DeVotchKa are not a new band. They're touring on their fourth full-length. They've had their music featured in prominent films such as Everything Is Illuminated and Little Miss Sunshine. They've played to sold-out crowds all over the world and opened for acts as varied as Dita Von Teese and Calexico. And yet their new album, A Mad and Faithful Telling, is their first full-length to be released by a label other than their own. Now that's a testament to the DIY ethic. But when comparing this release to their previous oeuvre, the question arises whether they were out on their own too long.
Maybe it's unfair to judge a band on the verge of mainstream popularity for being too ahead of the curve, but to the longtime listener, the new material returns to paths they've led us down before—which isn't really a bad thing. There are multiple songs of striking beauty here: "A Clockwise Witness" captures the band at their bittersweet best—blending melancholic pop brilliance with heart-on-the-sleeve pathos. Singer Nick Urata, sounding like an Eastern European Chris Isaak, approaches his melodies with open throat and open soul, as if each song were an appeal to a lover now gone, forever finding new ways to mourn her departure and entreat her return. He swoops up to each note like a baying hound lost in the woods of emotional pain and unrequited love. The influence of geographies and genres ranging from rumba to Czech folk dances is on full display throughout.
While their older albums, such as Una Volta and How it Ends, conjured and maintained a prolonged and hypnotic trance of old-country beauty, A Mad and Faithful Telling does so intermittently, also offering several well-orchestrated and deftly arranged tracks of gypsy rock and zany polka jigs that sound a bit familiar or even self-conscious. And then there's the rather obvious single, "Transliterator"—its distorted aggression belying its target of modern radio.
For the uninitiated, if this is your first exposure to DeVotchKa, you're in for a sweet surprise. For those who have known all along how great the band is, have fun at the show.