Not long ago I reviewed Regina Spektor’s independently released album Songs for these pages, saying that it was eclectic and interesting but kind of hard to listen to in its entirety. She has this playful, random and artsy approach to her vocal calisthenics that is fun for a while, but tiring when that’s all there is on offer. At the time, I’d mused that if she had a band, something with which to break up the girl-and-piano of Songs, she’d be miles ahead.
I haven’t heard her other releases, 11:11 or Soviet Kitsch yet, but their follow-up, Begin To Hope, is exactly what I’d heard in my head when I thought about how I’d like to hear this lady’s music. Sure, there are still tracks that find her alone at the piano, but elsewhere now there are also guitars, drums and bass and, to me, the overall effects leaves me thinking that the songs seem better realized. It’s like she was a good songwriter waiting to be great, definitely interesting on her own but more fleshed out with the addition of other instruments.
A ton of surprises awaits the listener here, little twists and turns and moments of beauty in the songs that jolt you at first but that make a perfect kind of sense as the album goes on. Any comfortable expectation you might have can at any moment be effortlessly thrown out the window, and this is a very good thing. This record is also definitely closer to a smoother studio sound which serves the songs well, like they’re bellying up to the bar at the party they were meant to be attending.
I would have a hard time choosing just one track from this record to put on a mix, and that’s a nice problem to have. Begin To Hope should definitely be in your collection.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in, with this one, and after hearing it I’m still a little bit unsure… but now it’s a struggle with finding the words to even attempt to explain what I was hearing. I’m not sayin’ it was bad, but… whoa!
I had all kinds of impressions as this played, the strongest of which is that, vocally, she has spent entirely too much time with her Bjork record collection. But there’s quite a bit more, such as a little Tori Amos introspection, some Fiona Apple piano, a taste of other languages, and some of her own lyrical weirdness and stutter-vocal experiments too. Perhaps the best example of her horsing around would be the ‘motorboat’ lip-solo on Lounge. And so on.
Basically, it’s just her and her piano. That, and the desire to be as playful as possible no matter what it sounds like to anybody who might be listening. Throw in a few jazzy inflections and you’re getting warmer. And you know, in its own way it’s beautiful. This record has its own sense of everything, and that alone makes it a curiosity, but don’t go into it expecting something only slightly unique.
This is the only collection of her stuff that I’ve heard so far, and I’m really glad I heard it. That said, I’m not certain I would choose to play the whole thing all the way through again. I could see culling a song here or there, like Samson, for a mix CD. Based on hearing this, I wouldn’t be totally bummed if I walked into a club somewhere and she was on-stage playing, but I’m pretty sure that after a few songs done like this, I’d probably start to tune her out a bit. All deference to the artistic statement here, I’m just saying it kinda starts to sound like an art school one-off gag after the initial fun of it wears off.
A little digging online told me that this was an early, self-released record made before she signed to a label. That’s cool, I like indie. I’m just thinking that maybe I need to hear a bit more of her other stuff, that maybe she shakes things up a bit later on in her career. It would be much better if she added a few more instruments or changed tack every now and then. That’d be alright by me. I did, after all, add her Begin To Hope record to my round-up list of albums of 2006… not my Best Of list, but the Ones I Still Need To Hear list. I’ll get right on that.