Devendra Banhart is always divisive and many would say his days were over years ago. He released three outstanding folk albums between 2004 and 2005. Two years later, the messy-but-fun Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon would get some media attention (thanks to his affair with Natalie Portman) but it also announced a musical debacle for the Venezuelan-American. What Will Be Will be was destroyed by the critics in 2009. He decided to take a needed four-year hiatus (after seven albums in 10 years) before releasing Mala this year. It may not have the pagan, childish charm of Cripple Crow but it is no doubt his most mature (and least eclectic) work after more than a decade of career.
It took Justin Timberlake seven years to release his third album, The 20/20 Experience -divided in two parts- with expected commercial success (over 3 million copies this year in the US alone) and a warm critical reception for a mainstream album. Despite the overall quality of 20/20 and some impeccable singles like “Suit and tie” and “Mirrors”, he wasn’t able to outdo himself after FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006). The former NSync member must realize music -and not film- is his forté.[divider]
Another seven year comeback is The Knife. The Swedish duo last gave us the remarkable Silent Shout and a hidden gem in its deluxe edition: a live rendition of their masterpiece Heartbeats. After that, both members embarked in solo projects as Fever Ray and Oni Ayhun around 2009. This year’s work, Shaking the Habitual, is yet another epic delivery by the Swedish duo. It is visceral, beautifully violent, reminiscent of references as diverse as Michael Foucault, Ravi Shankar or David Lynch. Ambitious videos accompanied this album, deemed to age as one of this year’s better accomplished works.[divider]
Icelandic post-rock icons Sigur Rós released Kveikur this year, after one of the four members left the band. It was probably this event what gave the band a chance to
look back at their poor delivery at previous years. Back in 2008, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaustannounced the band was shifting to the wrong direction. Duller, gratuitous melodies popped up in the album… while just last year, Valtari was completely infected by this symptoms. It’s impressive to see the radical change the band had in a year. Kveikur is good. Agaetis Byrjun-good. Darker, more visceral, a throwback to the essence of the band, what made this subtle band from a 300-thousand-people country a worldwide reference.