Monday, 11 March 2013

Devendra Banhart - Mala

Freak Pop

This is quite simply and pleasingly clever playful pop. Devendra Banhart has enough creative instinct and musical skill to not let any of this descend into cheesy pop – though there are songs here that may well be added to those already licensed out for commercials, and having shaken off his more ostensible hippie sensibilities that’s not perhaps surprising – but there is that purposefully naive sense of innocent melody which still exists and reminds of his earliest releases. Gone, however, is the sustained tremulous vocal of those early days, so reminiscent of Marc Bolan in his own early Tyrannosaurus Rex days [though Banhart, apparently, prefers to credit other influences, for example Vashti Bunyan: for me, the MB vocal echo is absolute].

So the melodies are again immediate and pleasing, but it is the clever production that also marks these out as still signature Banhart but of the more recent variety. There is plenty of electronic additions, and on third track Fur Hildegard von Bingen for example there are guitar and bass riffs to delight as well as a bright vocal chorus in the background, and on fourth Never Seen Such Good Things, there are water bubbling effects, 60s rock’n’roll guitar riffs and cascading electronic noises to further enhance this bright pop ditty, ‘unpopular pop music’ as the self-effacing Banhart likes to call it.

This is essentially a happy record, certainly in its sound, and on sixth Your Fine Petting Duck, Devendra duets with fiancĂ© Ana Kras [ironically a love-split narrative, yet it is about getting back together], and it must be love because she is certainly much better as a photographer/artist than a singer, but she gets her recognition here. There will be those who rue this attachment, but he has cut off his hair and moved on ladies. Get over it. 

Seventh, instrumental The Ballad of Keenan Milton returns us a little to the freak-folk of early Banhart with its very simple strummed acoustic guitar and light piano accompaniment: a tribute to the skateboarder. Eighth A Gain is a psychedelic list/sound poem, and these two tracks reflect the actual range within the pop spots.

For all its simplicity this is an album where the tracks will further reveal their intrigues as you continue to listen. It really will make you smile too and that is a consequence to celebrate.

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