funky folkster Banhart wants you to try his Smokey Rolls.
Lauren Dukoff
Half-baked: Funky folkster Banhart wants you to try his Smokey Rolls.

Details

Devendra Banhart, and Hecuba are scheduled to perform on Friday, October 12.
Marquee Theatre in Tempe

It's better to call Banhart's latest a further loosening of the reins. "After every song, I'm sure that I'll never write another," Banhart says. "I go through that 'Oh, shit — that's it. I have no idea how to do this.' But in the end, I'm just getting better at not knowing what I'm doing."

And elasticity can be an exhilarating thing.

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