American-Venezuelan singer-songwriter’s collaboration with Cate Le Bon is a relaxing, low-key and downtempo affair, more mood piece than traditional album
Devendra Banhart‘s eleventh album sees him step away from the ‘freak folk’ label that seems to have been attached to him throughout his career. Flying Wig, Banhart’s first album since 2019’s Ma, is a collaboration with Welsh musician Cate Le Bon (carving out quite a name for herself as producer, as she’s also produced the forthcoming Wilco album).
Banhart and Le Bon certainly underwent some sort of process when making Flying Wig – entirely recorded in secluded woodland in the Topanga Canyon in California, Banhart wore a blue Issey Miyake dress (gifted to him by Le Bon) and his grandmother’s pearls while recording in order to get in touch with his feminine side.
That method seems to have created an album which is very much relaxing and low-key. It’s downtempo, with most tracks barely rising above a trot, and washed in a dreamy synth sound – sometimes, it feels more like a mood piece than a traditional album. It’s a sound that suits Banhart, whose voice sounds warm and rich on each track, even if the album itself sometimes feels a bit undeveloped.
Tracks like Sight Seer though are terrific – with little splashes of 80s style synths and some delicate backing vocals from Le Bon, it’s one of the best tracks on the album. Charger is another highlight, reminiscent of the more subdued moments of Super Furry Animals, and the closing track The Party is a lovely, woozy way to end the album, with Banhart sadly intoning “I know you don’t love me, I know it’s true, but I know that you tried to”. Break-up anthems don’t come any more beautifully fragile than this.
Fireflies has a sad, wistful air to it (and is strangely reminiscent of China Crisis at times, which is no bad thing), while Twin becomes very atmospheric, flashes of dramatic guitar bringing to mind The Cure‘s more gothic moments. The hypnotic rhythms of May also have a pull that’s hard to resist once you’re under their spell.
The only problem is that, over the course of an entire album, the sheer narcotic atmosphere means it can be a struggle to hold the attention at times. Apart from a few examples, the songs aren’t strong enough, and you’re left just admiring the dreamy haze of the production. It’s an album that’s easy to get lost in, but it’s hard to feel too involved in it.
Yet Devendra Banhart hasn’t built a long career of over 20 years by doing what people expect of him. Flying Wig is a record that it’s probably easier to appreciate than it is to completely fall for. While this probably isn’t a record for a newcomer to Devendra Banhart, long-term fans will appreciate the change in direction.