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It’s been four years since Venezuelan-American folk singer Devendra Banhart’s last album, and a lot has changed for him, musically and otherwise. Perhaps his engagement to Ana Kras- a photographer whom he proposed to within five minutes upon meeting- has something to do with the more mature sound of Mala, or perhaps it was the result or a deliberate shift in his musical style. Either way, Banhart’s eighth studio album has benefited from the transition.

The album seems to focus mainly on mood, with a vast range of emotions covered. From sinister, hushed “Golden Girls” to bright, electropop-influenced “Cristobal Risquez”, the songs vary in tone yet still manage feel connected.

“Never Seen Such Good Things,” Mala’s lead single, is interesting enough in itself; the bright guitar and melodies are contrasted by melancholy lyrics about reminiscing on better times and finally giving in to the way things are now. It’s also one of the more “conventional” songs on the album, similar in style to 2009’s “Baby”.

Another noteworthy song is “Your Fine Petting Duck”, a back-and-forth duet between Banhart and fiancée Ana Kras. Kras’s character sings, “Come back baby/ I never really loved him/ I’ll take you back/ I never really loved him” while Banhart’s is reluctant, realizing that the faults of her lover are similar to his own. A little over halfway through, the song slides into electronics (and into German) before ending with a burst of dancing synths.

Fans of 2005 album “Cripple Crow” will find a friend in “Mi Negrita”, a more traditional, Venezuelan-sounding track sung entirely in Spanish and accompanied by soft choir-like backing vocals and distinct Hispanic percussion.

The album also features an acoustic instrumental and a psychedelic track. All in all, I enjoy the album; while it isn’t as innovative or experimental as some of Banhart’s previous work, it still holds true to his style and is just plain fun to listen to. The album is beautiful as a whole and contains many knockout songs crying to be put on repeat. Fans of Banhart’s and new listeners alike are in for a treat in “Mala”.

Rating: 7.5/10

You can purchase Mala from Nonesuch Records here. The album is also now available on iTunes.


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