“Sometimes, there’s a man — well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.” So notes the voiceover narration from The Big Lebowski, introducing the film’s aging hippie antihero, the Dude, as a symbol of the Gulf War I era: He’s the kind of guy who would intend to do good if he intended to do anything, but like most Americans, he won’t let those bombs over Baghdad harsh his mellow. In the post-Dude era, Devendra Banhart, an itinerant longhair with three well-regarded folkadelic albums, may be the boy for our time.
Besides putting the most recognizable face on the neo-folk he’s spawned with acid-twee compatriots Joanna Newsom, Ariel Pink, and White Magic, the prolific 24-year-old embodies postmillennial U.S. privilege, effortlessly running on flower power in a time of oil anxiety. Where his freakier peers trip out, Banhart quavers and purrs about a neutered reality: The most compelling songs on his 2004 album Niño Rojowere addressed to small woodland animals.
On Cripple Crow, Banhart brings the peace and love, but not the understanding: He doesn’t explore much that’s deeper than these idylls, and he can no more convincingly render his outlook than a fish can describe life in a tank. In the singsong-along “I Feel Like a Child,” he boasts about his innocence: “From being my daddy’s sperm / To being packed in an urn / I’m a child.” And in “Heard Somebody Say,” he coos about Gulf War II, “It’s simple, we don’t want to kill.” Pacifist, Devendra, or just plain lazy?
Whether showing off his first language, Spanish (on five wistful, drab songs with flamenco accents), or nearly giggling pleasant Brit-American nonsense over bongos, sitar, and his expert fingerpicking, Banhart seems to grin expansively, drinking in his audience’s approval. Alongside the ’60s-siren fluency of rock-and-soul songs like “Heard Somebody Say” and “Long Haired Child,” inanities abound: “I Love That Man” unflatteringly narrates a groupie’s perspective; “Chinese Children” promises Asian Banhart offspring wherever he lays his seed, from Brooklyn to Oakland. With a foreign policy like that, is it any wonder the kid thinks the world of himself, and nothing of the world?