Regina Spektor - 11:11 Music Album Reviews

Regina Spektor - 11:11 Music Album Reviews
A new box set collects the singer-songwriter’s 2001 debut alongside a set of live recordings from her early days in New York, showcasing the intimate performance style and vivid, theatrical lyrics that ignited her career.

Before Regina Spektor’s family emigrated from Russia in 1989, the 9-year-old pianist envisioned the United States as a sprawling safari where everyone owned lions and tigers as pets. Her family selected a tiny Bronx apartment for its proximity to the Jewish community, and she quickly learned that New York City is more urban jungle than forest preserve. Still, she was elated: “You know that thing that you see in immigrants sometimes where everything is new: What does this taste like? What does that say? What is that sound?” she recalled in 2004. “It was really exciting, especially to a kid, but my whole family had that. That’s a lucky way to be, you know?” That outlook came to define Spektor and her music. Upholding curiosity and playfulness as guiding principles, she began writing songs about mundanity and tragedy alike as if they were fairy tales. Once her music escaped her bedroom walls, her songs captured the hearts of the city and, in time, the world.

A new box set presents Spektor’s 2001 debut 11:11 alongside Papa’s Bootlegs, a collection of early live recordings. The majority of these songs were written during her teenage years and take on the style of cabaret performance: rousing but simple piano numbers with jazzy vocals. Although she claims she had “horrible self-discipline” learning piano as a child, Spektor fell in love with the instrument in Moscow, and she was gutted to part ways with both her classical teacher and the family’s beloved upright during their move. But when she discovered a dusty piano in the basement of her synagogue in New York, Spektor began sneaking away to practice. She ultimately landed free lessons from Sonia Vargas, a Manhattan School of Music professor, following a chance meeting on the subway between Vargas’ husband and Spektor’s father. On 11:11 and Papa’s Bootlegs, her piano studies take on colorful shapes, the rigidity of classical tutelage giving way to improvisation and willful flashes of personality.

When fans bought 11:11, originally released as a limited run of 1,000 CDs, they were greeted by “Love Affair,” a forlorn ode to heartsickness introduced by devious, staccato piano notes and a slinky upright bassline played by Chris Kuffner. More than 20 years later, the song’s bold opening still ushers you into Spektor’s world with an air of spontaneity. Spektor alternates between plodding and delicate piano melodies on the tracks that follow: “Back of a Truck,” an epic about a Mother Superior devouring everything within sight, sometimes literally, that devolves into semantic satiation; the moving “Buildings,” which follows an endlessly forgiving husband as alcoholism and suicidal ideation consume his wife; and “2.99¢ Blues,” which unites vignettes about a cozy ghost, a nightmare-riddled veteran, and an author peddling roadside stories. Tucked away throughout are clever turns of phrase—“carry-on luggage charms,” “an ambulance staking out the neighborhood,” “he was perfect except for the fact that he was an engineer”—that further establish her penchant for vivid imagery and character studies.

Spektor turned 21 the same year she self-released 11:11, but the seriousness of adulthood never sunk its claws into her. Back then, and arguably still, she anchored her outlook with a buoyant optimism and sense of wonder. During a semester abroad in London in the then-dreary neighborhood of Tottenham, she fawned over Argos catalogs and found comfort in the area’s similarities to the Bronx. The summer prior, she worked on a butterfly farm in a Wisconsin town called Luck, running through fields catching monarchs and painted ladies, an oversized net in hand, to be re-homed at botanical gardens. She wrote songs romanticizing life’s highs and lows because she was busy experiencing them firsthand, like a child pressing their face and palms against an airplane window in awe of everything below.

You can hear her embrace this outlook on 11:11 fan favorite “Pavlov’s Daughter.” At nearly eight minutes, it’s a theatrical production on piano that examines neighborly espionage verging on voyeurism, with lyrics that remain open to interpretation. (Is it a call-and-response to Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”? Or is Lucille actually Lucifer, with Regina playing God and Pavlov’s daughter representing humankind?) Most importantly, it’s Spektor’s earliest song that prompts the impulse to sing along dramatically. She molds words in her mouth to sound beautiful or ugly, their transformation dependent upon where in the song they fall rather than their definition: she repeats her name like hiccups (“Regin-AH! Regin-AH!“), drags the end of the word “garb-aaage” like it’s trailing on the ground behind her, and beats the word “quiet” back and forth violently until, on its 22nd utterance, it lays lifeless and still.

As she compiled era-appropriate photos to accompany the reissue of 11:11, Spektor received a USB drive from her father filled with footage of her earliest shows. Her initial instinct was to hide it out of embarrassment, but ultimately she compiled the recordings for the box set edition, handpicking 20 songs that capture her college years and ensuing entrance into New York City’s anti-folk scene. Before Spektor became a doyenne of the genre beside fellow luminaries Kimya Dawson, Jeffrey Lewis, and Diane Cluck, she was doing her part to squash the homogeneity of open-mic bars and cafes. Spanning her first-ever set in 1998 to shows promoting 11:11 in 2001, Papa’s Bootlegs preserves a storied era of her career that’s become difficult to revisit as 404 errors replace defunct fan blogs.

The joy of listening to Papa’s Bootlegs is the feeling of sitting in the crowd experiencing it first-hand: “This is my first-ever standing song!” Spektor declares ahead of “Wasteside.” She laughs shyly while performing the looping melody of “Rejazz,” asking herself and the audience, “How do we end this?” For every slightly off-key pitch or delayed keystroke, there are two belting, goosebump-raising notes. Spektor transposes the jazz and blues artists who inspired her in college—Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Sidney Bechet—into her performance style, prefiguring her work to come. There’s the gorgeous chord progressions of “Amplifiers” that echo Begin to Hope, the solemn undercurrent of “Train Ballad” like a musical prelude to “Human of the Year,” and a whirlwind of piano runs on “Quarters” fit for Soviet Kitsch. You might imagine Spektor’s father, camcorder in hand, grinning with pride. Occasionally he caves and emits a small “Woo!” while the audience claps.

Barely two years after releasing 11:11, Spektor embarked on her first-ever nationwide tour opening for another New York act, the Strokes. Despite her intimate performance style and oddball songs, she quickly swept to international fame. That impending shift makes the intimacy of this box set all the more rewarding. Previously immortalized through digital file sharing after the CDs sold out, 11:11 is a portrait of an artist who appears too genuine to be human, too creative to be self-conscious, and too curious to be contained. Alongside Papa’s Bootlegs, it’s a time capsule for Spektor’s early days in New York City and a document of the spark that ignited her songwriting career.

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Regina Spektor - 11:11 Music Album Reviews Regina Spektor - 11:11 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 06, 2022 Rating: 5


Post a Comment