Devendra Banhart has never felt as relaxed as he does on his new release Mala. Sure, his works have always been playful and funny (think of “Duck People Duck Man” with Megapuss featuring Aziz Ansari), but Banhart albums in the past have always seemed like inside jokes between longhaired art-schoolers, or deep ruminations on spirituality and love. This was only perpetuated by his mysterious, otherdimensional, hippie persona so adored by his fans. Finally, on Mala, Banhart seems to step outside of all the mumbo-jumbo and ends up making some wonderfully fun and funny music.
The album as a whole is far flung from the one-man acoustic antics of earlier Banhart. Reverb-laden electric guitars, and muted drums permeate most of the songs. The stand out track for me is “Your Fine Petting Duck”, the collaboration with his girlfriend, Serbian, Ana Kraš. The music is upbeat and playful, and the chorus sounds straight out of a stupid love song. That’s because “Your Fine Petting Duck” IS a stupid love song, in the best way possible. Banhart croons self-deprecating lyrics about nostalgia and past relationships that culminates in both singers chanting in German over a thumping, electro-pop beat. When Devendra sings, “if he doesn’t try his best/ please remember that I never tried at all” it’s almost as if he’s speaking directly to those fans who crowned him king of the new age hippies. He’s admitting that he doesn’t always take himself seriously, and why should he?
All in all, this album is enjoyable and lighthearted. It’s a collection of short (most tracks are 3 minutes or less, with the title track coming in at barely over a minute) and humorous snippets that humanize the mythical, starlet-dating poster child of weird folk. That isn’t to say that it’s completely new Devendra Banhart. The singer still holds on to many of his trademarks, like singing in foreign languages, but he succeeds in stepping beyond his meditative character long enough to crack some refreshing and genuine jokes about himself.