Regina Spektor’s schtick has always been otherworldly piano-driven pop, which is perhaps what makes her music so appealing. Drawing from her Russian-Bronx roots and attracting an anti-folk audience, Spektor has not only a distinct talent for tearing up a piano and vocally hitting each note to perfection, but also a special way with words and descriptors.
Spektor’s music in its earliest form began with minimalist approach, depending on only her voice and piano. Spektor’s earliest albums chronicled the peculiar and endearing things in life (reading with a jar of pickles) and New York in summertime (means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage). These albums, though quite underground, couldn’t stay that way for long. After playing her share of basement shows and remaining New York City’s little secret, Spektor’s work slowly built up in production and commercial value, culminating in 2006’s Begin to Hope.
With Spektor’s impending release, Far, it appears as though musically she has taken a step back from Hope and a step forward all at the same time. There is not one track here that isn’t catchy, creative, or beautiful in some respect. Spektor keeps the hook-ridden cuts coming (which has always been one of her selling points), but this time around, Far may be the answer to Begin to Hope’s question, offering a supplement to what the previous album was missing in the first place.
Far’s cover art is the first indicator of Spektor’s fresh perspective. Whereas most of Spector’s album covers have depicted a visual version of the singer’s face (mysterious Regina, shy Regina, beer-swigging guy’s gal Regina, or contemplative Regina), Far offers a calming image of a cartoon Regina sitting peacefully at her blue-sky-colored piano with a window open behind her facing a brick wall. Now, we must ask ourselves, where is the number one place in the world where open windows face brick walls? Why, New York City, of course! Could this symbolize Spektor’s return to the real and the raw? Whatever interpretations we choose to engage in, let it be said that Spektor is not dolling out the same ol’, same ol’.
Far features an engaging track list, kicking off with “The Calculation”, a sweet-as-pie cut that bounces and trounces, giving Spektor a chance to explore her ever-powerful vocal range. As endearing as the album’s first track is, however, it also hints at Spektor’s plans to take the album up about ten notches in terms of her vocal experimentation and musical tone. The album’s standout track and potential radio hit could easily be “Folding Chair,” which starts off slowly in solo piano, then moves cheerfully in time with Spektor’s soaring voice that seems to ask for the Simple Life from a love interest. But Norah Jones she is not, for the radio-esque quality of “Folding Chair” stops short as soon as Spektor imitates a dolphin mid-song.
Spektor recently provided a window into her intentions with Far in an interview with the New York Times. “I’ve always been fascinated with faith and religions. Sometimes I’m sarcastic about it, and sometimes I’m in awe,” she said. “Sometimes I feel very connected, and sometimes I feel angry at it.” The following statement clearly relates to Far’s slow-moving track “Laughing With,“ where Spektor grows less hopeful and more contemplative. “No one laughs at God in a hospital/ No one laughs at God in a war,” she sings softly, her voice accompanied by her piano.
A track titled “Human of the Year” follows. If you listen closely, “Human” picks up the same but slightly altered theme of a much older track, “Love Affair,” which is the first track off of the Spektor album Eleven Eleven. The newer track can hold its own, only mirroring the older track during its verses, but Spektor breaks from the theme during the song’s chorus, belting her powerhouse vocals, which are soaring, halting, and deeply precious. While Spektor may reach back into her older discography on Far, she also selects bits of culture from East Asia with which to experiment. Theses influences are particularly noticeable on “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” which sounds like it could have come directly from the latest pop-Bollywood film.
It is worth repeating that Far takes everything Regina Spektor has done in the near ten-year span of her career and mashes it up to perfection. Spektor looked like she was on the road to packaged radio fame after the release of Begin to Hope, but instead of moving in that predictable direction, Spektor has swerved off course into a world of quirky melodic creation and outstanding vocal range and experimentation.