Not to discount the theatrical—dare I say artful—value of fashion shows, but as a music critic, it can be embarrassing when producers of such exhibitions have their ears closer to the ground than you. Regina Spektor is one many artists I’ve been introduced to via trips to Fashion Week over the years; her brand of dramatic, string-laden baroque-pop (though she’s no relation to Phil Spector), exemplified best by the opulent “Us” from 2004’s Soviet Kitsch, is the perfect soundtrack for over-the-top couture. Begin To Hope picks up where that UK hit left off, adding experiments in electronica (“Edit”) and more accessible pop/rock (“Better”) to the mix, a kissing cousin of the Jon Brion-produced version of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine. “I never loved nobody fully,” Spektor starts on Begin To Hope‘s first track, “Fidelity,” but it isn’t long (by song’s end, actually) before the album begins to live up to its title. With the possible exception of “That Time,” with its repetitive, Alanis-style lyrics (sample: “Hey remember that time I tried to save a pigeon with a broken wing/A street cat got it by morning and I had to bury pieces of his body in our building’s playground/I thought I was gonna be sick”), there’s an underlying hope to Spektor’s music. There’s a fearless, uninhibited confidence to Spektor’s voice, not to mention a delightful whimsy to her music, that sets her apart from artists like Apple. Her arrangements are inspired and ambitious and the melodies of songs like the wrenching “Samson” are classic yet startling original. Long before you even reach “Lady,” an ode to Billie Holiday, at the album’s end, the torchy piano ballad “Field Below” conjures the image of Spektor’s silhouette backlit with a smoky spotlight and a giant silver microphone.
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