By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
Denver gypsy-rockers DeVotchKa have been plagued by a Promethean fate over the course of their 10-year career. Their breed of Balkan-tinged orchestral pop has informed and arguably defined a demi-generation of indie rock. And yet, with few exceptions—most notably, a Grammy nom for their work on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack—they've been relegated to the second tier, watching helplessly as younger, flashier bands like Gogol Bordello, Beirut, and Arcade Fire feast on their labors. If there's anyjustice in the world, A Madand Faithful Telling will finally yield the adulation this extraordinary band deserves.
There's something charmingly old-fashioned about DeVotchKa's unabashed, unironic sense of drama: Telling plays out like a Fellini film, a gracefully unfolding narrative by turns ebullient, hopeful, manic, perverse, and morbid. The triumphant swell of mariachi horn on "Along the Way" gives way to bittersweet uncertainty on "The Clockwise Witness," where, amid pizzicato strings and twinkling miniature piano, singer Nick Urata poses the question DeVotchKa fans have been asking for a decade: "How long will this take?/How long must I wait?" And the rollicking "Head Honcho" is as playful as it is vengeful, with Urata intoning, "We're gonna hit 'em/Hit 'em where it hurts."
Perhaps the only misstep is the sequencing of songs. The album's first track, the cacophonous "Basso Profundo," sticks out like a sore thumb, overindulging the band's penchant for melting-pot quirk before the listener's had a chance to acclimate, throwing off the balance of an otherwise perfectly paced album. And the last track, "A New World," is an anti-climactic bookend that sounds too contemporary—too mediocre—for the conclusion to such an astonishing work. (The boozy two-step "Strizzalo" would've been a better option for closing things down.) But more often than not, Telling is utterly transporting, combining deft musicality with complex emotional shading and a cinematic sensibility. It's a furious sonic tumult that feels heartbreaking and timeless.
DeVotchKa play Terminal 5 May 20, terminal5nyc.com.