Music News

DeVotchKa's Tom Hagerman Dropped a Surprise Pop Record

Gary Isaacs
The great Tom Hagerman.
When you get an email from Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa, you open it.

Even on a Thursday night, during a blizzard, in the middle of a pandemic. Even when you just saw a 25 percent pay cut and face layoffs. Even when you know that most people you love have it worse than you do, because at least you still have 75 percent of a paycheck coming and a job, while nearly every bartender, waiter, sound engineer and security guard in your city is out of work. Even if you're grateful you're not sick but you're worried about the people you love who are.

No matter how chaotic things are, if Tom Hagerman writes, you read it.

But really, why on a Thursday night — as the music industry's collapsing (along with the rest of the economy), as the world shuts down and we try to take care of each other, paradoxically, by distancing ourselves from one another — would Tom Hagerman write to me?

His subject line was humble: "This is Tom from Devotchka."

First thought: Yeah, no kidding. Tom Hagerman is only one of the best musicians in, the world; a great performer to watch play, who brings a wild lunacy and obsessive mastery to whatever instrument he's picking up; a pro who arranges songs of rock legends with orchestras, who has composed for the silver screen, who is as close to a Michelangelo of music as this city has.

Second thought: Oh, no. Please don't say someone in DeVotchKa died. They're all so smart. And hardworking. And kind. And their music is incredible. And they give so much to the community.

Third thought: Maybe I signed up for a mailing list and forgot.

So I opened the email. Nobody died, I'm not on a mailing list, and he really meant to write to me. Here's what he said:

Hey Kyle—

I've been working on a new project over the last couple of years with Elin Palmer and Shawn King from Devotchka.  I was going to put out the record in May, but the world fell apart so I am going to put it out via bandcamp tonight.  I just wanted to give you the heads up in case you might be able to plug it or wanted to write a story on it.  I hope you and yours are staying healthy.

The guy didn't even capitalize his name. Or use an exclamation mark. Or load his note with any of the toxic overblown adjectives that music publicists use to decorate their press releases. And he even seemed to care about me and mine, even though I'm pretty sure we've never met.

There's a lot he didn't mention about the new project.

He didn't bother to say his new band's name: The Post Truth Serum. Nor the album's name: Modern Victims.

And he didn't mention that Gordon Gano — the Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes fame — sings on track number five, "The Picnic," a back-and-forth breakup duet with Palmer, who carries the emotional heft of the album.

And he also kinda forgot to mention in his note that he, along with everybody else, just lost all his work, and maybe it would be helpful if Denver music fans would pay for a Bandcamp download — although if you can't afford it, just go ahead and download it anyhow, because, you know, music matters in these gloomy times.

He wrote none of that.

So I went to Bandcamp and played "the project," wondering what Tom from DeVotchKa was up to.

A lot, not surprisingly. 

The music masquerades as sugary pop rock, led by Palmer, who infuses Hagerman's lyrics with a swath of vocal styles, from airy or gritty to downright snarky and cruel, but the substance is bleak. Palmer broods about endings: the end of relationships, the end of illusions of love, the end of authenticity, the end of youth, the end of the world.

There's plenty to listen to and write about here. But before all that, you need to know know that "the project" exists. Hagerman put it up on Bandcamp last night.  If you can afford it, throw him a few bones: He's a genius, and so are his collaborators.

And the music, unflinching in its despair but still irresistibly fun, will get you through bleak times.

That's why when Tom Hagerman sends you an email, you open it.