Plumbiferous Media

Far - Regina Spektor

Jun 25th 2009
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Far - Regina SpektorRegina Spektor
Score: 78

Regi­na Spek­tor released her newest album, Far, this week, and while it is some­what unlike her two most well known albums, Sovi­et Kitsch and Begin to Hope, this is not a prob­lem in itself. The per­vad­ing sound of Far is child­ish in nature, and while some might con­sid­er child­ish­ness to be unde­sir­able, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Spek­tor’s work is most often asso­ci­at­ed with antifolk, which includes a healthy amount of mock­ing both of itself and of oth­er, more seri­ous music. Far may not be Spek­tor’s mas­ter­piece, but it is cer­tain­ly worth lis­ten­ing to.

Regi­na Spek­tor has includ­ed quite a num­ber of decep­tive­ly sim­ple lines on Far. At about the 35-sec­ond mark of “Blue Lips,” which will prob­a­bly best be remem­bered for it’s strik­ing but del­i­cate cho­rus, the piano moves into uni­son with the vocals.  Imme­di­ate­ly after the Spek­tor fin­ish­es her line, the piano line blends into an emerg­ing string line that then begins to descend, cre­at­ing an extreme­ly sim­ple, but care­ful­ly con­struct­ed tran­si­tion to the sec­ond verse.

Lat­er in the album, “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” starts with a piano line sim­ple enough that it actu­al­ly sounds like it was played by a small child. Spek­tor then vocal­izes both in uni­son and the exact same rhyth­mic pat­tern as the piano, cre­at­ing what sounds as if it will soon become extreme­ly obnox­ious. Thank­ful­ly, the drums pick up with a hat on the off-beats, and the vocal pat­tern shifts, chang­ing to a more tenu­to pat­tern with imag­i­na­tive turns and grace notes, result­ing in a high­ly cre­ative track. While the musi­cal tal­ent on Far may some­times be hid­den, this sim­ply cre­ates a lay­er of sus­pense which actu­al­ly pro­pels the album and lis­ten­er for­ward towards the next overt­ly detailed section.

Spek­tor’s vocals have always been enter­tain­ing not only for their qual­i­ty, but also for the ways in which they’re incred­i­bly odd and idio­syn­crat­ic. Through­out Far, she main­tains a jagged ebb and flow, tran­si­tion­ing effort­less­ly but occa­sion­al­ly unex­pect­ed­ly from quick-tem­poed state­ments to smoother whis­pers for an over­all sat­is­fy­ing effect. Espe­cial­ly notable are the few sec­tions with notable mod­u­la­tion, includ­ing the sec­tion of “Machine” where Spek­tor turns rep­e­ti­tion of “Hooked into machine” into an indus­tri­al, live­ly but deep sec­tion. How­ev­er, Spek­tor’s voice occa­sion­al­ly becomes rough or out of tune, espe­cial­ly in her high­er range, which can also become extreme­ly breathy; her voice also, most vis­i­bly on “Laugh­ing With,” slips from time to time into a slight lisp, lend­ing an odd qual­i­ty to the sound. Nev­er­the­less, Spek­tor’s vocals mix quite well with the rest of the music to pro­duce an excel­lent over­all effect.

The vocals are not the only part of Far that some­times stand on shaki­er ground than the rest of what is an even sur­pris­ing­ly strong album. Tracks like the plod­ding “Human of the Year,” eas­i­ly become tedious, even (in this exam­ple) at only around four min­utes long. More­over, because the instru­men­tals remain light through­out the album, Far depends heav­i­ly on the vocal excel­lence of Spek­tor, caus­ing tracks where the vocals fal­ter, such as “Laugh­ing With,” to suf­fer significantly.

Despite the occa­sion­al issue, the major­i­ty of Far remains quite strong, main­tain­ing a sense of humor that bright­ens even the most dis­turb­ing images that Spek­tor projects in her lyrics. On “Two Birds,” this is achieved through what sounds like a tuba, which inter­jects a live­ly solo seg­ment straight out of musi­cal the­ater through­out the track. One of the most suc­cess­ful tracks on the album is “Fold­ing Chair,” if only because the track remains extreme­ly upbeat - even dur­ing the heavy, cym­bal-laden sec­tions, Spek­tor bright­ens the track up by imi­tat­ing a dolphin.

Far is filled with the same excel­lent com­bi­na­tion of sur­re­al­ism, real­i­ty and the mind of Regi­na Spek­tor that she’s demon­strat­ed in her pre­vi­ous work. “The Cal­cu­la­tion” begins the album with a strange but odd­ly fas­ci­nat­ing image: “You went into the kitchen cup­board / Got your­self anoth­er hour / And gave half of it to me.” Far nev­er quite lets go of the strange­ness it begins with, even when it tries to step fur­ther into real­i­ty with tracks like the per­plex­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of reli­gion on “Laugh­ing With.” By turns, Spek­tor draws futur­is­tic images (“Machine”) and the con­tents of a stranger’s wal­let on the apt­ly named “The Wal­let.” Even when mak­ing the dol­phin nois­es of “Fold­ing Chair” or the exalt­ing hal­lelu­jahs of “Human of the Year,” both of which (at least slight­ly) reach beyond  the nor­mal sur­re­al­ism of the album, Spek­tor’s obvi­ous enthu­si­asm for her sub­jects keeps Far from becom­ing ridiculous.

Though Far does­n’t direct­ly ben­e­fit from its lyri­cal eccen­tric­i­ty or vocal quirks, they cer­tain­ly con­tribute to the album’s strik­ing qual­i­ty. Nev­er­the­less, while Far uses many of the same tech­niques and dis­plays the same traits as Spek­tor’s ear­li­er work, it does­n’t quite match up to Begin to Hope’s depth or Sovi­et Kitsch’s ele­gant sim­plic­i­ty. This isn’t, how­ev­er, to say that Far does­n’t suc­ceed in its own right. It’s cer­tain­ly quite inter­est­ing, and after the few lis­tens it takes to prop­er­ly sink in, is hon­est­ly quite good.

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