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Album review: Devendra Banhart's 'Mala'

March 11, 2013|By Randy Lewis

A Devendra Banhart album is akin to an art exhibit of miniatures, the rewards contingent on the viewer's/listener's commitment to exploring each tiny detail in his microcosmic mise-en-scènes. Those rewards here more often are moments of smiling "ahhhhs" than of wide-eyed "A-has!"

The indie folk darling's brand of Latin- and electronic-tinged pop yields a broad range of musical and sonic textures here. The lyrics range from snippets of ideas, such as the title track's brief rumination on acceptance of a missed opportunity to a slightly more elucidated homage to a musical hero ("Fur Hildegard von Bingen") to a couple of fully sculpted essays on the ups and downs of romance.

Reconciliation becomes an opportunity for disarmingly honest confession in "Your Fine Petting Duck," as Banhart sings to a prodigal lover: "If he doesn't try his best/Please remember that I never tried at all," on a track that courses from off-kilter '60s girl-group pop into surging electronic dance music.

The most affecting moment arrives near the end in "Won't You Come Home," an admission of longing for a played-out relationship, Banhart's voice so closely miked it lands like whispered truth: "Why don't you want to stay here suspended/In the dead arms of a year that has ended." A single question that conjures a world of possibilities.

Devendra Banhart

"Mala"

(Nonesuch)

Two and a half stars (out of four)

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