Review: Regina Spektor, far

It’s been three years since Soviet-American songstress Regina Spektor first enchanted us with the soul-pop perfection of Begin to Hope and proved herself a storyteller with a keen sense of detail and drama, a confident singer with a broad vocal range — from high and pure to low and sensual — and a poet with a unique use of words and an alluring inflection, not as if English were her second language, but as if she’s established a whole new charming style of speaking.

The follow-up and Spektor’s fifth studio album doesn’t quite attain the catchy ease of its predecessor, but far (Sire Records) carries its own abundance of appeal.

In the bouncy opening track, “The Calculation,” Spektor playfully ponders the mathematical equation of love and the surprising fury of its burn while in “Folding Chair,” she enjoys a casual day at the beach with her sweetheart and daydreams of domestic bliss (“Let’s get a silver bullet trailer, and have a baby boy / I’ll safety pin his clothes all cool and you’ll graffiti up his toys”). “The Wallet” shows her way of making the mundane seem remarkable with a touching ballad about finding someone’s lost wallet, and she combines quiet, abstract contemplation with grandiose stretches of piano and rhythmic flourishes in the melancholy yet somehow uplifting “Eet.” (Video after the jump)

Spektor hasn’t lost her knack for taking life’s darknesses lightly, bringing wit and irony to far’s much-discussed humor-free first single, “Laughing With,” where she points out all those times when people aren’t laughing at God (in a hospital, in a war, when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor, etc.). “But God can be funny,” Spektor implores, “At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke / Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they’re about to choke … God can be funny / When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way / And when presented like a genie / Who does magic like Houdini / Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus / God can be so hilarious / Ha ha / Ha ha.”

But she excels most when she gets quirkiest, like in “Machine,” the electro-fied sinister satire on technology and the future-present we live in, or in “Two Birds,” a Eno-esque pop ditty that uses two birds on a wire as a metaphor for trust, with moments of utter beauty interrupted by warm bursts of fat tuba. Those bursts are incorporated into the rhythm of the subsequent club-worthy dance number, “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” and are paired with programmed beat-boxing and Spektor’s cadenced delivery and unorthodox enunciation.

The NYC-based songwriter collaborated in with four separate producers to craft far, but Spektor’s own vision is never tainted, and the album’s weaknesses are those moments when she gets earnest and slow and sad, and while she does it well and with heartfelt sincerity, it makes the album’s ups and downs more than a little jarring.

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