Regina Spektor – Far
Record Label: Sire Records
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Regina Spektor makes me feel old.
Maybe it’s the fact that her head-turning album, 2004’s Soviet Kitsch, was the unofficial soundtrack of my college graduation. Or maybe it’s that her playful, coquettish songs oddly defy her age (approaching 30), giving her a sound that is somehow at once childish, mature, and timeless. Either way, when I talk about Spektor’s rise to prominence from New York’s indie scene, I can’t help but sound crotchety. You’ve been warned.
It’s been three years since the release of Begin to Hope, an album which drew Spektor out from behind the curtain of hipsters and into the limelight of commercial success. The time has treated her well – this is certainly not the Regina Spektor of old. Gone are the sparse acoustics of Soviet Kitsch and although it bears a greater resemblance to Begin to Hope, Far exudes a fresh air of progress and confidence that lifts Spektor up to a new level. Her voice takes on a new shine as she skips and jumps all over the musical scale (try keeping up with her on “Human of the Year”) and even more incredibly, she’s managed to expand her eclectic musical palette to offer an even greater diversity of experiences from track to track. Here might be the only criticism of the album, especially to the casual listener: Spektor doesn’t stick to a single style, preferring instead to let each song meander about, dictating its own flavor and flare.
While the genre-hopping might leave some with a bad taste in their mouths, those who give in to the heady journey will be greatly rewarded. Just as some filmmakers, such as Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,The Science of Sleep), use animated or surrealist elements to compose dreamlike landscapes, Spektor throws the kitchen sink at us in a grand construction of silliness. Included in this strange menagerie are vocalized hi-hat taps (the end of “Eet”), imitations of dolphin sounds (“Folding Chair”), and intentionally un-ironic synth solos (“Dance Anthem of the 80s”), all of which straddle the boundary between brilliant and ridiculous. Songs which should be absurd or even stupid, such as the biomechanical anthem “Machine” or the over-the-top throwback “Dance Anthem of the 80s,” are executed with such grace and unapologetic enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to get swept up in the insanity. Spektor tackles subjects great (the place of one soul among millions in the fantastic “Blue Lips”) and small (the joy in finding and anonymously returning a stranger’s wallet in “Wallet”) with equal attention, as if to say “everything matters, therefore nothing matters.”
But this isn’t any sort of anarchic jubilation. Relationships, encompassing a full spectrum of interactions, are a common theme throughout Far. “The Calculation” is an obvious radio-ready tune that relates the fallacy of breaking love down into mathematical components. The negatives of dependency are played out between two birds (and orchestrated by a tuba) in “Two Birds,” while “One More Time with Feeling” provides a stiff upper lip in the face of illness. Perhaps the “style,” if we can even call it that, is that all of Spektor’s songs, whether pleasant or pensive, serious or silly, float on an underlying stream of optimism that must certainly be unquenchable. How else can you explain a song about how nice it is to sit on the beach (“Folding Chair”) or one that defends God’s humorous side even as it provides a laundry list of everyday tragedies (“Laughing With”)? Spektor’s spirit is indefatigable. We should only be grateful.
Normally I can’t stand this kind of happy stuff. I say to myself, “I don’t listen to music to be goofy, that’s just kids stuff.” I stick firmly to my heavy, emotional guns. That is, until a new Regina Spektor album makes its way onto my desk. Then I’m skipping off into the blue, thrilled to feel like a kid again, happy to just be happy.