The Texan-Venezuelan artist channels amorphous freak-folk antics through a downtempo ‘60s easy-listening daze on latest LP.
Reuniting with long-term affiliate Noah Georgeson, this tenth album in a seventeen-year recording career finds Banhart tacitly resurrecting the electronic elasticity of Mala, interweaving ricocheting reverb with brooding, often spare, acoustic sparkle.
Forgoing the wandering impulse of predecessor Ape In Pink Marble, the Houstonian singer-songwriter summons a diverse sonic patchwork on Ma; a sequence of concise three-minute numbers that individually inhabit their own private universe; autonomous tracks stringed together in a disparate mesh, avoiding an overriding need to cohere. The latter doesn’t equate necessarily with weakness, despite manifesting in a somewhat predictable template, adhered to with a perfunctory sense of rhythm; an attribute that arguably recurs throughout Banhart’s canon of material.
Traction is, however, derived from a tendency to present pockets of genre-hopping dexterity, framed through a familiar multi-lingual lens. Lead single “Kantori Ongaku”, an apparent tribute to Haruomi Hosono of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame, reverts to a SoCal '70s vibe; Dylanesque vocals and golden guitar licks melting in a silky saunter akin to The Carpenters. Similarly, “Ami”, with its sax-infused appeal, sustains a dulcet atmosphere, permeating the album’s near fifty-minute running time. Tracks unfold as a diffusion of elusive, wraithlike entities; Banhart evoking a twilight aura, captured on “Memorial”: “I dream in TV dialogue / A world of shadow and light”. Burt Bacharach-esque overtones trickle through “Love Song”, summoning a Laurel Canyon sound that, along with the candied repose of “Taking A Page”, with its Tapestry-era Carole King sample, prove strong standouts.
Ma, to an extent, substitutes freeform elements with a more bankable linear path, orienting between breezy accessibility and flashes of lateral sprawl; a pattern that serves to engage adequate interest. Honeyed highlights compensate for less tight moments, paralleled with a ponderous, but temperate pace; translating into an elegant offering from Banhart, despite gratifying a teasing fondness for excess.