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Piano Woman

Begin to Hope is her first album that’s had the luxury of more than two weeks’ recording time. “The old songs, they’re not fulfilled,” she says. “It’s like trying to cook a meal with just a couple of ingredients. It’s not that you didn’t dream of doing it, but you didn’t ever have the chance.”

And so the piano chanteuse is exploring her pop ear: sprightly guitars on “Better” (courtesy of the Strokes’ Nick Valensi) and “That Time”; quick dance-floor beats on “Hotel Song” and “Edit.” Her songs, formerly extravagant only in lyric, are suddenly ornate—a mature eccentricity— without losing the vivid vocal presence that’s become her signature. (Additionally, the concert staple “Samson,” which originally appeared on Songs as a minimal dirge, is revisited here, updated with atmospheric textures and a quick tempo.)

“The Jewish question, it still exists. There’s still enough to ‘J’accuse’ about.”

She’s still reaching backward, though. For the first time, in “Après Moi,” Spektor sings in Russian, quoting from the late poet and Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak. “I read a lot in Russian. I’m very connected to the language and the culture,” says Spektor, who is fully bilingual. (She also reads Hebrew.) “But I can relate more to a Russian person my parents’ age than one my own age. I’m more of a regurgitator, an homage payer.”

It is, however, deeply affectionate homage, born of extremely close family ties. On the cover of Soviet Kitsch, she wears her grandfather’s cap from his time in World War II, and her father appears in her music video for “Us” in his father’s military regalia.

Dad is also Spektor’s enforcer online. If you want to be her friend on MySpace, you’ll have to get past him. He personally handles all approvals—“People at my shows are like, ‘Say hi to your dad!’ ”—and Spektor thrills in blurring expectations. “I don’t resent, but I get amused, a punky sort of amusement, at how people judge what is adultlike and what is childlike,” she says. “If something is really exciting to me, I’ll literally jump up and clap my hands. I guess that’s what children do—they don’t look around to see who’s judging them. You don’t get a medal at the end for being an adult.”