Album Review: Devendra Banhart – Ma

“Is this nice? Do you like it?” asks the opening line of Devendra Banhart’s first full length release since 2016. The answer is a difficult one.

What is nice are the shades of Dylan, Rodriquez and Donavan which flow through the record – the light stream of rhythm inhabited by an increasingly array of weird creatures and lyricism. Whilst sounding more mature, Devendra takes a leaf out of the aforementioned’s books and maintains some of the absurdity of Barnhart past. For example, this bizarre turn of phrase from second track, ‘Kantori Ongaku’ (which translates as ‘Country Music); “all the death in my house, makes it easy to shop alone”. At least for this record, this is the key track to understanding Banhart and his slightly surreal version of folk music – it’s weird, but it’s recognisable.

Lyrically this is no less bizarre than previous output but musically it is immediately more accessible – the artist is backed by a full band on most tracks and gone is the single jangling guitar and squawking from the cheese-advert-appearing younger Devendra, and this record is all the better for it.

Aside from the nonsense, Banhart evidences once again that he is capable of wielding real emotion power – lead single ‘Memorial’ is testament to that as Banhart reverts back to a simpler arrangement and the result is, quite simply, heartbreaking. It is hard not be moved by lines like “You told me that love is when someone asks you, please leave me alone and you really do”.

With that all said, there are parts of this album which can easily pass you by – it would be unnecessarily harsh to describe these tracks as ‘filler’ as they don’t harm the record per se, they are just largely forgettable middle order tracks; they’re just sort of ‘fine’. The middle order is saved somewhat by tracks like ‘Abre Las Manos’ in which Banhart reverts to his Venezuelan roots – I’ve no idea what he’s singing about, but it is lovely.

In fact, that’s a sentiment that could quite nicely sum up Banhart’s latest album and, probably, his whole career; I’ve no idea what he’s on about – but I’m enjoying it. And so, to answer the Banhart’s opening line; yes, it is nice. I do like it.

James Beck

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