Regina Spektor
Songs


5.0
classic

Review

by Aids USER (31 Reviews)
November 21st, 2013 | 22 replies


Release Date: 2002 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The overlooked masterpiece of Regina Spektor's impressive discography.

The first time I heard Regina Spektor was on a dark summer night in Ireland, in the back seat of a car heading south from Dublin. I was eighteen, and my girlfriend and I were travelling abroad for the first time. After visiting the intensely religious half of her family and attending my first and only evangelical wedding, the intensely hedonistic other half of her family and I rushed off (literally as soon as it was polite to after the ceremony) to get wild for six days at a sailing regatta on the very southern tip of the country, in a small town called Schull. After the novelty of our overnight roadtrip wore off sometime around midnight, we decided to try to get some sleep. It was one of those times where I would sometimes nod off, drifting in and out, but never quite fall completely asleep. Our chauffeur was my girlfriend’s cousin and to accompany himself on the long drive (the sleeping passengers proving rather useless in that regard) he played a strange album by an artist I had never heard before. As my mind meandered around in a semi-dreamlike state, the gorgeous Irish countryside barely visible through the car windows, the peculiar singing of the mystery artist would occasionally come to the centre of my attention. I distinctly remember her repeating “Is thirty-two still a god damn number"” over and over, her voice making huge, sporadic jumps in pitch. I was subconsciously fascinated by it, not totally sure if I was listening to music or having a vivid dream. When we finally pulled into Schull after our long journey, it was very early in the morning. Groggy but awake as we arrived at our final destination (it was impossible to sleep to our driver’s early morning choice, Metallica’s Kill Em’ All), I asked about the CD we had been listening to earlier. It was Regina Spektor’s Songs, and the next week of drunken Irish shenanigans was accompanied by endless plays of this newly discovered, quirky album (not to mention unhealthy amounts of Guinness).

In the six years since, the Russian-American musician has become one of my favourites. Each of her six albums plays to different strengths of hers (of which there are many), resulting in a consistently enjoyable discography. Songs is her second record, and it represents the transition away from her jazz roots towards the more polished, accessible later works. It has remained my favourite Spektor album since the first time I heard it, and while the fond memory of my first listen may tilt my bias slightly, it still sticks out as her best overall work. Her first album 11:11 was strongly influenced by her somewhat purist musical upbringing, using only her voice, a piano, and a bass (not to mention that one time she bangs a wooden chair with a stick) to deliver her take on vocal jazz. Songs expands on that core sound, but sees Spektor begin to branch out into less orthodox sounds and experiment a bit. Naturally though, the focus is still her beautifully simplistic piano playing and incredible vocal range. Opening track “Samson” makes this certain right from the start. It’s a gorgeous number (an undisputable classic among fans), her voice passionately recalling an underrated love over soft brushes of the piano’s keys. What floors me most about this track is how she is able to communicate such powerful emotional imagery with such a minimalistic delivery. Throughout the vast majority of Songs, Spektor allows her voice to carry the sparse accompanying instrumentation.

Not many artists would be able to get away with this approach, but she succeeds thanks to the personality of her voice, which carries the songs and allows for humble piano playing. “Prisoners” opens with a Chopsticks-easy single note run before her erratic voice takes the spotlight. Highlight “Consequence of Sounds” uses the same approach, but this time the show is stolen by her ambitious rapping. “My rhyme aint good just yet, my brain and tongue just met” she casually spits over two slowly alternating notes, starting the first verse with an honest confession. Again, Regina captivates with just her voice and a piano, but she varies the delivery ever time. Another stand-out track is the disturbing "Daniel Cowman", a song about a man “destined to hang” and thus not afraid to die in any other way. “Now that we’ve got that straight, can’t I just be left alone" I want to take a fucking bath” Daniel Cowman exclaims after explaining that death by drowning is not in his future. The song is both comforting and frightening at the same time, switching from playful recollection of happy memories to sobering existential philosophizing multiple times. Once again, Regina Spektor gets the job done in enchanting fashion by relying on her twisted, majestic vocals and restrained piano work.

Allegedly, every track on this album was recorded with one take, and no edits were made to hide imperfections. While I’ve never been able to confirm for sure whether this is true, it’s believable because of the way Songs sounds. Her voice cracks from time to time, notably on the previously mentioned opening track (which was re-recorded for a future release), but this only adds to the record’s personality. It feels very non-polished and human, and therefore more relatable and engaging. This also makes her often simple lyrics more poignant and affecting because of the bare, honest delivery. One could describe this album as a read-through of Spektor’s personal journal, warped thoughts and hopeless wondering and all, set to music. Fans may disagree with my assessment of this as her best album, but it’s nearly impossible to argue that this isn’t her most charming and personal.

