This album came to my ears quite late in the game. I was in a strange state at 3 AM on a Saturday night in December, and DVA’s “Vals Liepája,” came on BBC’s World Music show on NPR. I was transfixed by the delayed harmonics that open this song, and sucked in by melodic musings in a language I couldn’t place.
It turns out that DVA is a Czech husband and wife duo. One of the most engaging aspects of this album is their dynamic use of vocals as rhythmic elements. At close listen, lead singer Barbora Kratochvílová’s humming, panting, whispers can be heard cut and sliced into each song. Some of the singing is done in Latvian, but Kratochvílová’s inflections seem to have been forged on some other planet. “Pingu Hop” features the group speaking in a kind of hyper doo-wop over a sexy saxophone riff. DVA employ an extensive use of genres throughout the album, most compelling in “Disco Circus.” In this mash up, a warm synth keeps the key, as the vocals and guitar wonder in and out of a 2/4 beat box drum line. I think I hear a baby murmuring in the background. I don’t understand a word of what is being said on ‘Fonok,’ but that isn’t the point.
We read a lot today about bands who appropriate music styles outside their western influences, and the potential for cultural pluralism in our pop music. I see many of these bands as post-colonialist novelty acts (Vampire Weekend, anyone). What is so refreshing about DVA is that there interpretation of circus, freak folk, tango, disco; etc… feels so much more earnest. Fonok is not my album of the year because of this sincerity, but it helps.