Friday, December 23, 2016

Albums of the Year # 3 Regina Spektor

An album of hope, solace, consolation and art. In a year that needed as many of them as it could get. Here's a somewhat euphoric tribute that I wrote to that record, Remember Us to Life, a couple of months back.

 I'm a little bit in love with Regina Spektor. A lot, whenever I'm listening to her recent music. This is apropos of nothing in particular but I imagine I'm not the first person to feel this way and I certainly won't be the last. I'm feeling this way particularly today listening on repeat to her new, and heavily orchestrated album Remember Us To Life, released last Friday.

I'd say that mine is only a natural response as listening to the record, track by track I think it touches on small, perfectly realised genius. Why she isn't plastered all over front covers while dullards like Coldplay continually are is beyond me and is a reproach on sorry times. Remember Us To Life is a constant delight, like finding yourself in a dream exploring an enchanted garden or working your way through a new Angela Carter short story collection you never knew existed that's magically been dedicated to you.

Spektor is a special musician indeed. A one off really, though she's been constantly and lazily bracketed throughout her career with other 'oddball' artists. She deserves to be appraised on her own merits and without that utterly meaningless description.. Her personal biography alone is extraordinary. Fleeing religious persecution from their native Russia, the Spektor's, young Regina and her brother, resettled in the Bronx in 1989. Her parents struggled to make ends meet while Regina practiced the skills she'd learned in Moscow on tabletops and empty window sills until they could afford a piano.

 She emerged and proceeded to blossom in the early millennium years, in association with other New York Renaissance artists like The Strokes and Moldy Peaches and the Anti-Folk scene in Downtown Manhattan. Originally a street and outsider artist, she's gradually, over the years, edged her way consciously, or through a natural development, towards the mainstream, and I'd say this is the record that should allow her to fully grasp her place within it it should she wish to. It's to her immense credit  that she's never compromised her incredibly special artistic vision during the lengthy process its taken her to get here.

A uniquely warm, emotional and personal musician in an era where artists increasingly seem to shy away from such direct expression, every word on Remember Us To Life is clearly enunciated, every note comes pure and distinct. If there is anybody who Spektor might fairly and usefully be compared to it's probably Kate Bush, because both work from a premise of immersing the listener in a romantic, fictionalised, but all consuming experience. A night at the opera. Or if you're staying in, a bedtime story.

Spektor's probably getting used to telling bedtime stories herself, having taken time off since her last record, 2012's What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, to give birth to and start to raise her first born. The break seems to have paid dividends as Remember Us To Life is a further step forward from that album, which though it had several wonderful moments was not the complete and utterly coherent statement that this record is. A deeply considered emotional gift to the world at a time when frankly it needs just that.

Spektor, in a recent interview talked about the dark times we're fated to be living through right now and how it's all best countered:
'I do think that human connection and human awareness and education are the key to everything. As long as we keep trying to keep the channels free, and prevent propaganda, prevent iron's very hard to do. It's somewhere between resigning yourself and saying, ' Hey this is just how things go,' and being devastated and paralyzed with fear and anger. I think that changes come from a personal place.'

This certainly comes from a personal place, but it's all grounded in musical skill and personal growth. After all she's in her mid-thirties now. One of the things I love most about Spektor is her classical background and how the deeply romantic strains of it resonate throughout her songs. It's a rare quality to her music that continually sets it apart from pretty much all of her contemporaries, except as I've mentioned, perhaps Kate Bush. A gift that allows her to sprinkle small epiphanies for her listener throughout the record, clues that allow us to recognise the infinitely magical qualities both of the world she's portraying and through it the one all around us.

She's also keenly literary, almost an artist from a bygone age, and deeply rooted in the European tradition, even though she's now also recognisably the product of New York, the most Western looking of all American cities. Draped on the front sleeve in a glittering golden sheet, wearing thirties hat and immaculately applied film star make up, she's something of a throwback, appropriate for a Western world that's looking backwards rather than forwards nowadays. 

Beauty of course is in the eye of the beholder. While writing this, I've also been browsing interviews with Spektor, and reading reviews of her work and listening to previous albums of hers. Generally the critical consensus jury, still seems to be out on her. Perhaps it always will be! While early responses seem to delight in plumping for oddball, quirky and eccentric as descriptions for her approach, (as if those words really tells us anything), other reviews of Remember Us To Life, conclude that she's lost a little of her initial spark by playing it straighter and beefing up the orchestration. It seems she can't win. Damned if she does by some critics, damned by others if she doesn't.

Personally, I think she's coming into her own as an artist now. The lack of such urgency, the more considered, thoughtful approach makes Remember Us To Life her first realised symphony from my perspective. It's an altogether beautiful and precious piece of work. She's playing in my home town in a few weeks and although I had initially given up on seeing her, (as I couldn't find anyone to see her with), having heard this I'll now bust a gut to get a ticket.  Another record of the year in a year which has been altogether remarkable for them!

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