It’s an effortlessly brilliant album, and has remained one of my all-time favourites throughout the years. Regina Spektor’s vocal performance here is nearly unmatched in its variety, personality, and power. Though the songwriting is sparse and the instrumentation is overtly simplistic, her unusual delivery, undeniable talents, and uncanny lyricism cement this album as a delightfully unique and unforgettable listening experience. Songs is Regina Spektor’s accidental and unheralded masterpiece, and deserves all the praise and attention of her hugely successful later albums. Whenever I listen to it, I am instantly taken back to one of the most exciting weeks of my life, full of discovery and self-realization. I wish I could share these memories with everyone that listens to this wonderful piece of art, but Songs is so good that it needs no especially thrilling circumstances to enjoy. So if this underrated gem has so far escaped your attention, remedy that immediately and enjoy one of the most distinct musical journeys you’re likely to ever hear.



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3.8
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Aids
November 21st 2013


24456 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

shaking off the rust with a long overdue piece on one my favourite albums

Calc
Contributing Reviewer
November 21st 2013


15971 Comments


"It’s is an effortlessly brilliant album,"

took me one second byah!!!

will actually read later I've been wanting to get into her stuff....

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
November 21st 2013


55884 Comments


could never get into her

Necrotica
November 21st 2013


10583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review and album

GnarlyShillelagh
Emeritus
November 21st 2013


6385 Comments


will read this tomorrow, just read the first sentence and am excited, never been disappointed by an aids review

i hope this is an entirely personal review that doesn't say anything about the music and yet somehow says everything about the album/how you feel when you hear it those are always the best 5 reviews



mryrtmrnfoxxxy
November 21st 2013


14983 Comments


wag

Drsmith4
November 21st 2013


1735 Comments


Killer stab, yo. You had me hooked with your description of car-trip sleep limbo. I need to give Regina another shot at love.

indigonowhere
Emeritus
November 21st 2013


10727 Comments


Wonderful job here, Adrian. Love that first paragraph.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
November 21st 2013


23533 Comments


fantastic review. I love Regina Spektor but haven't heard this one :/

Digging: Mikaela Davis - Delivery

Tyrael
November 21st 2013


21109 Comments


Ummmm

well you know how I feel already ;]

Digging: Obscura - Diluvium

Veldin
November 21st 2013


3333 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Consequence of Sounds

sniper
November 21st 2013


19075 Comments


regina spektor is amazing, i should really listen to her music more often.

very good review.

Aids
November 21st 2013


24456 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

cheers sputbros



It felt nice to get this one out. Reviewing new music is kind of tiring for me, so I figured I'd review an old (underrated) classic.



Atari - read the last sentence in this review



Thomas - ye



Gnarly - I talk about the music kind of :'(



Treborobert - bitch dat's a mistake



Veldin - it's the best thing ever





how did you all feel about the version of Ne Me Quitte Pas on the new album compared to the original (on this album)? I suppose we can ask the same of this version of Samson vs. the version on Begin To Hope. I prefer the version on this album in both cases.



cause this album is perfect, duh

Aids
November 21st 2013


24456 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

bonus question: who here is excited for me to get to 23032 comments and then not post anything for a month to secure that palindrome swag?

SeaAnemone
November 21st 2013


21407 Comments


I've never felt anywhere near the connection to this album that I do to Soviet Kitsch or even Far, actually... though she's undeniably talented in everything she does, and I can totally see why one might feel so super close to this

Green Baron
November 21st 2013


24226 Comments


AIDS IS NOT DEAD

congrats

sniper
November 22nd 2013


19075 Comments


both versions of samson are perfect tbh

clercqie
November 22nd 2013


6522 Comments


Hey man, long time no see!

Is this the best place to start with Spector? I'm guessing yes.

RuanCSC
November 22nd 2013


134 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Regina Spektor was my first musical love and is still my favorite artist to this day, but to me this is her weakest album (although still great). Am I the only one who prefers her latter-day work over the old stuff? I think this and "Soviet Kitsch" are not as good as "Begin to Hope" or "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats".

RuanCSC
November 22nd 2013


134 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oh, but the review is spectacular.



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