Review Summary: Culture from across the world, as brought to you by some people from Denver.
Indie music seems especially prone to gimmicks as of late. Bands like Beirut, The Shins or Fleet Foxes seem to be riding a wave of interest in foreign or past sounds. The Shins hark back to the surf-pop of the late 50's and early 60's, Fleet Foxes reach even further back in time and to a different part of America, and Beirut just goes way the hell off to a different continent all together. This isn’t to say these bands are worse off for it; Fleet Foxes produced one of my favourite albums of 2008 and I thoroughly enjoy The Shins and Beirut respectively. The problem is, what eventually starts of quirky and interesting, can grow tiresome and boring. Thus we come to DeVotchKa who take their name from A Clockwork Orange, and take their sound from too many different sources for me to write down. The big question with their fourth album A Mad and Faithful Telling is whether this album is THAT album that pushes an idea past it’s best before date and into the realm of gimmicky. The answer, luckily, is no.
The reason why A Mad and Faithful Telling works is because the stylistic choices are smart and the performances are all convincing. Stylistically, the band are all over the map, which could have worked against them, but they do well to play to their influences without being overbearing. Front man Nick Urata cries like a Latin Roy Orbison, and the music takes you a cultural journey. At one time the listener might be in Eastern Europe, with songs like the gypsy-tinged, sousaphone lead Basso Profundo or accordion accented, sinister guitar lines of Head Honcho. Next the listener finds themselves in Central America with the beautiful trumpet lines (performed by Urata) of Along the Way, even stopping for a good old fashioned Mexican standoff with the Spanish guitar arpeggios of Undone. Heck, we even float down a Venetian canal in the short instrumental Strizzalo. This musical journey makes the album fun and interesting throughout it’s duration. If the band had made every song in one particular style, the album would have suffered for it.
The band members are clearly trained musicians and this aids the overall quality of the album. Nick Urata’s guitar is effective and flashes when it needs to (see the acoustic solo on Undone), while alternately his trumpet has great tone and plays fantastic melodies. Look no further then the coda of album closer New World to see the soaring grace of Tom Hagerman’s violin playing. The upright bass and sousaphone Jeanie Schroder is not overly complicated but adds the appropriate flavor to the pieces, much like Shawn King’s percussion. Had the songs been played by lesser musicians, it would have shown. These players need to play these songs as if they were born in the places they are influenced by (being from Denver, they need to try hard.) In this the band succeeds and it saves the album from coming apart at the seems, which could easily have happened to an album so ethnically eclectic (alliterations for the win).
What we are left with is a good album. It is not anything classic by any stretch of the imagination, as at some point (particularly on the slightly tedious Blessing in Disguise) the audience can’t help but feel that this music is a bit gimmicky. For the most part, the group establishes itself as something that is not going to succumb to gimmicks, and that’s a good thing. Good music is good music, no matter what part of the world it takes it’s sounds from. Indie kids, particularly fans of Beirut, will enjoy this release. It has some very pretty, ethnically tinged pop songs and is overall a strong effort. However, If this is not your type of thing, I wouldn’t suggest you get this album.