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Spektor keeps ‘Hope’ alive in latest release

Michelle Fordice | Tuesday, September 5, 2006

“Begin to Hope” Regina Spektor unites her anti-folk association and new place on a major label (Sire Records) into a polished and appealing, but still quirky album.

She takes advantage of her new resources without losing the originality and spontaneity of her music. Spektor has maintained a fragile balance between her classical upbringing, eccentricity and intelligence, and she has not lost her footing in her latest album, “Begin to Hope.”

Spektor’s music is nothing if not diverse. She has been compared to everyone from Billie Holiday to Tori Amos, but her sounds is really her own.

She has the range of any jazz singer (sometimes exploring all the timbers and vibratos of her voice over the course of a few measures), but she unashamedly beat boxes like any hip-hop artist.

While her fingers contain the ability to play Chopin, she doesn’t hesitate to grab a drumstick and start banging on her stool if it suits her. Spektor mixes higher learning with the day to day, one moment singing about only reading Shakespeare and the next only “the backs of cereal boxes.”

Furthermore, unlike many songwriters, Spektor does not write her lyrics as small autobiographies, but instead as glimpses into fictional stories and character studies.

The first four songs of “Begin to Hope” are most likely to become poplar listens. Backed by some synthetic touches, Spektor playfully scats and jumps her way through “Fidelity,” probably the most romantic song on the album.

“Better” is a broad open song that takes advantage of both electric guitar and percussion. “Samson,” a tender balled recreated from her self-released album “Songs,” clashes the well-known Bible story with modern elements of Wonder Bread, creating a song that is alluring and amusing.

The second half of the album recalls Spektor’s ability to jump across genres.

“Hotel Song” is a surreal depiction of a hotel love affair as the speaker cries, “I have dreams of orca whales and owls/But I wake up in fear.”

“Après Moi,” the first released song to include Spektor’s native Russian, has a thunderous and stern sense to it, reflected in Spektor’s steady beating voice and heavy piano.

“Field Below” and “20 Years of Snow”display Spektor’s talent for voice and piano, the second flowing off of building arpeggios.

“That Time” is an extremely simple song, but its cyclic melody and surprising and somewhat arbitrary lyric choices make it grow on you. The dissonant subject matter (suddenly switching from energetic cries of “so sweet and JUI-cy” to “remember when you OD’ed?”) at the end is at first jarring, but on second glance is an honest reflection of life’s series of random choices interrupted by moments of meaning and importance.

Spektor culminates with “Summer in the City,” twisting what would be a predictable love song, in classic Spektor fashion, until it has more of an edge and challenges the listener to change their expectations.

Long time fans do not have to worry; Spektor’s voice and piano are not overshadowed by new instrumentation. “Begin to Hope” is an experiment with making something more unified and approachable.

It may not be as ranged as her previous large release “Soviet Kitsch,” or as jazzy as “11:1,” but it is much more refined.

Spektor does not back away from her eccentric feel. Sometimes this becomes overwhelming, threatening to make all her songs sound similar. Yet, relative to most of the popular music flowing out of the music industry, Spektor’s album is a refreshing release.

It can be honest, quirky, and theatrical, while still being appealing and catchy.