Devendra Banhart Credit: courtesy Nonesuch Records

For quite a few years I’ve been going against the grain when it comes to Devendra Banhart. As he’s curbed the quirky excesses that helped enamor press and fans alike—the overwrought falsetto, the nonstop hippie affectations, the self-indulgent lyrics emphasizing rejection of social mores—I’ve appreciated his work more. He hasn’t become normal, exactly, but the handful of records he’s made over the last decade or so have focused more on songcraft and atmosphere than attitude. He’s settled down and found a strong group of collaborators, including producer Noah Georgeson, percussionist Gregory Rogove, and Brazilian guitarist Rodrigo Amarante, all of whom are featured prominently on last year’s Ape in Park Marble (Nonesuch). The album rates as Banhart’s most subdued and intimate work to date, awash in quietly gurgling guitars, rhythms with the feather-stroke touch of bossa nova, and softly cooed melodies that caress and insinuate rather than punch and assert. He leans so strongly toward sleepy grooves and restrained delivery that he’s almost tentative at times. There are a few songs, however, that ratchet up the energy. “Fancy Man” is a humid, lilting bit of hot-tub funk, while “Fig in Leather” features a slinking soul groove and Banhart engaging in some annoying character voices. Still, most of the tracks are wispy ballads on which the singer seems to be aping Chet Baker, and while the record is lovely and marked by a chill ambience, I fear that Banhart is running out of things to say.   v