On its surface, Devendra Banhart’s eighth studio album, “Mala,” is a somber, serious record of romanticism. A deeper look, however, reveals nuances that keeps the album far from boring and breathes new life into classic styling.
The record as a whole has a bit of a cheeky side to it, interjecting a bit of humor and ease into an otherwise serious, earnest collection. “Won’t You Come Over” is Banhart’s version of a guilty pleasure song. While the track is as meticulously produced and curated as the rest of the album, the poppy, bubbly melody and relatively unsubtle chorus asking a girl to come over give the listener the feeling that they shouldn’t like the song. But it’s impossible not to. On “Never Seen Such Good Things,” an ode to exes, Banhart reminisces about “a ceremony so…empty, bitter, boring and hollow.” Banhart waxes poetic about failed relationships with similar feelings—though
Banhart plays around with different techniques within the context of the tracks, allowing the audience to ground themselves and not feel overwhelmed. “Never Seen Such Good Things” incorporates reverb effects and a steel drum into an old-school Western framework, while “Mi Negrita” breathes Spanish in both language and flamenco-esque melody. “Hatchet Wound” is softer and folkier than its title might suggest. Toward the end of the track, Banhart amps up the energy with secondary, background chanting and what sounds like hand claps.
Though he moves smoothly between different techniques and sounds on the majority of the album, Banhart sometimes falls victim to disjointed transitions, truncating thoughts or movements in a way that makes them sound like half-formed ideas. “Your Fine Petting Duck,” a duet with real-life fiancée Ana Kras, curiously transforms from a charming, ‘50s Americana pop back-and-forth to a techno, futuristic club jam. The track changes genre, decade and language in a matter of seconds, creating two completely separate songs. Three songs on the album, including the title track, tap out at a minute and a half, creating odd roadblocks in the album’s progression. Overall, “Mala” boasts the particular brand of dreamy indie folk that Devendra Banhart’s come to embody, while managing to incorporate new, complimentary sounds.