Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of 100 Lovers by DeVotchKa

Originally published at New Music Tuesdays

If 100 Lovers makes you feel like you're barreling down the highway on some urgent and sentimental errand, that's because it was deftly constructed by the fine folks who gave us the soundtrack to the 2006 Indie classic Little Miss Sunshine. The latest work from DeVotchKa is equal parts precision and grace, blending Nick Urata's haunting lead voice with a bold collection of instruments in a balanced and beautiful patchwork that will leave you scratching your head in search of an adjective. You'll settle on "genre-defying."

If you want Latin, you've got it in "Contrabanda." (Just TRY listening to this one sitting down.) If you want Celtic uprising, hang in there until "Sunshine" rolls around and unfurls a rousing instrumental that showcases this band’s strength in scoring films – while aptly weaving in a didgeridoo at just the right moment. If you want the DeVotchKa we know and love, listen for "100 Other Lovers" or "Bad Luck Heels," whose layered horns evoke Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass on overdrive.

The percussive overture "The Alley" sets the stage for what you think might be a dark fairy tale or twisted lullaby, leading the way to "All the Sand in All the Sea." This is the focal point of the record, and its titillating countdown of ghostly strains compels you to keep listening.

Though recorded in the Arizona desert, the album's 15 tracks call to mind diverse landscapes on multiple continents, to the point that the uninitiated would be hard-pressed to identify the origin of this talented group of performers. Their 2004 album How it Ends (whose bereft title track will stay with you) proved that the Denver-based ensemble could plumb the depths of themes like grief and longing and deliver them in bite-sized lyrics with an enviable specificity.

"Ruthless" is perhaps the most lyrical number, and the one whose signature "I'm not here for repentance; I have come for what's mine," you’ll be tapping your foot to. The dire message of the bridge, "You say I'm just being careless/It's a heightened state of awareness/I know that you couldn't care less/But I think this is quite serious," is punctuated by a bongos backing reminiscent of The Gipsy Kings. This song is a prototype of DeVotchKa's jangling and fluid assortment of sounds.

It's not all urgency, but it is all beautiful and handled with care. "Exhaustible" (you've gotta love a whistling tune) is as easy to listen to as a detergent jingle, but Urata's insistence that, "There is no one loves you better than me, my dear," is not coy in the least. His unequivocation is smartly backed by a children's choir--a nice touch making this surprise hit good to the last giggly note.

The momentum never relents. The strings on "The Common Good" will have you dancing and keep you guessing, and "The Man from San Sebastian" pairs staccato accordion with a Johnny Marr-inspired bass line that makes this track "smooth and worth your while."

100 Lovers handily combines the natural talents of DeVotchKa's multi-faceted personnel and their ever-expanding musical toolbox. Grounded by Urata's vocals, the album resolves an avalanche of movement into a peaceful plateau, leaving listeners with a new vantage point from which to ponder the repeated inquiry, "Am I the only one?"

Come for: "All the Sand in All the Sea"
Stay for: "Ruthless"
You'll Be Surprised by: "Exhaustible"

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