Monday, May 29th, 2006

The Last Beat Of My Heart

One thing you can say about Denver’s DeVotchKa – they sure as hell don’t sound like anyone else. Horns, strings and guitars crash into each other in an otherworldly Gypsy/mariachi/rock and roll film score mashup (Calexico vs Gogol Bordello?) and above it all, Nick Urata’s impassioned, unbelievable croon. Their new record Curse Your Little Heart is something of a stopgap while they work on the follow-up to 2004’s How It Ends, consisting of just one original and five covers from exceedingly disparate sources.

But no matter where they come from, DeVotchKa makes the songs their own with rhythms, instrumentation and delivery that the original writers likely never concieved of. It’s probably telling that two of the strongest songs on the EP are also the unlikeliest ones – Siouxsie & The Banshees’ “The Last Beat Of My Heart” and The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs”. I won’t go so far as to say that they’re superior for that’ll surely put me on some zealot’s hit list, but by god they stand up on their own.

I will admit freely that this was my first exposure to DeVotchKa and a covers EP probably isn’t the best way to gauge a band, but songs notwithstanding their sound is more than a little exhilerating and based on the How It Ends tracks available on their MySpace, their originals won’t be a let down. The last full-length just went on my shopping list – maybe I’ll get it on June 27 when they play the El Mocambo (tickets $10). Every time I listen to Curse Your Little Heart, I get a little more excited for this show. I suspect it’ll be a scorcher. I Guess I’m Floating also recently wrote up DeVotchKa. Great minds something something.

MP3: DeVotchKa – “Venus In Furs”
MP3: DeVotchKa – “How It Ends”
MP3: DeVotchKa – “You Love Me”

DeVotchKa’s tourmates on this jaunt are Portland’s Norfolk & Western, who are promoting their new album The Gilded Age. Like their compatriots, they create idiosyncratic folk music that sounds almost completely out of time – they can step from turn-of-the-century banjo plucking to speaker-shredding fuzz guitar in a half beat and make it sound completely natural. The Oregonian profiles Adam Selzer, singer and half of the core duo that drive the band. The other half is one Rachel Blumberg, whom you may (or may not) remember as former drummer for The Decemberists – some thought she was crazy when she quit that band early last year to concentrate on N&W, but after hearing some of what she’s been up to, I don’t really question the move anymore. This stuff is good. Here are a couple of tracks from The Gilded Age and you can hear more at their MySpace.

MP3: Norfolk & Western – “Clyde & New Orleans”
MP3: Norfolk & Western – “There Are No Places Left For Us”
MP3: Norfolk & Western – “Porch Destruction”

And it should be noted that she who replaced Rachel Blumberg in the Decemberists for their 2005 touring schedule, Ms Petra Haden, is no longer playing with the band. In a post on the Decemberists message board, Colin Meloy said:

“it’s an amicable thing; we still are friends. For one thing, we initially had asked her to come aboard as a touring musician for just the Picaresque tours. We hadn’t really expected to take her on as a full-time part of the band. There was some talk about that happening, but in the end, after the tours were over and we were back in the comforts of our homes it didn’t necessarily still make sense”.

Anyone who saw the Haden-powered shows (as I did last May) will attest that her pipes and violin were huge additions to the band and her departure is most unfortunate – but it’s obvious that she has her own muse to follow, like the one that compelled her to record completely a capella versions of The Who Sell Out, MJ’s “Thriller” and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”. Also demonstrating her gift for a cover was her take on Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” which she performed with The Decemberists and is one of my most popular past MP3 of the week requests. So before you ask, here you go. Call these and the DeVotchKa track some cover of the week bonuses.

MP3: Petra Haden – “God Only Knows”
MP3: Petra Haden – “Thriller”
MP3: The Decemberists featuring Petra Haden – “Wuthering Heights”

Decemberists bassist Nate Query talks to The Oxford Student and drops some clues as to what to expect from their new album. Via Largehearted Boy.

Paste talks to John Covertino and Joey Burns about Calexico’s first recordings – done on Covertino’s answering machine – and their latest ones, collected as Garden Ruin. They also run off their their top 5 musical thrift store finds.

Arcade Fire will be releasing a live DVD this Summer in advance of the follow-up to Funeral, which is still expected for Fall of 2006. AF’s Will Butler guest-blogged at Said The Gramophone last week.

The Globe & Mail talks about being sexy with Amy Millan, whose Honey From The Tombs is out Tuesday and she plays the Mod Club June 10. I Heart Music has a couple of Stars radio sessions with KEXP up for download.

Chase Sequence has an interview with Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee-O’Malley about the new book and the Scott Pilgrim movie. Attending the release party for Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness (it’s great – get it) was my Saturday night. Partaking in Doors Open was much of the rest of my weekend. Check out the pics at Flickr. Critical Kitten also did Doors Open and has some really nice photos of places I didn’t get into, what with “doors open” not necessarily meaning “jump the queue”.

np – Smoosh / Free To Stay

By : Frank Yang at 8:12 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post9 Responses.
  1. Sasha says:

    DeVotchKa opened for M Ward at Lee’s last year and they were fantastic live. They got the whole building involved, and eventually jumped onto the floor with acoustic instruments and played in the crowd. Really fun and just great music. Will definitely try to see them at El Mo because of it.

  2. Five says:

    Hey Frank, How’s the new Smoosh?

  3. Karin says:

    I’ve been pushing DeVotchKa on all my friends since I heard them on <a href="…">NPR</a> last year, and I actually ditched Morrissey to go see them at SXSW this year. They’re an absolutely fabulous live act — I have no doubt that the El Mocambo show will be worth seeing.

  4. kathryn says:

    I actually think that the covers EP is not as strong as their albums. I, too, saw them during SXSW and they were fantastic: energetic, sultry, complete showmen. Plus, they’re stunning visually with ruffled shirts, orchestra blacks, a Christmas-light garlanded sousaphone, and an old fashioned microphone. And the band are definitely friends with Gogol Bordello, which is how they ended up on the Everything is Illuminated trailer.

  5. John the cover guy says:

    Hey Frank…..

    Congrats on the mention in the latest issue of Q. Just one thing…… I didn’t know you were an American…. anyhow, congrats. Check out the dics of covers is comes with. The Editors cover Orange Crush

  6. Sarah says:

    Just adding my voice to the pro-Devotchka chorus. They’re great live. (Well, not when they opened for Dresden Dolls last year, but generally great.) I’m looking forward to seeing them headline a show.

  7. Derek says:

    Petra Haden is actually with the Foo Fighters on their summer acoustic tour. It’s funny, I saw Petra as part of that dog. when they opened for the Foo Fighters in 96, great little band they were.

  8. thomaus says:

    Everybody seemed to be taking pictures of the innards of the MaRS escalators. Pretty nifty, but the group I was with was left cold by the building in general. I guess medical buildings should be sterile, but…

    Nice birdie shots.

  9. Rodan says:

    Devotchka is one of the few bands I’ll still travel for. Got tickets for the bowery and will likely be heading north towards boston to catch them again the following night. like nothing you’ve ever seen before.