Far from being just another coy title from a member of New York’s anti-folk scene, Soviet Kitsch is the third release from the classically trained, Moscow-raised Regina Spektor, an artist who arrived in the United States just as the former Soviet Union crumbled. If it weren’t for a momentary breakaway run of Russian folk melodies at the end of the complexly rising and falling “The Flowers,” you’d never guess her talents have their roots on the other side of the Bering Straight.
Positioning her piano somewhere at the confluence of Björk, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell, Spektor—a 24-year-old with a powerhouse voice and profoundly imaginative arrangements—certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of original ideas. True, her oddly metered, vaguely Beat-ish verse can be silly, naïve and frustratingly repetitive, but you have to admire her audacity in slurring lines like “won’t you help a brother out?” and “I’m so poor” in a little-girl Bronx coo. At times, it seems as if she’s donning savant-ish affectations. But the complex, constantly evolving arrangements in the tense mélange of frantically pounded keys and spiking violin on the svelte “Us” and the dreamy clip-clopping chords of “Carbon Monoxide” show too much seasoned expertise to be anything but the result of deliberate planning. Even though her work could benefit from some judicious editing, her idiosyncratic, imaginative songwriting should make her the antidote for anyone tired of the indistinguishable crowd of guitar girls and coffee shop crooners.