Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor's Official Website!

By Jade Hoffman

WHEN: 2001 – present

CULPRITS: Mostly just herself, though has collaborated with Sondre Lerche and The Strokes. And a drumstick on a wooden stool.

ALBUMS: 11:11 (2001); Songs (2002); Soviet Kitsch (2004); Live at Bull Moose EP (2005); Mary Ann Meets The Gravediggers (2006); Begin To Hope (2006); Live in California 2006 EP (2007); Far (2009)

HOW: The first song I heard by Regina Spektor was “Chemo Limo,” which my brother brought home with him one holiday from university. It was, and continues to be, far from anything else I’ve ever heard. This song in particular is quite representative of Regina Spektor: sung from one of her creations’ point of view, it contains the lyrical whimsy of her choice of words veering into the surreal, but grounds itself in a pretty grim story (cancer, chemotherapy, etc.). The haunting tones of her voice against the clear, simple piano was a thing that stuck with me long after I’d gotten over the amusement of her “crispy, crispy Benjamin Franklin” line. I played it on repeat for a good few weeks. After that, it was just a case of combing carefully through her back catalogue, and finding websites with fan-compiled goldmines of bootlegs (see below).

WHY: Quirky is a word you’ll find cropping up a lot in Regina Spektor articles. It’s not a word I particularly like very much – too many hamburger-phone, subversive indie-kid connotations for me. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with these things, but it’s just too easy. Regina Spektor isn’t self-consciously quirky — I don’t think she set out to make something that intentionally sounded so different from everything else. There is a pure and candid innocence in her approach to music and, you suspect, to life. Hers are sounds of exploration and adventure, experimentation and surprise.

In an interview a while ago, Spektor — Moscow-born, but Bronx-bound at a young age — mentioned that her first experiences of writing songs and receiving musical recommendations from others (“Have you heard Joni Mitchell?”) opened her world relatively late on to musical institutions she’d missed. She isn’t so much influenced by the Joanna Newsoms and Judee Sills as she is by the Chopin and Mozart of her classical piano background. Spektor enters the music world in a way you feel is quite unique, feeling for the nuances and hooks all on her own and there’s a sense of marvelous adventure and delight in her songs that is so genuine and accessible it is impossible to resist. Her early approaches to learning to play the guitar are documented in “That Time” — a rare guitar-based track in Begin To Hope. It’s an incredibly basic riff, so demonstrative of a new guitar-player, but it’s her construction of the song as a whole and her open-hearted approach that makes it great.

I also love that she sometimes sings in outpourings of Russian poetry, or else just makes noises for fun. There is one bootleg (The Virgin Queen) with a middle section of apparent gibberish, but there’s a current theory going around that she’s actually singing backwards, live. Now that’s a dedication to sound. Her joy at creating and performing music, noise, anything, is so infectious that you can so easily be swept up in it. There is frankness in her songs, without pretension, and since it’s such a rare thing I suppose I treasure it that much more.

SONGS: Beginning with “Ain’t No Cover” from the Live At Bull Moose EP was an obvious choice for me, since Spektor has opened a lot of live shows with this, tapping the microphone with a finger for some low-tech percussion. My choices after that were more difficult: “Chemo Limo” — necessary for being that first, addictive track in my Spektor Experience; “Aprés Moi” for the thunderous swell of sound, rising to the middle deluge of Pasternak’s poetry in her mother tongue. I aimed to get a decent range in, from the large, orchestrated strings of “Us,” to the completely stripped-down hip-hop-influenced “Consequence of Sounds.” The “***” track and “Your Honor” from Soviet Kitsch were made to run together — I’m not a big fan of this song, but it shows another side to Regina Spektor’s musical experimentation as distinct from other songs, such as the chilling “December.” Also, many of these songs also occur on Mary Ann Meets The Gravediggers, which is a compilation of songs from 11:11 and Songs, released retrospectively for her international audience since the first two albums were self-released and largely unobtainable.

WHAT’S MISSING: So many beautiful bootlegs widely distributed by her loyal fans on websites such as reginaspektor.net. My personal favourites include “8th Floor,” “The Virgin Queen,” or “Small Town Moon,” but she seems to have an endless stream of songs that she may play only once at a gig and never again, so there’s a lot there to listen to. Often they come under different names and are coloured with the sounds of clinking glass at the bar, or occasional laughter at certain lines; several tracks on her most recent album have existed as bootlegs for several years, and I quite miss the background noise in the studio versions. I couldn’t bring myself put in the Begin To Hope version of “Uh-Merica,” because the lifeless participation of studio-generated crowd is nothing on the initially tentative fans of her 2005 show at the Hotel Café in L.A., whom Regina bullies a stronger response out of (“I went on a European tour and Italians, and Germans, and French — they all did it!”).

Many Regina Spektor fans I’ve spoken to seem to have different favourites in her back catalogue, so it’s worth listening to the rest of the tracks on the same album if any of these tracks attract your attention. Also maybe check out the tracks done with The Strokes or Sondre Lerche to hear her distinctive sound combined with others.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear Regina Spektor for FREE on Lala.com!

Click the list to hear Regina Spektor for free on Lala.com!

SAMPLE SONGS:

“December (Demo)” from Us Single B-Side

“Us” from Soviet Kitsch

“Folding Chair” from Far

_______________________

Jade Hoffman is a London-dwelling biologist, writer, gig-goer. Past exploits include writer on a short film at Cannes, a study of photosynthetic flatworms, record store slave and more. She’s pretty much all over the place.

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~ by eastbk on October 19, 2009.

2 Responses to “Regina Spektor”

  1. I love this, and you. It’s got your fingers all over it.
    Am also very fond of your choice of selections, I’m ordering them into a playlist on Spotify and listening at once!

  2. Wow, what a great idea for a music blog. Great song choices for Regina too 😀

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