They live in Denver and their band name means ‘girl’ in Russian. But their music is far more global, a hectic hodgepodge of sounds from Eastern Europe, Spain, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. And their new album is a frantic tour of world music, with aspects of polka, mariachi, tango, and flamenco distilled into a dozen indie rock songs.
DeVotchKa began as a backing band for a burlesque act, then made a steady stream of albums over the last decade, including the acclaimed soundtrack for Little Miss Sunshine. The band has toured with Muse and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (remember them?), and like those two bands, makes music that is epic and grandiose, bombastic and bittersweet.
The main mood of 100 Lovers is melancholy. In his tortured tenor, Nick Urata moans, wails, and croons over strings, horns, piano, and accordion layered over bass drones and driving drums. Urata also plays the bouzouki – a Greek cousin of the mandolin— and the theramin, that eerie electronic instrument popular in psychedelic rock and science fiction soundtracks. Additional zest comes from guest musicians: members of Calexico and Mauro Refosco, the Brazilian percussionist who has played with David Byrne and Thom Yorke.
With so many sounds and styles in play, the music on 100 Lovers often drowns out the words. And when he sings, Urata emphasizes melody and texture over intelligibility. Accordingly, most of the memorable moments are musical.
The album opens with a dreamy 90-second overture of strings and piano that crescendo over a military march. When Urata enters at last, his plaintive moan sets the tone for the rest of the record. The second song, “All the Sand in the Sea” features a frantic piano riff that recalls Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk” and foreshadows the album’s air of anxiety. With its rat-a-tat rhymes and syncopated rhythms, “100 Other Lovers” sounds like The Police in their prime.
DeVotchKa, All the Sand in the Sea
DeVotchKa, 100 Other Lovers
As 100 Lovers unfolds, so do the stylistic fusions: from Bollywood-flamenco (“The Common Good”), to surf rock tango (“The Man from San Sebastian”), followed by a hippie singalong (“Exhaustible”) whose cheery whistles and children’s chorus sound like the reincarnation of The Beatles’ Bungalow Bill.
DeVotchKa, Bad Luck Heels
After a drum interlude that acts as a palate cleanser, DeVotcKa heads South of the Border. “Bad Luck Heels,” features a trumpet fanfare worthy of a Mexican village festival. On “Ruthless,” Urata sings in a pseudo Spanish accent over finger-picked guitar and accordion. The rousing “Contrabanda” features horns, accordion, and frenetic timbales and a tale of border crossing with dubious cargo. The record ends with a five-minute instrumental, “Sunshine,” a cheery drone that breaks the album’s tension and dissolves its darkness with a burst of light.
Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. On Saturday, he read his fiction at Lu Magnus Gallery, along with six other writers and artists. His recent reviews include Bright Eyes, The Decemberists, and Friday Night Fights.