Review Summary: you will always start to cry
When Regina Spektor’s fifth album, Far
, was released in 2009, a few reviews mentioned that she sounded like someone much younger than her age. Now, personally, I found the production on Far
to be a little too flat and clean. It was her first record since Begin to Hope
brought her into the mainstream, but even that record, despite its more expensive production, had a second half that indulged in Spektor’s stranger tendencies without veering too wildly into either ironing out all her quirks, or exaggerating them into outright silliness.
That all being said, the comments about her age seemed more than a little condescending – this is a woman who has always, always
been willing to dip her toes into obscure and weird character studies (“Daniel Cowman,” “Mary Ann”) and belt out odd melodies and vocalizations (“Lounge”, “Back of a Truck”). Spektor was following the lien of breadcrumbs she’d been laying for years, and the idea that she should be “acting her age” struck me as out of place and rude.
Seven years – and one much better record, 2012’s What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
– later, we’ve got Spektor’s lovely seventh record, Remember Us to Life
. The high-end production is still here, and in fact this record almost sounds even more shiny and expensive than the ones that preceded it. However, on this LP, Spektor has struck what is arguably the finest balance between quirkiness and tastefulness, accessible and theatrical; the perfect distillation of her skills, ideas, and integrity to her song craft.
It begins with “Bleeding Heart,” a single I at first dismissed as being too run-of-the-mill, with its plinking keyboards and programmed beats. But it slowly unfurls, adding more piano, real drums, and eventually, a beautiful string section. That last ingredient is this record’s secret (or not-so-secret, as its presence is felt palpably on almost every song) weapon. Some of Spektor’s songs in the past have had strings, but they’ve never been so integral to the songs as they are here. It doesn’t hurt that they are produced with such full lushness. They provide the end of “Bleeding Heart” with a gorgeous bed to fall on, after it winds through a few melodic shifts and bridges.
At times, this record actually feels like the most direct continuation from her early days. Strip many of these songs down to just voice and piano and they could appear on any of her first few records. “The Trapper and the Furrier” starts off tantalizingly a’capella, calling to mind old gems like “Aching to Pupate,” and its dramatic tale would be right at home on 11:11
. “Sellers of Flowers," which tells a wintery tale from her childhood, would’ve been right at home on Soviet Kistch
, and “Small Bill$,” which would be nothing but a jarring sore thumb if it wasn’t so damn smart and enjoyable, recalls past near-hip-hop jams like “Consequence of Sounds.” But since this isn’t
a piano-and-voice record, it feels fresh, and every song has at least a handful of ear-catching ideas – so many that you might miss some on the first go.
Spektor hasn’t written so many surprising and indelible melodies as this in a while. Perhaps it’s because this is the first record of hers that has all entirely new songs and not repurposed oldies. “Tornadoland” has a folky melody, which sounds incredibly close to something Nina Nastasia might sing (check her song “Our Day Trip” for Exhibit A), and “The Light” has one of the record’s prettiest arrangements. “Obsolete” is darkly dramatic, fully justifying its length. And one of her sharpest songs to date, “Older and Taller,” has some cleverly rhymed lyrics about youth, memory, and the past.
Much of this record concerns itself with memory and the past and the act of storytelling, which I think is where the title comes from. Almost all these songs mention remembering, or dreaming, and so the title can almost be taken a plea from the songs themselves: Don’t forget us. And with her strongest material since Begin to Hope
, Spektor has done a pretty good job at making sure we remember these songs for a long time.
Key tracks: Older and Taller, Small Bill$, Obsolete, Sellers of Flowers
Final Rating: 8.4