Album Review: “Mala” by Devendra Banhart

Smooth vocals and vacant lyrics concoct Banhart’s latest recorded effort, “Mala.”

Shannon Ryan

Album: Mala


Artist: Devendra Banhart


Release date: March 12


Record label: Nonesuch


Nonesuch Records released “Mala,” Devendra Banhart’s latest full-length album, Tuesday after a three-year hiatus. The artist paused his musical career in favor of pursuing his interest as a visual artist; this stunt audibly affected the album.

Banhart first surfaced in the music scene as an artist making a connection between psych and folk, birthing a hybrid.

Though odder than most of his peers, Banhart once seemed unlikely to emerge as one of the most inventive and consistently inconsistent multi-instrumentalists in the industry, but it was when his music sought moodier and less-tethered-to trends or already niche genres that his creative output piled up. With the addition of “Mala,” his catalog consists of eight full-length albums of strummy folk-pop, hushed lullabies and eerie acoustic songs.

“Mala” seems half-hearted; a strange disinterest is audible in Banhart’s tracks, which is puzzling and unlikely. Former albums such as “Cripple Crow” and “Niño Rojo” act as homage to the artist’s inherent quirkiness through espousing punchy, offbeat tracks, but “Mala” falls short of this attempt. Its tracks are short, rhythmically nonsensical and lyrically absent of identifiable emotion.

The track “Daniel” sounds like it should be playing in a film with a brokenhearted   protagonist walking alone through European cobble streets — a Millennial take on Hugh Grant’s character in “Notting Hill,” perhaps. And this suitable-for-soundtrack theme is a recurrence in other tracks.

Taking a similar tack as its preceding track, “Mala” repeats the words “get on the dance floor,” but these words are not an invitation. They are more didactic than suggestive, sermonizing rather than provocative. And it sounds like commentary to a poorly produced ’90s film.

“Won’t You Come Over” was the  catchiest  song on the album, with its lyrics, “won’t you come over and love me,” smoothly tracking upon small guitar intricacies that are playful and welcoming. It’s redolent of what’s already been done, which isn’t necessarily to its fault, though should be noted.

In the track “Never Seen Such Good Things,” Banhart strikes a familiar emotional note that is more catchy than sad, sounding like a lovely ode to a past beau. It serves its purpose as a romantically identifiable number on the album.

Ultimately, the tracks off of “Mala” sound more suitable as non-diegetic film sounds, needing only 30 seconds to absorb the song’s message, rather than playlist additions or starred as “repeat offenders.” The album sought invention but rendered a have-done.


Rating: 3 stars