With the title of his latest album, this lovably polyglot erstwhile (and unwitting) “freak” folkie turned gallery darling and global lounge lizard asks a valid question. Indeed, what will we be this time?
Devendra Banhart’s debut for Warner has all the charmingly split personality of 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL), but here his multiplicity comes off less like the competing brilliances of a jewel’s many facets and more like straight-up uncertainty. There was a time when such vulnerability worked to his advantage — when his warble seemed like a symptom of something serious and his songs stood bravely like fawns born into a forest fire. Across What Will We Be, our anti-hero appears repeatedly and variously cloaked — whether by pot smoke in the jam spot (“Rats”), by the haze of Lou Reed’s cologne (“Baby”), or by the fumes of Subarus (“16th and Valencia Roxy Music”).
Still, even when Banhart seems more in a predicament than in the zone, he’s hopelessly inventive. Several songs experience complete transformations over their modest three-minute spans, succeeding like little daybreaks. The sinuous clarinet and guitars in the first movement of “Maria Linoza” (and the Casablanca piano in the second) highlight Paul Butler’s attentive production throughout: the simmering bossa of “Brindo,” the spare keys and close vocals of “First Song for B,” the bustling sweetness of “Foolin’ ” — a song doubtless driven by Little Joy’s (and Los Hermanos’) Rodrigo Amarante. It’s a uniquely blemished album that’s hard not to love despite its downsides — I mean, isn’t that why we let Banhart crash on the couch in the first place?
DEVENDRA BANHART | Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave Boston | November 20 at 7:30 pm | $25 | 617.747.2261 or www.ticketmaster.com