(Label Home Table/Northern Spy [U.S. distro], 2014)
Lately I’ve been choosing music to write about based on how much it surprises me. Genre doesn’t matter – if it hits that sweet spot, I let it ride. I’m easy to please that way. Or maybe that makes me virtually impossible to please. Probably somewhere right in the middle.
I have no idea who DVA are – that is, I had no idea until I spun Nipomo, the Czech duo’s new record on Lable Home Table, but released here in the States by the inimitable Northern Spy Records. And yes, they’re from the Czech Republic, so I at least knew that before listening. (That’s what press releases are for.) It’s just He and She, so we’re all pronouns all the time here. Their music is a wild cross between Balkan folk, electroacoustic pop, and sampledelica. Er, well, something like that. They call it, in English syntax, “pop from nonexisting radios” or “folklore from nonexisting nations” (which makes sense given the Czech Republic’s checkered [Czechered???] history). Blend Bis, Cibo Matto, and Beck together, see what happens. Maybe you get DVA. Maybe you get a gooey mess.
If all that sounds quite 1990s, it ain’t, my friend. Even though the freaking shot across the bow does nothing to dissuade it. See, it was true providence that I decided to sample this album – opener and title track “Nipomo,” while good enough on its own, caused me to shoot up in my chair about a minute in. “No, that’s not ‘Underdogs of Nipomo,’ sung in a different language, is it?,” I said out loud to no one in the room. I had to check, and after comparing it to the Archers of Loaf tune from their classic album Vee Vee, I was floored. “Nipomo” resembled the original only tangentially, as a dearth of instrumentation (and distortion), along with the non-English delivery gives it its own identity and life, and the ability to title the entire album after it. DVA make the tune their own. I love it when artists do that.
Sweet spot? Consider it hit. No way I’m gonna pass up a band reworking and recontextualizing Archers of Loaf to such an unrecognizable extent.
I had to wait until the surprise and glee wore off before I soldiered on, and soldiering on is the best thing anyone can do here. Nipomo is an absolute delight to listen to, all the way through. She sings in a Czech/English/made-up language combination, and you can’t decipher it. At least I wasn’t able to. But it’s beautiful in its delivery, and She even mixes in some gypsy-esque flights of vocal virtuosity, such as on insanely awesome single “Mulatu,” on which horns match She in their utter abandon. “Nunki” also sees She stretching the idea of Western progression, and although the song is much more restrained, the vocal performance injects an element of uncertainty and danger – She can be disorienting in her singing.
What’s great about Nipomo is that DVA don’t confine themselves to a sound or style, something that might be easy for a duo to do. But He and She have an unquestioned range and a childlike enthusiasm for experimentation. Take “No Survi” for example, which does a sort of instrumental bedroom trip hop thing, and acts as a delightful chill pill to after the initial exuberance of the first two songs. “Surfi” uses samples of a Ping Pong match to accent its tropical vibe. And “Vampira” is an amazing acoustic/electro-backporch shuffle, its start/stop bridge one of the album’s absolute high points in ingenuity.
DVA is absolutely posied for U.S. crossover. Nipomo will be their first album distributed in the States, and it’s a front-to-back charmer that demands attention. Technology is shrinking the world, and as it does, long-standing cultural barriers will be obliterated, along with those holding back amazing musical contributions. DVA has already garnered critical acclaim for their IGF Award–winning (2012) soundtrack to the Botanicula video game, and now it’s time for everyone to notice. So I’ve got one thing to say to any naysayers: Czech yourself before you wreck yourself.
…Or, uh, wrzech yourself? Forget it – Česká sami před zničit sám sebe.