Venezuelan folk troubadour Devendra Obi Banhart has long been known for his eccentricity, but on his latest release he loosens up, offering plenty of whimsy and a DIY sensibility.
DEVENDRA OBI BANHART/ MALA
For someone with a middle name derived from a Star Wars character, a certain degree of edginess is to be expected, and throughout his career Devendra Obi Banhart has delivered.
Starting out performing at gay weddings in San Francisco, the art school dropout then fled to Paris to pursue his music career. It wasn't long until his unique brand of psych-folk/freak-folk came to the attention of the owner of a label in the US. To date, Banhart has released seven studio albums _ all of which centre on the absurd, otherworldly and outlandish.
His eighth studio effort, Mala, finds the Venezuelan-American songwriter still gleefully eccentric while lacing in subtle humour as in his lead-off single Fur Hildegard von Bingen. Referring to St Hildegard, a 12th century German theologian and composer who has become a new age icon, the track reimagines him as a suffocated soul who's leaving the congregation to become a VJ ''on rotation, in the uptown''.
Banhart keeps tongue firmly in cheek for Never Seen Such Good Things in which he laments his ex-lover, crooning ''If we ever make sweet love again/I'm sure that it will be quite disgusting/Race to the end/Race to the end.'' The duet Your Fine Petting Duck offers an even more delightfully facetious moment as he and his Serbian fiancee Ana Kras play ex-lovers with opposing opinions. ''If he ever treats you bad/Please remember how much worse I treated you/If he doesn't try his best/Please remember that I never tried at all,'' he half-jokes over summery guitar strums before the song inexplicably kicks into an off-kilter electro-pop mode with German lyrics.
But it wouldn't be a Banhart album without a Spanish number. Mi Negrita fills that slot brilliantly with the breezy Flamenco vibe that simply begs for some hip-swaying action. The following tracks _ the instrumental Ballad of Keenan Milton and interlude-like A Gain _ maintain the calm and cruisy tone. Then there's the closing track, Taurobolium, on which he sings: ''I can't keep myself from evil,'' in falsetto over sneaky, jazzified snaps.
With the help of vintage, often minimal instrumentation and Banhart's penchant for the weird and wonderful, Mala is a collection of tuneful little gems teeming with their own quirks and characters. Banhart has evidently let his hair down and is unabashedly playful this time around. This may not be the most profound or experimental material he's ever released, but it sure will plant a silly grin on your face, and sometimes that's all we need from an album.
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About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai