Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Avery Campbell
DVA are a Czech duo which play some sort of bizarre electronically-enhanced psychedelic jazz-folk with avant-garde touches, or so it seems to me. The constituent parts of said duo are credited only as “He” and “She”, where “He” plays guitar, drums and percussion and does the looping and sampling, “She” sings and plays reed instruments plus toy piano and music box, and both play melodica and balaphon.
The vocal style is based mainly on the multitracking of several tracks of the girl’s voice. She has a pretty if not especially powerful voice, but she’s not afraid to do weird things to it. At times she reminds me of Kate Bush or Björk. Yeah, clichéd, but it’s not like I’m an expert on strange voices. In many cases they alter the speed of her vocals for maximum effect. Ah, and she sings in a language, or several languages of their own invention. In fact the concept of the band seems to be one of imaginary worlds, because in their Bandcamp page they tag themselves as “pop from non-existing radios”.
Now, the music. I get some sort of 60s vibe from it, or rather several sorts of 60s vibes. Many of the songs have backings that sound like pop/jazzy bossa nova, with the saxes, acoustic guitar and percussions providing the adequate let’s-sip-a-vermouth-in-Capri, stroll-down-Marseille-in-sunglasses feel. “Mulatu” and “Zoppe” are the main exponents of this style, although both are faster and more frantic than my description there might suggest.
On another different vibe, “Nipomo” is based in murky, echoey, slightly bluesy electric guitars that evoke a different part of the 60s, the psychedelic hippie days this time, and the combination of this guitar, the unrelenting acoustic picking and the urgent vocal witchy melody, manages to have a driving rhythm despite the minimal percussion. Add to this the ghostly passages played by “She” on the bass clarinet, an instrument with a particular expression, as any fan of “Bitches Brew” knows, and it all adds up to one of the highlights of the album.
“Nunki” and “Javornicek”, meanwhile, owe more to electronica, with their soothing melodies (well, “Nunki” is soothing until the singer starts doing the crazy pixie things, at least, but it compensates with some soft sounding pads) over intrincate loops of percussion and samples. Especially “Javornicek” where the loops have an almost musique concrete quality and the bass reed instruments sound like the accompaniment to a free jazz tune. But it turns out that, for a 2 minute song, “Javornicek” has two parts, at the mid point the looped percussion disappears and guitar, ukulele and handclapts take the lead, while the vocal finishes with a folk-like chant.
“Meteor” is the folky ballad of the set. The arpeggiated guitar over sampled extravaganzas makes it sound a bit like “Animal Collective lite”, but other than the vibe and the nice but not groundbreaking melody it has little else to discuss. “Vespering” is its moodier (but at the same time livelier) counterpart, with the intro based on the toy instruments and the sung part having a certain uplifting quality which serves as a suitable conclusion.
There are a couple of songs which combine several elements of those aforementioned prototypes. “Durango” is a very satisfying song which combines the intrincacy of the loops of “Javornicek” at the beginning with the acoustic touch of “Meteor” and the vocal harmonies of “Zoppe” with one of the sunnier melodies of the album and a bona fide hook in the bVI-bVII-I progression in the guitar. “Vampira” begins being the slightly unhinged cousin of the bossa nova tracks, where the rhythm is more driving, the horns are jazzier, the guitar arpeggios are sicker, and the singer goes all ghostly on us. Soon the rhythm gets more subdued while still hip-shaking, and interestingly, while the bass line stays with the same Soul Sacrifice-style pattern throughout, the feel is different in what we could call the chorus, where the guitar plays some insistent R&B chords. Besides, this is the longest track (still at only 4 minutes plus change) so you have time to appreciate all its turns.
Finally there are two tracks that exemplify the good and bad sides of this album.
On the good side: “Surfi”. The beginning is a thing of beauty. It starts with sea waves and what sounds like a ping pong match. Soon the ping pong balls multiply and their bounces start overlapping and transforming in a rhythmic pattern which cannot be described as anything else than as African drums, this becomes the backing to scat multitracked and harmonized vocals. Without changing these, the backing is suddenly replaced by another of those light jazz bossa guitars under which the different layers of percussion, horns and sound effects come and go without giving the listener time to get bored.
On the bad side: “No Survi”. It’s the only track without vocals, and the problem with it is that its several background loops never fully coalesce. Everything seems to be fighting everything else, and in particular, the bass line, which sounds not bad by itself, manages to clash rhythmically with everything. You’d think that with several things all at odds with one another the bass line would have an opportunity to lock in with something. Well, amazingly it never does.
In summary, an interesting album, worth hearing when in the mood for something experimental yet easy on the ears. Wouldn’t mind hearing it again in a few days.