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Underrated Albums – Regina Spektor – Far


Musicheads,

While Regina Spektor may have found a new audience with her single You’ve Got Time which doubles as the theme song for the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black, there is much more to this artist and much more worth knowing and hearing.

Whether you are Laughing With God, believe you are the Human Of The Year, or just looking for the Dance Anthem of the 80’s, you have come to the right place when it comes to Regina Spektor’s 2009 release Far.

By far, Far is one of, if not the best albums to come out of the Russian-born New York City resident.  The pianist is able to create fantastic narratives and often asks poignant thoughtful questions within her lyrics.  Regina’s music is also featured heavily in the romantic date movie 500 Days of Summer which released in the same year of which I have a particularly strong affection for (both in terms of the movie and the soundtrack).  However, we are not here to discuss the fabulous soundtrack of the movie listed above, or even more contemporary music from Regina, we are here because Far was a masterful example of an anti-folk music movement prevalent in New York at the time.

The album opens with The Calculation, a bouncy piano tune that suffices to get the listener’s mind in a happy place.  The second track (and my favorite) however is where the album really gets started.  Eet arrives and begins both slow and sobering, but as soon as the supporting cast behind Regina kick in, you can tell this is actually quite the opposite.  The progression of the track ends up being fairly straightforward and simple however the lyrics are all about forgetting lyrics and trying to escape from your own mind and world which partner well with the exploratory musical interludes.   Blue Lips follows this; another fantastic piece of writing, both lyrically and in its composition.  The song is intensely personal and beautiful.  The tone changes with the next track, Folding Chair.  This is a peppy track, full of onomatopoeia, with bass drum and cymbals leading the rhythm section as piano accompanies. Machine, the next track is highly pessimistic lyrically, as Spektor criticizes the ever-increasing co-dependency on mechanical constructs (or so I interpret it).  My second favorite track on the album shortly follows and maintains the sardonic tone set forth from Machine, Laughing With.

This is actually quite a beautiful track, yet incredibly hard-hitting lyrically, as Regina calls out the duplicitous nature humanity portrays when talking about God in times of joy versus times of struggle and pain.  Human Of The Year picks up right where Laughing With ended, incorporating religious overtones to a fairly sarcastic track where Spektor sings about a Karl Projectorinski winning this fictitious award and his hesitancy to accept it.  Then comes Two Birds, right on time to change both the mood and pace.  The track is a welcome reprieve from the grave and somber tracks before it as it has the ability to lift both the listener’s mindset and mood.  This track also marks a rather significant change on the album towards a much lighter side of music, maybe not tonally, but in terms of gravitas.  Next, comes Dance Anthem Of The 80’s, a track that is precisely the opposite.  While it does lend itself to a sort of bouncy dancing beat, there is very little resemblance to anything relatively 80’s-sounding at all.

Genius Next Door is an interesting track.  As the piano completes scales, Regina sings about a mysterious lake that becomes thick like butter at night.  This is followed by Wallet, a straightforward song about finding a wallet, reviewing its contents and then returning it and the lack of interaction, yet the joy this delivery will bring.  One More Time With Feeling is a feel-good track which is odd considering the lyrics.  Once again, Regina masks a fairly upbeat track with depressing lyrics about someone in the hospital not recovering as well as he should.  Man Of A Thousand Faces closes out Far.  Poetic framing creates beauty in the nuance found in this track.  Once again religion is a central theme found in this track and throughout the album overall.  The final two tracks are found on the Deluxe edition, but are well worth listening to.  Time Is All Around is a fast-paced bouncy track which incorporates lovely imagery in a thought-provoking metaphor about leaves.  The Sword & The Pen closes out the deluxe digital music download edition where Regina Spektor reverses some of the world’s more famous proverbs on their heads to excellent effect.

All-in-all, the album is a wonderful piece or musical workmanship.  While not always incredibly complicated in composition, each song offers an emotional impact whether lyrically or tonally.  Regina Spektor does sarcastic and sardonic well.  She also has a flair for the lyrically dramatic and a penchant for creating catchy piano-led tunes.  Far is an interesting and dynamic album where Spektor wrestles and confronts her relationship with religion and God.  The tracks Eet, Blue Lips, Two Birds, Laughing With and Human Of The Year are standouts among a packed album with very little filler.  While her albums prior and after do have some very memorable tracks, it is within Far that Regina Spektor is closest to creating the elusive “perfect album”.

 

Akwitz

Now Playing: Regina Spektor – Eet


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Underrated Albums – School Of Seven Bells – Ghostory


Musicheads,

Now that we will most likely not be getting anymore music from the New York City dream pop/shoegaze act School Of Seven Bells(due to the unfortunate death of Benjamin Curtis on December 29, 2013) it seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at one of the group’s best albums, Ghostory.

The group’s 3rd and final full-length album was released in early 2012 and was the first album recorded as just a duo.  The original band was made up of identical twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, but Claudia left the group in 2010.  Although it has been rumored there will be new music coming from the SVIIB camp, it would be made up of posthumous recordings from Benjamin Curtis.

Why is this album so good?  Let me take you through and you will see why it is so underrated as a whole.

The album kicks off with a fantastic opening track, The Night, which doubles as both a single and energy-bringer.  This is followed up immediately with Love Play, a massive slower piece with an expansive synth riff.

