To call Czech prog-pop pranksters DVA “an oddity” would be an understatement. An energetic two-piece specializing in a warped pop mishmash that incorporates outré instrumentation, plenty of studio effects, and lyrics culled from their own made-up language, DVA goes their own way on every track of their American debut Nipomo. It’s an 11 song collection of jarring juxtapositions, playfully whimsical moments and straightforward pop songcraft that, love it or hate it, sounds like little else you are likely to hear this year.
Whether or not this is a good thing depends on one’s tolerance for whimsy. DVA’s Bandcamp site lists the two musicians as “He” on guitar, percussion and other instruments, while “She” handles vocal duties, saxophone, toy piano et al. Consider yourself warned. Opening track “Nipomo” shuffles from the speakers as a jittery statement of purpose, its heavily reverbed guitar lines and edgy rhythms leavened somewhat by She’s sweetly harmonized nonsense vocals, delicate guitar plucking and oozing clarinet lines — because, y’know, clarinet. At four and a half minutes, it’s the longest track here, and it could stand to be longer, but presumably the band want to move along.
Follow-up tune “Mulatu” offers plenty more to keep listeners off balance, this time with a heavy dose of free-jazz saxophone skronk and a fair bit of feminine wailing layered over the guitar strumming and restless percussion. Later, “Zoppe” and “Vampira” keep the uptempo, slightly strident good times rolling with their gumbo of synths, accordions, woodwinds and guitars swirled in among percussive polyrhythms, unexpected tempo jumps and multiple song sections.
If all this sounds like work, well, yeah; DVA is not a band that’s content to sit back and meet a lazy listener’s expectations. This is as evident in the tape loops and studio tricks in songs like “Nunki” as in the field recording that opens “Surfi” with what appears to be a pong-pong game on the beach. But neither is it fair to say that DVA is exhausting in its inventiveness. Unlike some bands that try a little too hard to throw left field sonic choices at the listener, DVA understands the value of a lively melody or an interlude of simple beauty to tie together the disparate parts of its compositions. A song like “Vampira” might be made up of several different sections, its four-plus minutes a mini-epic of unexpected tempo shifts and instrumentation, but it remains, at heart, a pop song, and it succeeds as one. The album as a whole contains an upbeat, summery vibe which makes it easy to absorb, and is at times even joyous.
The band also offer a number of softer, slower numbers to help allay listener fatigue. Although never lacking for energy, tunes like “No Survi” and “Meteor” help prevent the album from degenerating into a simple endurance test. The interludes never last for long, but they’re there, and they allow the listener to catch his / her breath before moving on to the next uptempo extravaganza.
The album ends strongly, with closing track “Vespering” offering a moody, almost trip-hoppy comedown from the album’s earlier hubbub. It’s one of the shortest tracks on the record, and the limited time brings the tune into sharper, less self-indulgent focus. Plus, clarinet again, so how can you go wrong?
Listeners interested in the more experimental pole of the pop-rock spectrum will want to give DVA a chance. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s a strong one, and even its flaws are interesting.