By David Colburn
What is the most common setting to experience a new album? The car stereo? On the couch with a pair of headphones? The answer is inconsequential to DeVotchKa; their aim is to transport the listener far from the concepts of “here” and “now”. 100 Lovers wants nothing less than to be the soundtrack to a fantastic and cinematic journey, one that floats high above the sea, stumbles through the depths of crowded ballrooms, and casually ambles elsewhere.
The listener’s journey begins in “The Alley” and quickly ascends through the grand, all-encompassing production and gorgeously expressive vocals of Nick Urata. One will float calmly on the subtle and flowing waves of an orchestra that carries well into “All the Sand in the Sea”. It is time to land, and one may find oneself quickly shuffling along wind-swept fields in harmony with the relentless brush-work and passionate delivery. The vocals are not always clear and commanding, but it is hard to deny the emotional resonance when they proudly rise above the mix: “Here’s the part that always gets me!”
Sonic textures fill the room with serene beauty from the start and nothing is lost with the introduction of “100 Other Lovers”. The journey delves deeper into a world-influenced quality and piques in the echelons of the most delicate contemporary independent music.
Every adventure needs a healthy dose of conflict and darkness; the concluding dissonance and dark tonal qualities of “The Common Good” recall DeVotchKa’s personal “gypsy-punk” label with the least subtlety while retaining the grand-scale aesthetic of the first three tracks.
In the midst of a newfound sense of darkness, listener is now prepared to venture into the album’s core. Book-ended by two ambient interludes, “The Man From San Sebastian” and “Exhaustible” serve as the centerpieces and potentially strongest tracks of 100 Lovers. The former is an incredibly catchy, fast-paced, and fun work that basks in a striking guitar timbre and driving beat; the latter exerts a laid-back, almost down-tempo quality that recalls music of the late 1990s more than “gypsy-punk”. The emotional quality of “Exhaustible” is not found in any specific lyrical excerpt, but in the delicately expressive combination of Urata’s vocals, the whistling hook and intriguing inclusion of the Theremin.
After swaying in the serenity of “Exhaustible”, DeVotchKa reminds the listener that the adventure is not yet over. “Bad Luck Heels” infuses a mariachi influence to get the heart and feet racing once again and one stumbles right into lounge-like “Ruthless” to recuperate and admire the aesthetic sophistication and subtlety. When considering the entire album in retrospect, the listener will come to a revelation: there has been a considerable amount of restraint that almost borders a nervous self-consciousness. “Contrabanda” delivers the pent-up passion with an energetic cry: “Are you still with me or are you against me?” While not the strongest memory of the journey, the track does provide a suitable climax before the ultimate resolution. With the opening of the Beck-like “Sunshine”, one realizes that the adventure is over. It is time to soar away from DeVotchKa’s textured sonic world in a manner displayed on 100 Lovers’ cover. One must let the closing credits roll and the experience slowly fade into a sweet memory.
As the album ends, there should be little doubt in the listener’s mind of DeVotchKa’s power; when the band wants to travel beyond “here” and “now”, they do so delicately. Yet the delicacy itself becomes a minor issue, one may be left desiring a more raw and passionate display in favor of the restrained politeness of 100 Lovers. There are many moments of excitement to balance the sophistication, but there is an equal sense of predictability in the compositions. Certain melodic elements re-occur like clockwork and the journey becomes a bit too safe at times.
Even when faced with such issues, the album never loses its grand, soaring quality; in fact, the potent atmosphere develops with each listen. Fans of Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, and Beirut will especially enjoy DeVotchKa’s latest work, but that information is inconsequential; 100 Lovers is ultimately an album worth checking out and a journey worth taking regardless of any conditions.