DeVotchKa A Mad & Faithful Telling

[ANTI-; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: Eastern European gypsy indie folk
Others: Gogol Bordello, Forro In The Dark, Beirut, The Cat Empire

After struggling for years touring and making music, two rookie LA filmmakers randomly heard DeVotchka on the radio and immediately hired the group to write a soundtrack for their first movie. Little Miss Sunshine turned out to be a surprise hit, winning all kinds of awards and praise. The soundtrack was mostly made up of adapted songs from the last two self-released DeVotchKa albums (Una Volta from 2003 and How It Ends released the following year) as well as some new work. It'd go on to receive a Grammy nomination and finally bring the band to the attention of the hip mainstream audience it deserved. Soon after, Ace Fu picked up the release of their next EP, Curse Your Little Heart (mostly a collection of weird covers, including Sinatra, Siouxsie & The Banshees, and The Velvet Underground), while ANTI- saw fit to give How It Ends a proper UK release in 2007. Life was and remains good for DeVotchKa.

A Mad & Faithful Telling is the culmination of a decade of struggle and practice. It's been a hell of a journey to get to this point, years of cramming into vans and running the DIY trip to the end, but now all they have to be is themselves, and that's like asking Spicoli to chill. Their fourth full-length (and first to be properly backed in North America) sees a band of weary travelers finally earning the space and time to properly reflect on where they've been and where they want to go. "Along The Way" is a song that smells the roses, based around a steady strumming acoustic guitar and uplifting Mariachi brass with a sugary string accompaniment. Over that, Nick Uruta's vocals wane between the frail wistfulness of Jeff Buckley and the sultry capabilities of David Byrne when the Talking Head isn't being too abstract. It's a sure mix tape winner. "The Clockwise Witness" follows with a thick string section teasing plucks with chimes and a more traditional rock rhythm section, while Uruta croons on about relationship struggles.

But DeVotchKa aren't dependent on words to get their message across. In fact, this Denver-based multinational folk quartet is practically a gypsy orchestra, featuring tones from the accordion, violin, tuba, sousaphone, bouzouki, upright bass, and Theremin. "Comrade Z" is a straight two-minute violin-based instrumental that, as you could guess from the title, is pure Russian folk. Likewise, "Strizzalo" is a tidy Eastern European waltz driven by accordion and tuba. These two tracks sum up the tone of the album well. It's both timeless and of the now. Beautiful.

DeVotchka's debut was strongly based in rock, while the last two releases hodgepodged their many influences, albeit in fine form. A Mad & Faithful Telling, however, comes off as their most focused and researched work yet, incorporating traditional and pop culture aspects without getting cluttered or seeming like they're trying too hard to find a niche. To deliver a highly anticipated album that's so fully realized and painfully fun is soul-shatteringly inspirational. Nothing but great days lie ahead for DeVotchKa. For those who find Gogol Bordello too drunk and not contemplative enough, the soothing cacophony that is DeVotchKa will surely do the trick.

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