Devendra Banhart: Ma
Devendra Banhart has played many roles in his nearly two decades of releasing music: heartfelt balladeer, transcendent folk freak, bearded rock god and absolute goof. Indeed, this is the man whose lush, acoustic folk meanderings have scored modern-dance performances and surely infinite budding-romance playlists—but whose catalog also includes a song about having scores of “Chinese Children” and a crooner’s lament called “Shabop Shalom.” He hasn’t always fused those roles well, and so Banhart albums can often feel exhaustingly unfocused—though intensely fun and usually gorgeous. Sonically, too, Banhart’s records can meander through a mystical haze. That’s what makes Ma so refreshing: He’s zeroed in on a sound and painted it in with a wonderfully fluid collection of mellow, colorful indie-folk, all without sacrificing the weirdo quirks that made him so beloved in the first place. Banhart’s playfulness opens the record with a grin: Over tweeplucked strings, he coos, “Is this nice? Do you like it? Would you like me to sing this song to you?” From there, Ma flows gently downstream through a lush landscape fleshed out with horns, loosely played piano and some sweet, twinkling guitars coming together to create some of Banhart’s most memorable tunes in years. The stunning beauty of Banhart’s sparse, earliest work is here: the whispered heartbreak and acoustic waltz of “Memorial” (with Banhart singing, “I know it don’t work that way/ But maybe you’ll come back someday”). His deliciously weird funk shows up, too: “My Boyfriend’s in the Band” blossoms into a sax-led sing-along. But all the faces of Banhart play together so well on Ma . And you’ll want to play along, too.