100 Lovers

Rating: 4.3/5.0

Label: ANTI-

Hailing from Denver, Colorado by way of a Balkan market bazaar, DeVotchKa is a band with a sound so uniquely antique that it borders on timeless. While other groups such as Beirut have explored the same territory, DeVotchKa is blessed with a fuller, richer orchestration and frontman Nick Urata is a consistently stronger lyricist and vocalist than Zach Condon. DeVotchKa experienced a spike in fame upon contributing to the soundtrack for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, but have maintained their cred with their energetic, audience-involving live shows. Their latest, 100 Lovers, invokes the smoldering energy of these performances, along with the aesthetics of an abstract parable; down to the album’s art design, it all feels like a series of stories of the sunken-hearted that somehow find their way back up- Urata acts as a gypsy-tinted John Darnielle.

Complexity of arrangements is one of DeVotchKa’s signatures, and on 100 Lovers, they offer some of the thickest and most complicated of their careers- there are horns, guitars, raked drums and swelling vocals intertwined with deceptive ease, such as on the remorseful “Bad Luck Heels.” They never sound cacophonous- more like sonically forceful. “Ruthless” features Urata scatting in a foreign language, slipping into and out of his mid-range croon; you can practically see the red curtains and the fan dancing as an electric keyboard line takes over for the theremin and glockenspiel from the first half.

“100 Other Lovers” begins with a lilting guitar line- a Proustian mental picture of a needle dropping on an old Victrola as French red wine is poured into a glass with cracked decorative leafing. Just as it gets to its loveliest, the percussion jams in rhythmically, like the wheels of a train turning. A soft piano line coupled with Urata’s regretful “I know it’s coming/ I can feel it in my bones/ And this is if I make sure you already know,” give this song a personal touch- while talking about 100 other lovers, it’s also for just one.

The hazy state of euphoria from “100 Other Lovers” carries into “The Common Good,” but perhaps with even a touch more faithlessness in the lyrics: “You’re gonna chew me up and spit me out.” A haunting, cyclical violin line offers an uplifting escape, but it is quickly tamped down by Urata’s decreasingly pitched vocals and the increasingly faster percussion and fuzzy guitars- this is the sound of a heart going off its rails.

The energy that the group can pack into a song is baffling- their 2008 record A Mad & Faithful Telling was praised for this, but it seems Urata and crew have gone a little madder, rooted down and gotten a little more faithful. Stand-out “The Man from San Sebastian” is in the running for Song of the Year: a frightening, ecstatic work that would make Nick Cave think, “Don’t mess with that guy.” Drummer Shawn King goes almost triple-time to support Urata’s frantic singing and Tom Hagerman’s menacing, stinging accordion. While the song never truly explodes, it threatens to with a perpetual fluctuation- the guitars swell, the vocals crash, the percussion circles like a shark in the water. As Urata asks, “Am I the only one/ Who remembers the man from San Sebastian?,” a theremin swell leads into more menacing accordian. Frankly, even if no one does remember the man, they’ll sure as fuck remember DeVotchKa. With 100 Lovers, they’ve made a record as erratic and exotic as any of their previous, but with a broader sense of appeal. If this is your first experience with DeVotchKa, you’ll be smitten. If you’re already a fan, then prepare to fall all over again.

by Rafael Gaitan

Key Tracks: The Man from San Sebastian, The Common Good, 100 Other Lovers

See Also: Concert Review: DeVotchKa (2010)


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