If you thought you already knew (pun intended) what Devotchka was capable of before you heard A Mad and Faithful Telling, you would have been wrong. Sure, we all knew that the Denver band with a huge cult following could, within the blink of an eye, make you dance the Barynya with a bottle of vodka in your hand and then send you crying into the night. We all knew that Devotchka’s musical style had more stamps on its passport than Arthur Frommer. And we all knew that frontman Nick Urata was a carnival barker, crooner and Casanova all rolled into one slick and genius package. What we didn’t know was that the band would continue to get better with each release.
For those of you, like me, who found themselves deeply affected by How It Ends, the 2004 album that made weepy trailer fare out of “You Already Know” and then led to a big break in scoring the music for the indie hit, Little Miss Sunshine, a new Devotchka album was far too long in the making. Four years is a long time to wait, and is usually only forgiven for bands like U2 or R.E.M. But forgive them, you will, as A Mad and Faithful Telling more than makes up for that lost time. Back again is the glorious hybrid of Eastern European and Latin, evident immediately in the album’s opener, “Basso Profundo.” The song even has what seems like three different languages going on, and just might (it’s actually just two). The chorus, which at first sounds like Urata singing `na na na’ over and over again is actually the phrase `they never have enough,’ and he might as well be singing about his fans. The track leads us to believe that this album is a celebration, and in more than one way it is.
“The Clockwise Witness” is being played heavily on independent radio, with more of a leaning toward pop music than Devotchka has ever displayed before. Of course, Nick Urata fought pretty hard to be recognized as a pop band instead of being hung with the `world music’ tag. Fans of Andrew Bird’s dramatic fare will revel in “The Clockwise Witness.” “Head Honcho” brings the foreboding Ennio Morricone cinematic style into the mix while the instrumental “Comrade Z” combines gypsy violins and mariachi horns to build into a tit for tat escalating scorcher. The true centerpiece of the album is the rocking “Transliterator.” The song is sans most of the decorative instrumental fare, instead relying on a core group of pop and rock sounds to deliver an Arcade Fire / Springsteenian arena wrecker, but one with slight touches of LCD Soundsystem and Sufjan Stevens. Expect to hear a lot of “Transliterator.”
“Blessing in Disguise” brings back the world flavor while “Undone” is a mournful tale of someone about to die and fighting it because he still has things to do, not wanting to leave his love. So no, Devotchka was not yet done breaking your heart with their last album. Another instrumental follows in “Strizzalo,” one that is about forty percent ranchero, forty percent Italian and twenty percent whatever else they could find. How these styles fit together so seamlessly is beyond me, but Urata and company manages to do it each time out. Another highlight is saved until last with “New World.” It’s another emotional builder in the style of “You Already Know,” but with Smiths-like guitars and haunting female vocal coos. As all of the instruments begin to join one another as the song closes, you just can’t help but hitch your breath and let the swell in your heart take you away.
Fans of Devotchka don’t have to be told that A Mad and Faithful Telling was going to be a fantastic album. But with each release, this band seems to improve. It’s difficult to tell how, but there seems to be a tendency for Devotchka to hone in on their strengths and polish them to a fine sheen. That certainly seems true with this album, one that finds a balanced mix of cabaret abandon and finely measured poignant escalations. I can’t recommend this band enough, but then again, you already knew how this would end, didn’t you?