Sunday, April 19, 2009

brittany, meet regina.

I don't remember exactly at what point in the semester this happened, but one day after school as I was driving home I decided to listen to a musician who I hadn't listened to for a very long time. Her name is Regina Spektor. As I was driving it dawned on me: Regina is so Beat. 

This occurred to me somewhat slowly, and I realized that all this time I had known about her I had intentionally avoided the majority of her repoitoire because it was weird. I hadn't made room for it. I hadn't even listened to any of the songs all the way to the end.

So, I was completely blown away by this realization. I immediately made the connection between learning about the Beat sensibility and (1) deciding to give her stranger songs another chance, and (2) being blown away by them.

So I've compiled a playlist of some of her songs that I've been really digging. I've listened to all of the songs of hers that I could find at least a handful of times now, and I hope I'm right in my feeling that she is pretty Beat. Below the playlist I've also included some of her biography (which I've abbreviated) from Wikipedia.  

Regina Spektor (Cyrillic: Регина Спектор; born February 18, 1980) is a Soviet-born Jewish-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Her music is associated with the anti-folk scene centered on New York City's East Village.

Early life

Spektor was born in MoscowUSSR (now Russia), to a musical Jewish family. She learned how to play piano by practicing on a Petrof upright that was given to her mother by her grandfather. She was also exposed to the music of rock and roll bands such as The Beatles, Queen, and The Moody Blues by her father, who obtained such recordings in Eastern Europe and traded cassettes with friends in the Soviet Union. The family left the Soviet Union in 1989, when Regina was nine, during the period of Perestroika, when Soviet citizens were permitted to emigrate. Regina had to leave her piano behind. The seriousness of her piano studies led her parents to consider not leaving the USSR, but they finally decided to emigrate, due to the ethnic and political discrimination which Jews faced.

Traveling first to Austria and then Italy, the family settled in the Bronx, New York, where Spektor graduated from the SAR Academy, a Jewish day middle school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. She then attended high school for two years at the Frisch School, a yeshiva in Paramus, New Jersey, but transferred to a public school, Fair Lawn High School, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where she finished the last two years of her high school education

Beginnings as a songwriter

In New York, Spektor studied classical piano with Sonia Vargas, a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, until she was 17; Spektor's father had met Vargas through her husband, violinist Samuel Marder. Although the family had been unable to bring their piano from Russia, Spektor found a piano on which to play in the basement of her synagogue, and also practiced on tabletops and other hard surfaces.

Spektor was originally interested only in classical music, but later became interested in hip hop, rock and punk as well. Although she had always made up songs around the house, Spektor first became interested in more formal songwriting during a visit to Israel with the Nesiya Institute in her teenage years when she attracted attention from the other children on the trip for the songs she made up while hiking and realized she had an aptitude for songwriting.

Following this trip, she was exposed to the work of Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and other singer-songwriters, which encouraged her belief that she could create her own songs. She wrote her first a cappella songs around age sixteen and her first songs for voice and piano when she was nearly eighteen.

Spektor completed the four-year studio composition program of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College within three years, graduating with honors in 2001. Around this time, she also worked briefly at a butterfly farm in Luck, Wisconsin, and studied in Tottenham, England for one semester.

She gradually achieved recognition through performances in the anti-folk scene in downtown New York City, most importantly at the East Village's Sidewalk Cafe, but also at the Living Room, Tonic, Fez, the Knitting Factory, and CB's Gallery. She sold self-produced CDs at her performances during this period: 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002).


Spektor has said that she has created a great number of songs, but that she rarely writes any of them down. She has also stated that she never aspired to write songs herself, but songs seem to just flow to her. Spektor's songs are not usually autobiographical, but rather are based on scenarios and characters drawn from her imagination. Her songs show influences from folk, punk, rock, Jewish, Russian, hip hop, jazz, and classical music. Spektor's musical style has drawn many comparisons to fellow singer-pianists Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, as well as the vocal stylings of Björk. Spektor has said that she works hard to ensure that each of her songs has its own musical style, rather than trying to develop a distinctive style for her music as a whole.

Spektor possesses a broad vocal range and uses the full extent of it. She also explores a variety of different and somewhat unorthodox vocal techniques, such as verses composed entirely of buzzing noises made with the lips and beatbox-style flourishes in the middle of ballads, and also makes use of such unusual musical techniques as using a drum stick to tap rhythms on the body of the piano or chair. Part of her style also results from the exaggeration of certain aspects of vocalization, most notably the glottal stop, which is prominent in the single "Fidelity". She also uses a strong New York accent on some words, which she has said is due to her love of New York and its culture.

Her lyrics are equally eclectic, often taking the form of abstract narratives or first-person character studies, similar to short stories or vignettes put to song. Spektor usually sings in English, though she sometimes includes a few words or verses of Latin, Russian, French, and other languages in her songs. Some of Spektor's lyrics include literary allusions, such as to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in "Poor Little Rich Boy", The Little Prince in "Baobabs", Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood in "Paris", Ezra Pound and William Shakespeare in "Pound of Flesh", Shakespeare's Hamlet in "The Virgin Queen", Boris Pasternak in "Après Moi", Samson and Delilah in "Samson", and Oedipus the King in "Oedipus", Billie Holiday in "Lady" and Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome in "2.99 cent blues". She alludes to The Beatles and Paul McCartney in the song "Edit". She also used a line from Joni Mitchell's California in her song "The Devil Came to Bethlehem". Recurring themes and topics in Spektor's lyrics include love, death, religion (particularly Biblical and Jewish references), city life (particularly New York references), and certain key phrases have been known to recur in different songs by Spektor, such as references to gravediggers, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the name "Marry Ann". Spektor's use of satire is evident in "Wasteside," which refers to the classic satirical novel by the Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov The Twelve Chairs, and describes the town in which people are born, get their hair cut, and then are sent to the cemetery.

In Spektor's early albums, many of her tracks had a very dry vocal production, with very little reverb or delay added. However, Spektor's more recent albums, particularly Begin to Hope, have put more emphasis into song production and have relied more on traditional pop and rock instruments.[  Spektor says the records that most impact her are those of "bands whose music is really involved", specifically naming The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Radiohead, Tom Waits, and Frédéric Chopin as primary influences.

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