Hip young folkster Devendra Banhart has done some mutedly outlandish things in his time and whilst restitching some sequin glare into Taylor Dayne’s Tell It To My Heart in order that it resemble a spangly psych-disco number was one of his more successful endeavours, dating porcelain bore Natalie Portman was arguably one of his lesser ventures. Lukewarm latest, What Will We Be, could probably be charted somewhere or other ambiguous in between though a preliminary glimpse into its follow-up, Mala, not only ups the calibre, but also the kookiness: Für Hildegard von Bingen is an ode to the 12th century Catholic and polymathic abbess of the same name who was once manifest in the mind of Banhart. “Hildegard is sequestered in her cloister, and one day she gets a VHS cassette and it’s the prime era of the MTV VJ, and she just goes wild. ‘That’s it for me,’ she says. ‘That’s how I’m going to get my message across.’ So she escapes the cloister… and becomes a VJ.” Just how faithful this finalised sound is to Banhart’s vision only he’ll ever know, though what is immediately apparent is that Für Hildegard von Bingen sounds all the more redolent of an Unplugged James Mercer, aided by Brian Burton, in addressing All Along The Watchtower than it does of anything ever produced by Ja Rule, or Dave Grohl, or any which other byproduct of the so-called prime era aforementioned. All muffled guitars and scuttling rhythmic twitches, if it starts out claustrophobic as that most suppressive of convents then it slowly morphs into a sultry beauty as it smoulders. Concerning “a VJ on rotation”, it’s in itself one to have hooked up to an interminable loop and indeed at only 2:36, it thankfully comes around quick-sharp every time.
Mala is expected March 11th on Nonesuch Records.