Top 10 2006; 2

[ed. note — anyone that wants to guess #1, feel free to drop a comment. If you guess right, I’ll upload one (non-protected) song of your choice from my iTunes playlist (careful, it’s a long list).]

Regina Spektor
Begin To Hope
On the Radio (removed. contact me for a copy.)

Another album that blindsided me; I was not a Spektor fan before this year. Her vocal pyrotechnics made me sort of uncomfortable — even though I used to listen to Tori bang on her piano and howl, listening to “Uh-Merica” was just a little much for me. Just a personal thing, I think, and it kept me from beautiful songs like “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and “Reading Time With Pickle.” So I was very glad to find on “Begin To Hope” that she’s polished everything up. The pyrotechnics are still there, but damped a little bit. This probably bugs the heck out of devoted listeners, but it increases Spektor’s accessibility and since she gets VH-1 time and a Logan/Veronica kiss scene on “Veronica Mars,” I’d say that it’s successful on the whole.

Spektor’s songwriting is gold caliber — it’s almost impossible to pick the best-written. They feel classic, almost archetypal — let’s consider “On the Radio” for a minute. It starts out irreverent:

This is how it works — it feels a little worse /
than when we drove our hearse right through that screaming crowd

and eventually segues into this beautiful, minimal summary of the human condition:

This is how it works — you’re young until you’re not /
you love until you don’t / you try until you can’t.
You laugh until you cry / you cry until you laugh; /
and everyone must breathe until their dying breath.

and then she goes and tops it with:

No, this is how it works — you peer inside yourself /
You take the things you like and try to love the things you took /
And then you take that love you made and stick it into some
Someone else’s heart pumping someone else’s blood /
And walking arm in arm you hope it don’t get harmed /
But even if it does you’ll just do it all again

Basically, a more succinct representation of the joy and folly of love, you could not find. I could go on all day, but it wouldn’t do that song justice. And what’s more, all the songs on the album are like that. “Apres Moi” is in three languages, for crying out loud. “Summer in the City” juxtaposes the cheerfulness of summer with personal loneliness: Summer in the city, I’m so lonely lonely lonely / so I went to a protest just to rub up against strangers. And “Lady” is beautifully bluesy, with that fabulous refrain I can sing this song so blue / that you will cry in spite of you / little wet tears on your baby’s shoulder / little wet tears on your baby’s shoulder.

Spektor has managed to strike a balance between songwriting, singing, originality, and theatricality that is unmatched this year. I have listened to “Begin To Hope” about a hundred times so far, and I’m sure I’ll listen to it a hundred more. And if you’re like me and you would have liked “Soviet Kitsch” but it was a little raw, please give this album a try. It’s practically perfect in every way*.

[see Best of 2006 for more]
[*please don’t sue me, Disney.]



  1. Jo’s avatar

    I could NOT agree more with this review. Begin to Hope is my top album of the year, and one of my favorites of all time. I haven’t skipped one song on the disc– not once. While I loved some of her previous work (for instance, I used to listen to “Us” at least once a day), it was exactly as you describe it. Definitely a bit raw. I’ve been spreading this album around to everyone since it really is a truly polished product, and have 100% of those people hooked.

    By the way, I’m new to this blog and I monitor it through LJ. Out of all the music blogs I’ve looked into in the past few weeks, I love yours best. Great 2006 list so far. Excited to see the #1!

  2. juliette’s avatar

    my favorite is apres moi. :) :) in case you didn’t find this somewhere already, the russian part is part of a Pasternak poem, goes like this:

    February. Get ink, shed tears.
    Write of it, sob your heart out, sing,
    While torrential slush that roars
    Burns in the blackness of the spring.

  3. juliette’s avatar

    ps happy birthday again, i suppose you may have thought the first time i said it was a dream, as it was stated at a time you should’ve still been asleep! yarrr!

  4. zara’s avatar

    Aha! I always wondered what she said. I love Apres Moi with a burning love that will only die after 1,000,000 repeat listenings.

    Also yes, it was rather a dream. I can’t remember anything I said, so I hope I wasn’t too dorky. But my sweater is the roxor!

  5. zara’s avatar

    Jo: I’m glad you like it! You’re one of my 8 LJ readers :D

  6. Chad’s avatar

    This was my #2 record of the year as well! We must be on some awesome psychic wavelength of some sort. :)

    Seriously though, you are exactly right many times over in this review; like you, I wasn’t a Spektor fan until this year, but Begin to Hope absolutely blew me away.

    I have no idea what you’re #1 record will be, but I’m gonna guess M. Ward, just because that’s what it should be. ;)

  7. zara’s avatar

    Nope, not M. Ward … I know that was your #1 though. :D I guess we’re only on a psychic #2 wavelength.

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