Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I've been puzzled by the intensity of my distaste for this band for some time. It's playing right now, and I think I'm edging my way closer to understanding.

So far there are three things.
1) The musicianship, in terms of the quality of the notes produced, is affectedly poor. One comes away with the sense that the singer and trumpet particularly are deliberately avoiding producing a euphonous sound in favor of creating a "quirky" atmosphere. Bad intonation and unsteady tone production work to great effect in this venture, turning the ensemble from a well-knit body into a haphazard coalition of armchair tunesters.

Which has something to do with my second point:

2) The success of this venture of stylized incompetence relies, at least in this case, on a condescending valorization of the colonized. It is not coincidental that the rhythms and harmonies, as well as the instrumentation, mime a non-specific Eastern European Gypsy-ness. But the reason this is hip is not because of its geo-historical origin, but because the music itself struggles. There are any number of very good (and hard-working) groups that play in this general ideom, but Americans--particularly left-leaning, well off Americans--eat us Devochka because they're so bad at making pretty music that you can practically hear the (post)colonial struggle. But of course, the struggle in the music is fake. It is a banal placation of affluent guilt, a cheap trick.

3) The third point is less theoretical. It bothers me that a band so dependent for its identity on ideosyncratic rhythms cannot play them in time. Everything is wonky and late, and with an awkwardness that reflects the above, not with any sensibility.

1 comment:

gallant galoot said...

well played!
i'd had similar feelings with them and others, like beirut and vampire weekend. maybe if there were some other redemptive aesthetic quality i wouldn't mind the barely tongue-in-cheek appropriation, maybe.