Banhart gives ‘Mala’ romantic, exciting energy

March 13, 2013

Courtesy of Nonesuch Records

 

Psychedelic folk darling Devendra Banhart’s new album, “Mala,” is a relaxing and lovely set of tunes to start off spring. The album’s title comes from a Serbian pet name for a lover, the inspiration of which is readily apparent throughout the album. In his new album, Banhart explores themes of love and life in a surprisingly broad range of styles, all while retaining his gentle folk vibes.

The album begins with “Daniel,” a mellow waltz that easily lends itself to a dreamy Sunday morning. Over a humming chorus and ambling guitar melody, Banhart croons, “My love’s got a way / of fading away.” The song moves slowly over two chords and fits nicely into Banhart’s existing oeuvre, yet it refines his sound to a precise and minimalistic point.

“Mi Negrita” continues with a similarly structured sweetness, albeit in Spanish. The Venezuelan songwriter has mastered the Spanish love song, adding some ’60s synth effects to the flamenco-inspired guitars.

Banhart’s experimentation is epitomized in “Your Fine Petting Duck,” a duet with his fiancé, Serbian photographer Ana Kras. The song begins like “Daniel,” with Kras’ slightly off-key vocals suitably fitting the deep dream state that is “Mala.” The charming melodies and ’50s pop-chord changes add to the overall dulcetness of the song.

What is truly unexpected, though, is after a few verses and choruses, the song ends pensively only to return with bumbling house synths and a heavily produced funk-disco beat backing Banhart’s vocals sung in German. The change is entirely jarring yet surprisingly decent, and one must simply accept it as a Banhart quirk.

The folk-turned-disco pop song is an experimental peak from which Banhart returns to his well rehearsed dream-folk, but well rehearsed is exactly what Banhart means to stray from with “Mala.” The weird and unexpected bits of funk and disco strewn about make the otherwise mellow collection of tracks compelling, exciting and fun — all qualities that define the musician himself.

Patrick Jaojoco is a staff writer. Email him at music@nyunews.com.

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