Long before Father John Misty brought the trilling drama, and Helado Negro washed over us with subtle Latin-continuum quirk, Houston-born, American-Venezuelan songwriter Devendra Banhart made the world safe for theatrically weird folk music washed by worldly influences with a killer falsetto at the ready. Often with the wit of psychedelia and free poetic verse on his side (2005’s Cripple Crow and 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon are particularly hazy), Banhart has crafted his own lane when it comes to murky, absurdist mirth and colorfully personal, even woundedly unhappy, reminiscences.
For Flying Wig, his label debut on Mexican Summer—one that finds Cate Le Bon as its producer, recording in Topanga Canyon—the surprise touch is their use of synthesizers and sequencers to drive the uncharacteristically glossy project. The sleek, slinky musicality of songs such as the glad-to-be-unhappy “Sirens” and the sensuous yet revelatory “Twin” may lack the usual crinkly textural feel of Banhart’s odd-folk finest, but makes up for that missing tactile vibe with an abstract femininity that the singer sought to tap into through the inspiration of his grandmother.
The atmosphere of wobbling saxophones on the noirish rant of “Fireflies” and the dry-ice textures of “Sight Seer” take some getting used to when it comes to all things Banhart: they’re cooler, more soigné than his usual moistly emotional sound and vision. But once you settle into the finicky Flying Wig, another Banhart (or LeBonhart—the collaboration works beautifully) emerges, one just as wonderfully weird as the old one, just slicker.