It’s hard for me to review each new Devotchka record, because all I hear is love. Frontman Nick Urata is a heartbreaker, and his voice preys on the weak-kneed increasingly with each effort, the lyrics aching with little symbols like fingers around a wrist. “100 Lovers” is not the least of these, the Colorado band’s fifth full-length embracing its powerfully international sound.
“The Alley” starts things off wistfully, with a drone, a militaristic snare and a dreamy piano, Urata’s cool-eyed tenor bursting through the door like a hero with a rose in his teeth. “All the Sand in All the Sea” is punctuated with the same keys from their acclaimed track “Transliterator.” “Here’s the part that always gets me…” he trails off, as a cute instrumentals chug, then to a “supermelodramatic” bridge, the hook splintering.
The gramophonic mids of single “100 Other Lovers” breaks into a Sgt. Pepper string section and the tension builds as each verse and chorus concludes and lays down in a pasture. It contains one of the few memorable melodies in the set, but its sounds more pedestrial compared to the rest…
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Devotchka’s Baltic influence is only first hinted at the beginning and through the verse dividers of “The Common Good,” which provides ample space for some of the finest arrangements the band has conjured, as counter-melodies in the low-end battle for spaces with some violins in cinematic unison.
While “Interlude 1” into “The Man from San Sebastian” brings out that minor-keyed desperation in the indistinguishable wailings, the band is released from the doghouse in four-on-the-floor tambourine, a looping whistle, a drum machine that sounds borrowed from David Grey’s “White Ladder” album. “You and I we’re not so different / exhaustible and inefficient,” Urata seemingly lament, but by the end, all failings are forgivable when all instruments are swirling and sputter into a round like a nursery rhyme you never knew, amped by the actual giggles of a child choir.
The chugging of “Bad Luck Heels” may remind listeners of Devotchka’s contribution to the “Little Miss Sunshine” score, those shades of dolor as trumpets declare the floor open for a forro or samba. The speak-singing Spanish and trills of “Ruthless” sticks out but at least helps the album pick up the pace to bring its “Lovers” some closure. Then a badass tuba leads the procession on norteño-tinged and appropriately titled “Contrabanda,” the Latin thump of saxes overpowering electrics and waterfall of hand percussion. “Are you still with me?” he inquires.
It’s this level of fervent exoticism that has me clamoring for some normalization, to die in my lover’s arms, which “Sunshine” unpredictably shirks, then teases, then burns with an Eastern European sunset, all-instrumental, wordless and shaken, those same Gypsy tubas laying down an atmosphere of static.
It’s the listener by the end that is “exhaustible,” or rather, exhausted, but it’s like experiencing and re-experiencing “the moment” from an action film, the one that leads its protagonist reclaiming his/her lover at the end of a successful mission. And it’s impossibly hot. If the weather on March 1 doesn’t thaw this endless winter, this album certainly will.