Arts album review

Regina Spektor’s Remember Us to Life: Some pretty good shit-ake

Spektor’s new album is like a mushroom


Remember Us to Life

Regina Spektor

September 20th, 2016

Warner Bros., Sire

While chatting with my friend about Regina Spektor’s new album, Remember Us to Life, I commented that I found it neither extraordinary nor particularly memorable. I did not really care for it at first, but after the third or fourth listen, I thought that it might be starting to grow on me, to which her response was, “Huh, kind of like a fungus.”

Even though she was just joking, the more I think about it, the more I see that Remember Us to Life truly is like a mushroom. Allow me to elaborate:

Regina Spektor has been a staple within my playlists for a good many years now. I can (badly) sing along to the majority of her previous three albums, Begin to Hope (2006), Far (2009), and What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (2012). What distinguishes Spektor’s music is her massive vocal range, her fearlessness to utilize unorthodox vocal techniques, and her uncanny ability to evoke feelings and memory through sound, whether it be wistfulness or whimsy.  

Unfortunately, her new album, released on Sept. 30, 2016, is a departure from the high standard that was set by her previous three albums. Spektor’s usual quirkiness is tamer; her voice and music is constrained by an attempt align with the conventions of pop music.

Her use of repetitive beat progressions and plain vocals end up being awkward and disjunctive rather than catchy. “Bleeding Heart,” the first song of her album, flops back and forth between being a pop song and a rock song and uses the word “never” 57 times, creating a clunky and disruptive track. Even more cringe-worthy was “Small Bill$,” whose all-too-many wispy sounding la’s and pseudo-rap verses were reminiscent of the worst parts of Gwen Stefani and M.I.A. This stylistic evolution is a disservice to Spektor’s sound; it is a reduction in the quality, uniqueness, and charm of her music, and it squanders her vocal capability. To find that Spektor’s delightful quirkiness was replaced by a failed attempt at being pop was an unpleasant surprise and a warranted disappointment, quite like the feeling of realizing that when you ordered a beefsteak, you were going to get the mushroom instead of an actual steak.  

Regardless, the album did have a few great tracks scattered throughout (like truffles within a sea of portabella).  She proves with her song “Obsolete” that she is still able to convey emotion through her music as eloquently as before. In this song, she asks “What am I? Why am I / Incomplete? / Obsolete?”, questions of our own existence and self-worth that have likely appeared, at one point or another, in all of our minds. Her powerful crooning, backed by an escalating rush of string instruments and the constant rhythmic thuds of a piano, convey the desperation, sorrow, and defeat that accompany these thoughts.  

Similarly, “Tornadoland,” a song that likens one’s internal turmoil and anxiety to a tornado, employs powerful auditory imagery on par with her previous works. The rapidly paced lyrics, her spiraling vocals, gusts of wind in the background, and the dramatically elevating instrumentation all help the listener really feel like they are caught right within the chaos of an actual tornado.  

The songs on Remember Us to Life are an investigation of the disillusionment that accompanies life’s struggles, growing up, and self-doubt — a dialogue that all her listeners can take part in. Her songs grapple with the process of understanding the unfairness of a flawed world (“The Trapper and the Furrier” and “Sellers of Flowers”) and coming to terms with one’s own imperfections (“Obsolete”and “Older and Taller”). Many of these songs, although addressing the melancholy topic of decay (of preconceived notions or of the body and mind), contain an upbeat and lively tone. Just as a mushroom draws its life from fecundity and decay, Spektor, by maintaining a contrast between her songs’ themes and delivery, both subverts expectation and instills an underlying idea that through one’s struggles, there exists a “beyond” where there is hope and new life.

Although not many of the songs from Regina Spektor’s new album are going to make their way into my playlist, the album has slowly grown on me. The overall message of this album is one that I can appreciate, and I have already found myself subconsciously humming a couple of its songs. Like a fungus, indeed.