Classically trained indie piano-pop artist Regina Spektor is back with a new album, Remember Us to Life—her first since 2012’s What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. Like the majority of her catalog, Spektor’s latest release is full of quirky and catchy songs that deserve a bigger audience—and even though the album’s second half is not as impressive as its first, the album is still a memorable and worthwhile listen for longtime fans and those new to her music.
Spektor is at her best when she combines lyrical character sketches with her refined musical sensibility that takes cues from both chamber pop and more mainstream indie; several tracks from the album’s first half highlights Spektor’s brilliance as a composer and songwriter. Opening tracks “Bleeding Heart” and “Older and Taller”—the former a song about dealing with anxiety in one’s childhood and adolescence, the latter a character study about a workaholic with a myriad of regrets—stand out as two of Spektor’s strongest tracks, and each successfully combine her ear for unconventional melodies with lyrics that are both relatable and incisive (few singer-songwriters could make the lyrics “Enjoy your youth/sounds like a threat” sound so musical).
While it’s possible that some of Spektor’s more seasoned fans will balk at the lack of outright experimental material on this album—the song “Poor Little Rich Boy” off of 2004’s Soviet Kitsch is beloved by fans for, among other things, its bizarre musical backing that featured Spektor tapping a drumstick on a chair to accompany herself on piano—tracks like “Small Bill$,” which utilizes a drum machine, an outrageously great “na na na” chorus that loops back on itself throughout the song, and (hilariously) squawking bird sound effects, will satisfy fans who appreciate Spektor’s willingness to bring weird sounds and influences into her poppier material.
Although the second half of the album shifts considerably from the celebratory tone of its first half, there are a few standout tracks, among them the gorgeously written “Obsolete,” which may be Spektor’s most vulnerable piano-and-voice-only cut to date.
“The Trapper and the Furrier” begins as a sort of lyrical homage to the Beach Boys’ 1973 song “The Trader”; to Spektor’s credit, however, she twists a seemingly simple fable about a trapper and fur dealer into something much darker that also makes a salient point about labor and income inequality in present-day America. Throughout its four minute and twenty-four second runtime, “The Trapper and the Furrier’s” musical accompaniment runs a stunning gamut from minimal solo piano, to a string quartet, and finally to a stomping, drum-heavy conclusion that features Spektor’s distinctive voice at its full power.
Spektor’s social commentary doesn’t end there—penultimate track “Sellers of Flowers” takes on the production chain of cut flowers with a magical realist flourish that only Spektor could deliver. Spektor interweaves a careening vocal melody and cascading strings with sly references to the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast and HBO’s Game of Thrones (winter is coming!)–the result is likely to make you rethink your next stop at your local florist’s.
Since the release of her 2001 indie album Songs (and her more refined albums since then), Spektor has made a career of successfully balancing her more experimental impulses with both her classical training and her impressive pop sensibility. Remember Us to Life is not a perfect album, but it is a damn good one; more importantly, its showcasing of Spektor at her most pop-influenced will enthrall new fans, and remind seasoned listeners of her status as one of the pop music world’s most original creators.