You mightn’t know it but DeVotchKa, a Denver band whose name derives from the Russian for “girl,” had been laboring away, honing their East-European gypsy punk sound long before they were asked to helm the acclaimed Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack (Lakeshore, 2006). That Grammy-nominated effort deservedly brought them into the public eye. In the seven years prior to that, though, they had produced four albums and an EP, Curse Your Little Heart (Ace Fu, 2006), a set of covers that centered on their idiosyncratic version of Siouxsie and the Banshees “The Last Beat of My Heart.”
Following 2008’s A Mad & Faithful Telling (Anti-), DeVotchKa’s sixth studio album, 100 Lovers, opens by trickling into “The Alley,” a track which eventually soars against lead singer Nick Urata’s plaintive vocals. “All the Sand in All the Seas” follows, wearing a slightly menacing tone, along with lovely tripping piano, soaring strings, and a subdued “wooing” choir. Then “100 Other Lovers” bears the bouncy cadence of a David Byrne tune before pogoing over to David Bowie in cabaret crooner mode. Urata’s vocals often hover over Bowie/Byrne territory with a measure of Thom Yorke injected intermittently. “Exhaustible,” for example, sounds like Radiohead gone folk, not to mention a bit twee, with a warbly, whistly dalliance with Mercury Rev along the way. On “The Common Good,” Urata’s keening even somewhat bizarrely reminds of The Killers – if The Killers employed Balkan strings and handclaps before dissolving into grungy guitar.
DeVotchKa handles this riffling through musical genres deftly. Even if the effect is sometimes to feel a trifle fabricated, these change-ups are simply a self-consciously articulated part of an intelligent design. “Interlude 1,” for instance, hints at Transylvanian horror until it introduces “The Man from San Sebastian,” which rolls from its gypsy-esque beginning before forging quickly into Balkan Bond (James Bond, that is) territory with Bowiesque vocals. “Bad Luck Heels” even imports some mariachi style in the form of delightfully concordant trumpets and another reverently “wooing” male choir. “Ruthless” and “Contrabanda” continue to mine this playful Mexican/gypsy punk vein, too. Then, initially somber yet increasingly assertive, the closer “Sunshine” brings the effort to its denouement with instrumental, cinematic (somewhat studied) concision.
There are moments then when you find yourself admitting to the following: It’s great music for soundtracks, but without an attending movie to project upon your mind’s eye, some of DeVotchKa’s music may not lure you into repeat listens. Some may even conclude that it is best left as background dressing for those parties which crave a little more exotic sound than they deserve. Mercifully, however, if DeVotchKa are destined to be sonic wallpaper, you’d be hard pressed to find better executed decoration. It’s not just a dish of warmed over “world” music we’re served up here; it’s a deftly woven, whirlwind tour through varieties of musical experience.Visit: DeVotchKa | Anti-
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