For a guy who gets tagged with a lot of limiting descriptors — "freak folk," "hippie" and so forth — Devendra Banhart doesn't like to let his music sit in any spot for long. His catalog, which now includes seven official albums, has taken him through warmly intimate ballads, raw and unselfconsciously strange home recordings, songs in several languages (Banhart spent much of his childhood in Venezuela), a lot of smoothly strummy folk-pop and the occasional low-key anthem about free-spiritedness.
Robyn Hitchcock turns 60 this weekend. The British singer and guitarist has traveled a long way to this point, beginning in the 1970s as the frontman of proto-punk group The Soft Boys and continuing through a solo career that has produced hundreds of songs. He's even appeared in a few films: Jonathan Demme showcased the singer in Storefront Hitchcock and gave him a cameo as a Russian operative in the 2004 verison of The Manchurian Candidate.
Youth Lagoon's second album, Wondrous Bughouse, is one of the most arresting headphone records you'll hear this year. Trevor Powers, the band's sole member, layers strange but alluring synth textures under quirky melodies and simple pop beats, in the process creating an expansive and endlessly engrossing world of sonic curiosities.
As one of the most thoughtful singer-songwriters around, Josh Ritter isn't one to write angry, over-the-top, knee-jerk breakup songs — even though his new album, The Beast in Its Tracks, was written entirely in response to his own recent divorce. Gentility and empathy are wired into Ritter's songwriting, so his idea of a breakup anthem is the gorgeous and glorious "Joy to You Baby," in which he closes the book on a relationship by wishing everyone well, himself included.