4 Apr 2013

Devendra Banhart "Mala" Review

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Remember Devendra Banhart? That bearded hippy gent who was releasing a new album every three weeks in the mid 2000s before disappearing quietly after 2009's critically underwhelming (but actually rather good) "What Will We Be"?
Well four year's later and Mr Banhart is back from his explorations, and wherever he's been was flush with wobbly synthesizers and drum machines that he's appropriated and brought back from the abyss.
That's right folks, "Mala" is as wilfully strange as anything in Banhart's catalogue, but that's part of the reason you're reading this isn't it? James Taylor he ain't.
Never one to do things in a straightforward fashion, Banhart's last couple of albums were sprawling, meandering affairs, the works of a restless spirit wanting to try different things with his arrangements while still writing the same sorts of songs that he'd always written. These records were full of good stuff, but some judicial editing wouldn't have hurt either.
"Mala" sees Banhart back on track with perhaps his most concise set of hookladen freak-folk yet.
He's reeled in the excessive tendencies of his last few LPs in favor of shorter songs presented in an appeallingly skeletal fashion with some of the most direct hooks he's yet mustered.
"Mala' is in many ways Banhart's first true pop album - although attaching the freak flag definitely gives you a better idea of what this sounds like.
Side One, perhaps to ease folks in gently, is the more conventional of the two, featuring a selection of breezy summery folk pop tunes with basic guitar / bass / drums arrangements that give the choruses plenty of space to worm their way into your consciousness. There's everything from the moody Interpolesque "Golden Girls" to the sunny south american rhythms of "Daniel" via the melancholy fingerstyle guitar instrumental of  "The Ballad of Keenan Milton", which could pass for one of his earliest recordings.
Side Two is where the synths and sequencers land, and rather than distract, they enhance the already strong hooks on display here - " Cristobal" and " Won't You Come Home" in particular are synth pop gems - who cares that they come from such an unlikely source?
It's a pity that so many have already written Devendra Banhart off as this is a deceptively simple pleasure of an album - it doesn't have the substance to make many best of the year lists, but it's a quiet triumph of sugary pop goodness that thumbs it's nose at convention in style.

Get it here.

1 comment: