- San Diego, California - Throughout her career, Regina Spektor has exhibited her musical talent through an array of musical sensibilities that have become increasingly diverse with each successive release. In What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, Spektor unites these eccentricities, combining catchy hooks and playful subversions into an diverse product. The mixing decisions for the album perfectly sync with Spektor’s ambitions, resulting in a balance of the bombastic and the contemplative that makes this set of self-contained mini-narratives shine.
Compositionally, Spektor succeeds with this album in roping together her contradictory musical tendencies to create incredibly dynamic tracks. In early albums, Spektor wrote primarily in a rhythmically subversive jazz/antifolk style, breaking rhythm and melody to shoot off into an unexpected musical direction or avoiding rhythmic underpinnings altogether. This was most apparent in Soviet Kitsch and 11:11, and while this counter-conventional style was fun and intriguing, it obscured otherwise memorable melodies and hooks in its tangents. In her last album, Far, Spektor followed the conventions of rhythmic and melodic consistency much more closely, which resulted in a catchy, yet more generic piano pop sound. In What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, Spektor reintroduces her subversive side, but arranges it so that it does not obscure her skillfully-written hooks. Tracks like “Small Town Moon” and “Oh Marcello” most strongly resemble Kitsch-era Spektor, but do not stray too far from their incredibly catchy hooks. Other songs, such as “Patron Saint,” have conventional rhythmic roots but break into bouts of melodic improvisation and feature an abundance of rhythmic breaks and changes. This stylistic fusion makes What We Saw from the Cheap Seats both fresh and memorable.
The mixing in this album feels like a careful combination of past successes. While her early releases felt very organic, tracks like “Your Honor” from Soviet Kitsch suffered from too little compression and EQ treatment for the aggressive arrangement and turned out sounding out-of-control and unbalanced. In contrast, some tracks from her more recent albums, Begin to Hope and Far, felt overproduced and inauthentic when a focus on compression and instrumentation would “crowd out” potentially lush vocal and piano parts (compare “Better” from Begin to Hope to the live version from Artists Den Vol 3). In What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, the production level matches the energy of the tracks. In aggressive, sample-driven tracks like “Don’t Leave Me [Ne Me Quitte Pas]” and “All the Rowboats,” a heavy dose of mix manipulation keeps all of the instrumentation in place, but in calmer tracks like “How” and “Firewood,” the accompanying instrumentation supports the full body of the piano and Spektor’s voice rather than overtaking it. The result of this mixing finesse is the most dynamic and authentic-sounding album from Spektor yet.
This album is a culmination of Spektor’s previous releases in both composition and production. It successfully fuses Spektor’s diverse array of musical personas, reaching to her jazz and antifolk roots as well as her more recent piano-pop sensibilities. The mixing talent matches Spektor’s compositional ambition, controlling energy when needed but allowing her voice and piano skills to shine. What We Saw from the Cheap Seats successfully recalls Regina Spektor’s diverse music tastes without sounding derivative, powerfully demonstrating the depth and breadth of her talent and creativity.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes