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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Music /  Aural orgy
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Thursday, February 10,2011

Aural orgy

DeVotchKa makes music for 100 Lovers

By Dave Kirby

While most of America was dealing chips and cracking cold ones in anticipation of the Super Bowl last Sunday, DeVotchKa’s Nick Urata was at home, catching his breath from an afternoon band rehearsal. The iconoclastic Denver quartet had a Valentine’s gig coming up — something of a tradition for the band, but juiced a little this year by the Denver release of 100 Lovers, the band’s eagerly awaited fifth long-player that sees a national release on March 1.

Unlike most of their prior releases, this one took the band 12 calendar page flips to get in the can.

“Yeah,” Urata says, “it’s not like we’re the Beatles and we were in the studio every day, but, yeah, it did take a year and change to get it together. We didn’t really tell anyone that we were going to do it, but we kind of decided that we would let the songs … ferment and take on their own life.”

DeVotchKa has matured into an impressive expression of craft, moving well beyond the Romaniburlesque quirkiness that first endeared them to indie rock audiences years ago. Their influences now are fully absorbed and less self-consciously applied — the pumping accordion lead and accents dueling with Shawn King’s skittering snare figures throughout the rocking “The Man from San Sebastian,” the plaintive acoustic guitar and tambourine exuding Beatles-esque pop simplicity on “Exhaustible,” the whistled melody line like a ghostly, forgotten Gypsy work song.

And, of course, the broad, cinematic burners opening the CD: the crescendo-cadenced “The Alley” and the galloping “All the Sand in all the Sea,” both drawn around impossibly yearning lead melodies, with Urata’s voice soaring with lachrymose intensity.

This is the stuff of elusive redemption, and if DeVotchKa makes it sound instinctual … well, we asked Urata about rehearsing a bit like “The Common Good,” a fiendishly gnarled little piece four cuts down in the program. String flourishes yield to syncopated handclaps, dissolving into a thundering bass-heavy rock motif, collapsing again into North African string figures, exiting in colliding, disturbed dissonances.

Urata chuckles a bit when we bring that one up. “Yeah, that one’s going to be hard to pull off,” he says. “We were talking about the general approach to the album — ‘dysfunctional’ is a way to describe some of these songs. We, of course, loved playing it and loved re-arranging it. But we had to … seriously spend a long time making many versions of it before we ended up with what you heard on the album.”

Like, bits and pieces and shards of melodies someone loved too much to let go — it reminded us of how someone once described a camel. A horse designed by committee. Urata laughs.

“Yeah, you should have heard it before we edited it.” DeVotchKa spent a good part of last year touring with Gogol Bordello — we had visions of Urata throwing back shots of Stoli with Eugene Hutz (“Yeah, there was a little bit of Vodka on that tour … but Eugene and all those guys are very accomplished musicians that work their asses off, and we really love playing and collaborating with them.”) — and the upcoming year promises another full festival season. The foundation for the band’s festival-draw popularity was probably laid by the exposure they got doing the soundtrack to the endearingly offbeat film Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, and solidified by the EP Curse Your Little Heart and the critically acclaimed follow-up CD A Mad & Faithful Telling.

But Urata is a self-confessed second-guesser, and we lost track of how many times in 20 minutes he told us he hoped people liked their new record.

So, we couldn’t resist sharing a comment posted on YouTube to the official video of 2004’s “How It Ends,” one of the band’s now-trademark and welltraveled torch numbers.

“I spent 2009 in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. Funny thing, my grandmother gave me a small pocket Bible that my uncle had carried with him in Vietnam, and my father in the first Gulf war. Inside the Bible was a small bullet-resistant metal sheet. I carried it in my left breast pocket for my entire deployment. During the summer, a lot of bad things happened; this song really helped me come to grips with accepting my fate, whatever it might be. I don’t think I can ever thank DeVotchka enough.”

The message here, was that while the mechanics matter, the production and the sequencing and song selection to an album matter, and worrying about how it plays in the press and the fanbase matter … but nothing matters more than people finding humanity in the music. Urata hadn’t seen it.

“Geez,” he says. “Y’know, I couldn’t think of a more important reason to work on a song. I always kinda think, getting to play live, and getting press accolades or whatever, that’s great, but actually connecting to somebody’s life is the best reward for doing this stuff.”

On the Bill

DeVotchKa plays the Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday, Feb.12. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Mariachi El Bronx and Gregory Alan Isakov open. Tickets start at $35.25. 1510 Clarkson St., Denver, 303-837-1482.

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