Regina Spektors last album, 2004s Soviet Kitsch, garnered praise from Time, Rolling Stone, Spin, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and many others. But this Russian-born, Bronx-bred singer-songwriter-pianist, who emerged from the NYC café circuit, continues to expand her vision. On Begin To Hope, produced by David Kahne (The Strokes, Sublime, Sugar Ray), she broadens here palette with electric guitar, drum machines and seductive electronic loops, finding new canvases for her provocative vocal style. Hope for pop has arrived with Regina Spektor.
The style known as "anti-folk," as realized by practitioners like Ani DiFranco and Billy Bragg, is derived from a punk aesthetic, and thus tends to be spare and confrontational. But while Regina Spektor's music is anti-folk in the way it subverts the traditional coffeehouse vibe, it's less interested in rebellion and more concerned with the joy of eccentricity, melody and surprise. Begin To Hope
is full of surprises, and like her promising major label debut Soviet Kitsch
, it displays an easy facility with song structure that enables her to go in different--sometimes wildly off-the-wall--directions without sounding scattered. Classically trained on the piano, she's been compared to Tori Amos, but her music isn't as delicate or precious. Fiona Apple comes up as well, but just because neither fits in the usual female singer/songwriter cookie cutter mold doesn't mean they sound the same. Her voice is actually the primary attraction, cracking and loopy on would-be lullabies like "On The Radio" and "Field Below," then punchy and cute on "Hotel Room." But the music, if understated in the mix next to her vocals, makes an impression as well, breaking in with twisty piano arpeggios ("20 Years of Snow") and occasional touches of electronica. It's a consistently intelligent and daring record, yet remains enormously listenable--a neat trick for anti-folk, or any other genre of music for that matter. Matthew Cooke