Review Summary: A pleasing journey across the various cultures and musical climates of our world.
Over the years DeVotchKa has developed a reputation as kind of a random band. They incorporate so many different styles into their music – from tango and mariachi to Eastern European and gypsy influences – that they are difficult to rein in and stamp with a genre tag. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely works to DeVotchKa’s advantage. From their debut, SuperMelodrama
, to 2008’s A Mad & Faithful Telling
, the band has become a melting pot of cultural music – with a dash of just about every style imaginable entering the mix at some point. As a result, their sound has always been expanding upon its own boundaries as the band constantly challenges itself to be even crazier than before. 100 Lovers
gives us more of the same in that respect, which is to say it is not “more of the same” at all.
is a stylistic expedition across the globe – you might find yourself right at home in your backyard at one moment, and then thousands of miles away in the deserts of Saudi Arabia the next. In fact, the album art depicting a man holding two umbrellas and flying across a varied landscape (one that includes both sandy deserts and lush, tree-covered mountain tops) is not too far off from what the listening experience actually entails. 100 Lovers
just might be the most diverse record that the long-time experimentalists have recorded. DeVotchKa is also composed of seasoned musicians who know just how to implement their “world music” ideas so that they don’t sound overbearing or gimmicky – something that takes 100 Lovers
and makes it a triumph instead of a punch line.
Psychedelic opener ‘The Alley’ basks in its glistening strings and ambient piano while setting the tone for what has yet to come. The militaristic drumming technique ties together the loose ends of what is otherwise a spacey atmosphere, and the wails of lead vocalist Nick Urata take the song’s grandiose nature to epic proportions. A rather awkward transition into ‘All the Sand in All the Sea’ exposes 100 Lovers
’ biggest weakness for the first time, revealing the lack of cohesion present between all of the album’s clashing musical ideas. The song itself still swells with confidence, as an electronic backbeat joins forces with a distant string section and haunting ooh
’s to provide the perfect canvas for 100 Lovers
to progress. ‘One Hundred Other Lovers’ follows in a vein similar to that of the preceding track, only opening up the band’s pop-tendencies slightly more. DeVotchKa hasn’t unleashed the umbrellas to carry the listener across the globe quite yet, but rest assured they come in heavy doses hereafter.
‘The Common Good’ is the record’s first overt cultural exposure, with a gypsy-punk sound permeating the air. The quick and lively strings that introduce the song are aided by galloping drums that allow it to ascend; and from this point on, the listener’s feet won’t touch the ground. ‘The Man From San Sebastian’ utilizes an accordion to dictate the pace, while Urata delivers a top-notch vocal performance overtop of instrumentals distinct to either Spain or Central America. Other clear highlights over 100 Lovers
’ latter portion include the whistle-happy ‘Exhaustible’, the fervent acoustic strumming and mariachi influences of ‘Bad Luck Heels’, and the entirely instrumental, synth and string driven closer ‘Sunshine.’ 100 Lovers
takes a while to get going in terms of experimenting with worldly influences, but once they start, there is nary a weak moment on the album.
Despite the admirable pushing of boundaries, DeVotchKa does not deliver a flawless performance. As was previously alluded to, 100 Lovers
suffers from a rather clear lack of cohesion. The myriad of influences are certainly organized and well-executed within each song, but over the course of the album they begin to feel disjointed – as if the band couldn’t quite figure out how to fuse everything together into one unit. Sure, one of the main goals of 100 Lovers
is to try as many different styles as possible; but when one song “just kind of stops” then “another one just kind of starts”, it makes the album tread way too close to that fine line that separates art from gimmick. Luckily, DeVotchKa’s solid musicianship saves this from ever really becoming an issue, but it gives off an image that they have to try that much harder
to make their vision for 100 Lovers
work. In turn, one could conclude that the album’s concept is contrived, at times even forced, which contradicts the spirit on which the record – and the band – was founded. As a whole, though, these comparatively minor shortcomings don’t do enough damage to detract from the album’s overwhelming strengths.
is another solid entry into DeVotchKa’s catalogue. The international approach that they take on this album succeeds in just about every way, and there are countless genre samplings from across the globe to make this an engaging listen from start to finish. It may not flow the best, but the material present is of the utmost quality – and that is something we have all come to expect from this talented indie quartet.