Patriot's Heart

Ignore Regina Spektor's warm idiosyncracies—or bash the U.S.A.—at your own peril

That mixture of anxiety and wonder permeates Begin to Hope, which never settles on a mood, method, or outlook. On the minimalist, punky "That Time," Spektor strums guitar like she's at her first lesson, speak-singing about good and suddenly very bad times with a friend on the Lower East Side. "Aprés Moi" (the title alludes to Louis XV's promise of a "deluge" after his death) is a floridly operatic tale of flooding and perseverance, sung partly in Russian. Producer Kahn's influence is most obvious in "Edit," which pairs choppy electronics and oblique, incantatory lyrics with a spare, wandering piano line. Spektor's accent, light in conversation, twists her singing voice just so; airy and dynamic, her vocals flit from frisky to mournful.

For all its adventurousness, the album centers around a single, unnameable ache, but don't mistake that for pity or resignation. "Some people are like, 'Dare I say, this album sounds more mature,' " Spektor says, a little wearily, but with a laugh. "And yet some of these are my oldest songs." At a recent small show at the Angel Orensanz Foundation—a former synagogue downtown—she actually seemed a bit like a nervous kid at a recital, restarting a couple of songs while wearing a lovely, formal dress you imagine she'd change out of immediately afterward. But when she played—unaccompanied by studio frills, and with lightning illuminating the windows—the whole room seemed to cave in around her. Her parents, as always, were in the front row.

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