Devendra Banhart, the Venezuelan-American singer who has often been labeled as freak-folk, is back after a four-year hiatus, though I’m not sure if I want him to be. On Mala, his ashram-appropriate voice returns, though it is not as impressive as it was on previous albums, like Cripple Crow. What once was able to spark epiphanies has now faded into a gloomy haze. Don’t get me wrong: Certain tracks on Mala are beautiful (try “Won’t You Come Home”), but the rest of the album falls a little flat.
Take “Your Fine Petting Duck,” for example. Its off-key female vocalist, coupled with depressing lyrics (“If he doesn’t try his best, please remember that I never tried at all”), produces at best an anti-love song about an unhealthy relationship, a song that seems almost as awkward as its title.
The star track of the album is “Never Seen Such Good Things.” This is your classic Sunday-morning-Starbucks-playlist tune. It has a solid beat and cleverly ironic lyrics, as the continuation to the title “Never Seen Such Good Things” is “go so wrong.”
An underrated though stellar track on the album is “Mi Negrita.” It’s airy and heavy all at once — a song for sleepy, smoke-filled bedrooms. Banhart’s inherent quirkiness shines through here. He croons in Spanish, comparing his heart to “un fantasma corpo real.” Something about likening his heart to a bodily ghost in Spanish is delightfully peculiar. Unfortunately, that’s where the delight ends. “Mala,” the title track, is halfhearted, and the rest of the album seems to induce a giant shrug of the shoulders.
Though Mala has everything you would want on an album — a mellow instrumental number, a trilingual crooner and a pretty solid single — you can’t help but notice that it’s missing something: personality.
Contact Addy Bhasin at [email protected].