Then we really start to get into it with the lead single and ultimately the band’s most popular track, Lafaye.  The beat-driven track is high-tempo and brings the house down with both its loveliness and catchiness.

We are only three songs in to the album and it’s already a burner, but it doesn’t stop there.  Low Times follows Lafaye and keeps up the pace of the previous track, and then expands upon the sound with a crafty little synthesizer bridge about 4 minutes into the 6:32-long track before the final two-and-a-half minutes ramps up the complexity with a rambunctious beat and vocal echoing by way of a harmony effect.

Reappear is the next track on the album and has to be my second favorite track on the album (behind Lafaye).  It is slow, but well-paced, electronic, yet ethereal, the track is expansive, yet it evokes feelings of isolation and solitude.  The track feels like it could have fit into a Tron soundtrack  and yet is more than just that.  This track has massive remix potential and you can see I have included one below.

The second half of the album begins anew with Show Me Love.  The tempo has risen, but the darkness of Reappear still lingers. The seventh track on the album is Scavenger.  It offers a guitar and percussive-heavy track while Alejandra once again utilizes the vocal effects to expand her voice and offers multiple vocal tracks layered over each other to paint a pristine picture.   This is swiftly followed by White Wind, a glitchy track built around vocal harmonies.  As we draw nearer to the end of the album, you can feel a transition in the compilation of the music.  More traditional instrumentation is used, augmented by synthesizer and drum machine rather than solely driven by them.  When You Sing is a perfect example of this, with its percussive beat and simple synthesized backing tracks that are widely expanded upon by Curtis’ edgy guitar which provides the diversity and complexity to the track.  Alejandra Deheza’s voice is steady as always in her ethereal whimsy to create a dream-like performance.  Unnature brings back the electronic sounds to create a heartbeat-pulse in a rather poignant piece as Deheza repeats “Words and chants, lust and nature, collide in the dark” to close out the track.

The final and closeout track on the album is Low Times – Lafaye’s Brain Mix.  The track is a reprise to the earlier tracks of a similar name. This eight-and-a-half minute song builds slowly behind a new trance-like beat.    Blending together pieces from both Low Times and Lafaye, the duo creates a completely new track out of its predecessors while still maintaining the same lyrics just in a different order.

The album as a whole is incredibly strong and driven.  Curtis’ stylish creations instrumentally pair well with the strong yet emotional vocals of Alejandra Deheza to create an ethereal sound throughout the album, fitting the theme.  Outside of the singles, the supporting tracks around them have legs of their own on which they can stand on.  This album has to be considered underrated simply based on this fact alone.  The shoegaze/dream pop sub-genre they so easily fall into tends to have very particular characteristics and yet the duo is able to expand on these simple constructs and offer a diverse array of music with a limited amount of manpower.  Ghostory is the most complete of the groups three full-length albums and it is a shame Benjamin Curtis lost his battle with cancer in late 2013, as I was eagerly looking forward to what would come next from this talented team.

 

Akwitz

Now Playing: School Of Seven Bells – Reappear ( jOBOT Remix)


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Underrated Albums – Joan Osborne – Relish


Musicheads,

You may remember Miss Joan Osborne for her breakout controversial single One Of Us, but what you may not know is that her début album on which that track is housed, Relish, is actually quite fantastic.

Starting off strong right out of the gates with the track St. Teresa, Osborne shows off her vocal range, clever guitar playing and songwriting ability.  There is no question that Joan can write lyrics, one song after another are cleverly written, each telling a different story accompanied by a different tune.  After a slower, more blues-rock track in Man In The Long Black Coat, Joan picks up the pace a bit with Right Hand Man.  Here Joan adopts a rougher, more raw vocal approach in order to attain a more sexual quality to the song with much success.

Up next is Pensacola, another well-written track with some very folksy rhythm & blues roots.  This is followed by Dracula Moon with a fantastic melodic harmonica performance and then the immensely popular hit single One Of Us.  This is quickly followed up by a fantastic piano-led track Ladder.  Spider Web follows this, one of my favorite tracks on the album.  Joan sings about Ray Charles while a funky guitar riff and fantastic percussion beat play.  This track also boasts as the only track on the album with backing female vocals.  Follow that up with a track that makes a 180° turn in Let’s Just Get Naked.  This track is dripping with sexuality and 90’s sexual freedom/feminism.  Help Me gets the album back to a more traversed path with a walking bass line and harmonica performance that accents Joan’s vocals.  The final tracks of the album Crazy Baby and Lumina bring the album back down to earth with vocal-centric performances in both by Joan, who shows off her singing prowess.  While the former shows off her vocal strength, the latter fits into the more tender, lullaby style, easing the listener out as the album comes to a fitting close.

You can really hear throughout the album that Joan cares about her music.  She is truly proud of her music and not just in it for a quick buck and the popularity (much unlike today’s female performers).  Her songs are heartfelt and creative and with a mix of country, folk, blues, rock and coffeehouse styles, her sound is original.  Relish in my opinion, is one of the better full albums of the decade, and ought to make many a top 100 list, if given the thought.

 

Akwitz

 

Now Playing: Joan Osborne – One Of Us