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click to enlarge Devendra Banhart's Mala CD

Devendra Banhart

Mala

Nonesuch

File next to: Elliott Smith, Yo La Tengo

If there's anyone out there yet to receive the memo, Devendra Banhart stopped being a drippy hippie at least five years ago, when his band started focusing more on multilingual Latin American sensibilities. Albums like Cripple Crow kept Banhart from being dubbed the next Donovan, though occasionally it seemed like he was trying too hard, with too much instrumentation, to abandon his early flower-power days. The nicest aspect of Mala, then, is that Banhart has learned to be an easybeat slacker clearly enjoying a gentle joke, yet with more wisdom than on those earliest albums. Most of Mala's songs are in English, with the exception of "Mi Negrita" and some random German in "Your Fine Petting Duck." The open, expansive songs here may not be Banhart's most complex or majestic, but they'll make for fine summertime listening. Banhart also gets 10 bonus points for naming a song after Hildegard von Bingen. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge The Replacements' Songs for Slim CD

The Replacements

Songs for Slim

New West Records

File next to: Alex Chilton, Faces

After latter-day Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap's massive stroke in 2012, his former bandmates came to his aid, announcing the Songs for Slim EP. Initially an auctioned vinyl release to help cover Dunlap's medical bills, it is now available for download. While not a full-fledged reunion, all three surviving 'Mats are present, recording two Dunlap songs and three additional covers. Drummer Chris Mars' excellent, one-man-band rendition of Dunlap's "Radio Hook Word Hit" is a heavily distorted yet catchy slice of power-pop, while Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson (joined by guitarist Kevin Bowe and drummer Peter Anderson) tear through the extra covers, most notably Gordon Lightfoot's "I'm Not Sayin'." While it might not necessarily rival anything on Let it Be, Songs for Slim exudes a rollicking energy that does the legend of the Replacements justice while supporting an excellent cause. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge They Might Be Giants' Nanobots CD

They Might Be Giants

Nanobots

Idlewild

File next to: Phil Ochs, Tom Lehrer, Mountain Goats

Any band whose trajectory began with a Dial-a-Song service that changed weekly was simply asking for burnout, and They Might Be Giants have been at it for 30 years. Somewhere in the last decade their primary focus changed to children's albums, and releases for adults like Join Us sounded tedious and flat. But Nanobots' 25 tracks are as throat-grabbing as anything since TMBG's 1990 high-water mark, Flood. The astonishing lyrics bounce wildly from drones and death squads ("Black Ops") to problems with parents ("Call You Mom"), while careening riffs are met with the random use of sax, banjo and other unexpected instrumentation. The dual vocals of John Linnell and John Flansburgh claim the Faustian achievement of reverting to post-adolescent freshness. Some bands get a second wind, They Might Be Giants just gave us a neighborhood hurricane. — Loring Wirbel

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