This being an election year and everything, it may be forgivable that we here in the States have been too distracted to notice one of the year’s most fantastic songwriters. Somehow, despite her outpouring of underground cred — her new album is produced by Strokes knob-turner Gordon Raphael and she’s toured with Julian Casablancas and Co. extensively — the Bronx-based Regina Spektor has gone relatively unnoticed by the American music scene.
The buzz began earlier this year when Soviet Kitsch, her third full-length, was released to massive acclaim in the United Kingdom — the album won’t be released in the United States until about a year later. Of course, if the Strokes are any indication of how the American hype machine works with New York acts and their British popularity, we may be seeing a lot more of Spektor come 2005. In the meantime, she’s steadily gaining a fan base on word of mouth, and for Soviet Kitsch it is unquestionably deserving: It’s an incredibly moving but gracefully sublime album.
Spektor’s songs transcend standard piano pop in their often child-like lyrics and equally playful delivery. Her voice, especially on older releases, echoes Tori Amos, though Kitsch almost leans more toward the inflection of Nelly Furtado. She sings in subtle accents as much as possible, and lets a little beat-box or mouth noise squeak through in curious spots. The touches are endearing and add an especially triumphant air to tracks like “Us” and “Carbon Monoxide.”
The more serious song craft is truly the album’s strongest asset though; each tune is subtly influenced by Spektor’s classical piano background and truly powerful lyrics. From the opener, “Ode to Divorce,” she establishes her skill, describing a divorcee who’s watching, from inside his mouth, her ex-husband kiss someone else. The eleven songs tread through goofy odes (“Sailor Song” and “Poor Little Rich Boy”) and quirky punk (“Your Honor”), but the album’s strongest moments are when Spektor takes herself seriously and crafts lasting pop masterpieces like the album’s closer, “Somedays.” Recalling Ben Folds Five’s “Evaporated,” the song meanders over a relatively simple progression and a few light string arrangements as she laments, “Some days aren’t yours at all/ They come and go like someone else’s days.”
Yet Spektor’s voice and her songs are equally confident, and her days are surely upon us. Questionably a member of the anti-folk movement, she’s become well accustomed to a certain amount of underground acceptance. Her simple formula and generally amiable demeanor could crack the mainstream scene, though, which would be all too appropriate for her, since she’s so far mirrored the Strokes. Let’s just hope her story takes a turn before she makes a Room on Fire and marries a movie star.