If you don’t know them more intimately, you might recognise the brisk, whirling romance of Devotchka from the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack. It turned out to be a refreshing choice for a road movie, eschewing classic yank-rock for a breathless triangulation of Eastern European, Parisian, and Latin American folk music, always underscored with those high and frivolous strings. Which is all a bit weird, since the band is from Denver: but hell, it worked for Zach Condon, and while DeVotchKa have not enjoyed quite the same levels of knicker-throwing devotion as he, they nevertheless work the formula into a passionate, beautiful froth.
Their fifth album, 100 Lovers, continues in the same vein, but shows a further movement towards mainstream palatability. This apparently comes from opening for Muse, and watching for the reflexive reactions of non-fans: what gripped them, what bored them. The verdict – Muse must have indirectly done something useful for once, because 100 Lovers is the most varied and listenable DeVotchKa record so far. The band, presumably with clipboards and Bunsen burners akimbo, boiled away some of the excess, and concluded that their music was ten percent better with a bit more rock percussion, provided by members of Atoms For Peace and Calexico. They made this complete heartbreaker called ‘All the Sand in All the Sea’, whose barrelling snares, frenetic strumming and flutter of keyboards is as stirring as vintage Arcade Fire (whoever they are). They made ‘One Hundred Other Lovers’, which unearths another surprising comparison, Vampire Weekend – there being a sort of smiling ‘Horchata’ lilt to the customarily doughy vocals, and a conga beat beneath sampled, reversed electric guitar.
But don’t get the impression that these new references represent a loss of character. The original sound is still very much there, in the urgent, feverish accordion and surf-rock guitar of ‘The Man from San Sebastian’, and the bubbling Mariachi superballad, ‘Bad Luck Heels’. And always, always, those unmistakable strings; always lyrics about you, darling, you and him, taking off for somewhere better, and leaving tonight: “you will be mine again!”, sung strong enough to reach you up there on the balcony. Always the old-time romance, the stuff Lloyd Dobler would have been pumpin’ had he looked more like Eugene Hutz.
Suffice to say, if DeVotchKa were your boyfriend, he’d be awesome – if a little overenthusiastic with the roses. Some people think he’s over the top, but it’s okay. He’s learning to be cool.