Picture this: a short, curly-haired brunette sits down at a grand piano. She begins to bang out a few chords; they’re playful, but in a minor key. Suddenly, a creamy soprano streams out of her mouth effortlessly.
“I found a wallet,” she sings soulfully. She proceeds to sing a mid-tempo song about finding, thumbing through and returning a lost wallet to her local Blockbuster and – here’s the crazy part – you’re moved. I know it sounds completely ridiculous that this absurd a subject could be the focus of a song.
And, frankly, I would agree that it was ridiculous if it weren’t a song by Regina Spektor.
But the 29-year-old Soviet-born American singer/songwriter is known for throwing out the cookie cutter when cooking up her songs. Regina Spektor is an artist that delivers for every mood. She owns both loopy, experimental tracks and simply beautiful love songs that are hard not to sing along to. An astounding songwriter in her own right, Spektor is also accomplished as both a formidable pianist and phenomenal vocalist.
The sonic beauty of her “Wallet” song isn’t the only thing that makes it compelling; the song takes a completely mundane event and examines it thoroughly. Spektor takes a very short snippet of her life and creates an existential treatise without asking any questions or creating logical proofs. Her artistry lies in magnifying parts of human life and capsulizing it into song.
Confining Spektor to a music genre would be a disservice. (Although when I saw one of her tracks labeled “alternative” it became the only way I could accurately describe her style.) Her music is an amalgamation of piano ballads, bubblegum pop, rock, traditional Russian music, folk, punk and even some hip-hop. It seems that any artist that cannot be placed in a box falls into the “alternative” category. Maybe it’s because similar artists are non-existent that she will always be unclassifiable.
Her newest effort, Far, (Warner Brothers - $15.98) is most certainly alternative. The album works as a cohesive whole, but only in the way that a collection of short stories does. Each song magnifies a different aspect of Regina Spektor’s talent. The stars of the album are, of course, Spektor’s voice and piano but their use can be quite unconventional.
Spektor is no stranger to using her voice in unorthodox ways. In “Folding Chair,” one of the more upbeat tracks off the album, she mimics a dolphin during the chorus. The aforementioned “Wallet” ends with her approximating a dial-tone while singing the line “you’ll be so happy when they call you up.”
Don’t worry, though. Her alternative nature isn’t so much that it goes over your head – it just keeps her charmingly unique. For every dolphin sound there’s a universal love song coupled with an incredibly catchy melody like album opener “The Calculation.” You’ll be singing her songs for days; you might even end up attempting the dolphin sounds for yourself.
Far soars when it hits “Laughing With,” the album’s first single. The downtempo piano-driven track includes beautiful strings and a stripped vocal line – classic Regina Spektor. The song is very obviously written by Spektor; she takes things that are seemingly mundane and spins them into her point so it hits home directly.
The lyrics deal with God – dangerous territory for any artist – but she pulls it off. It is certainly not as facile as Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” and it’s definitely not praise pop, either. It’s really about the incomprehensible, awesome magnitude of God and being an integral part of His creation; but it is in no way so explicit – therein lies the song’s beauty.
Each line of the song is an example of the difficulties of human life each beginning with “no one laughs at God when...” Even though it’s mostly about human suffering, the song ends on a hopeful note: “No one’s laughing at God, we’re all laughing with God.”
Like the tracks in her previous albums, it is difficult to pick one as a favorite when so many are gems: “The Genius Next Door” is a brilliant example of how Spektor isn’t just a songwriter, but a storyteller; namesake “Blue Lips” could be coupled with “Laughing With” as complimentary existential pieces; “One More Time With Feeling” keeps us hopeful; “Dance Anthem of the 80s” is a zany indie-pop masterpiece and the calculated absurdity of “Wallet” is unparalleled. Far is undoubtedly one of the best albums of this year.
Regina Spektor is quirky, but she sure is a wise artist. She’s hard not to love.
Far is in stores now.
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