REGINA SPEKTOR, FAR
With three major-label albums to her credit, the debate that's run through the career of 29-year-old Russian-born, New York-based singer and songwriter Regina Spektor is whether the at-times overwhelming quirkiness of her music is the natural expression of a genuinely eccentric personality or a hipster pose crafted to help her stand out on the modern-Bohemian "anti-folk" scene. (No one argues about whether or not she is quirky; in fact, it sometimes seems as if there's an unofficial law that the word must be used in every review.)
Ultimately, it really doesn't matter--at least not when Spektor's melodies are more memorable than her odd verbal tics (she's inordinately fond of dolphin yelps and squeals) and sometimes bizarre metaphors and lyrical images ("So we made our own computer out of macaroni pieces/And it did our thinking while we lived our lives/It counted up our feelings/And divided them up even/And it called that calculation perfect love," she sings in the opening track, "The Calculation"). Even though her latest outing was crafted with the help of four big-name producers--David Kahne (Paul McCartney, the Strokes), Garret "Jackknife" Lee (U2, R.E.M.), Jeff Lynne (ELO, the Traveling Wilbury's) and Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Eminem)--our heroine remains as giddily goofy and willfully weird as ever on standout tracks such as "Blue Lips," "Eet" and "Wallet," while the combination of her cascading piano and startled-teen vocals make it hard to resist any quirk she cares to flaunt.
In the end, the oddest aspects of Spektor's songs are balanced by more profound and troubling observations, and they emerge as the only logical response to a world that sometimes seems insane. As she sings in "Laughing With," "No one laughs at God in a hospital/No one laughs at God in a war/No one's laughing at God/When they're starving or freezing or so very poor."
At first blush, Vancouver musicians Brian King and David Prowse seem to be one of many bands subscribing to two near-ubiquitous trends in the current indie-rock underground: Yep, they're another two-person guitar-and-drums duo, and sure enough, they're steeped in the resurgent waves of '90s fuzz guitar a la Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney. But Japandroids are distinguished by an unusually sharp ear for winning melodies decorating their waves of six-string noise and propulsive drumming, and they have a thematic devotion to alienation--from the opposite sex, mostly, but also geographical and of the "I just wasn't made for these times" variety--that adds an urgent desperation and undeniable undertow to the proceedings.
Just try not to get sucked into songs such as "The Boys Are Leaving Town" or "Heart Sweats"; it's darn near impossible.