Despite being heralded as the poster boy for freak folksters everywhere, Devendra Banhart has made music that’s always been relatively innocuous; he’s a kind of thinking man’s Jack Johnson, if you will. In recent years, though, Banhart’s subtly sultry baritone and penchant for sweet, California-style rhythms has given way to more genre bending, boundary pushing, and sonic experimentation (see the Motown bop and Spanish rock of 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, for starters). Perhaps, then, this is why Mala feels so refreshing. Rather than stretching too far outside his comfort zone, Banhart uses Mala to return to his roots. The album is brimming with smart, tongue-in-cheek lyricism and the easy, breezy acoustic guitar music long associated with the left coast’s long-haired brethren. It’s quiet, it’s thoughtful, it’s expansive, and, even at its most hippie-dippie (“Taurobolium,” “Mala”), it’s undeniably catchy. Innocuous or not, this is Banhart at his best. Devendra Banhart plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Saturday, May 11. Visit for info.


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