Labeling Regina Spektor “anti-folk” was always a bit of a stretch. Despite her ties to the East Village scene, her songs always seemed so much more deliberately crafted than the almost improvisational lo-fi of the Moldy Peaches crowd. Not being afraid to flaunt her classical training on piano and voice never hurt either.
On this, her fourth proper album, Spektor hasn’t sacrificed any of her lyrical craft, but any lingering ties to anti-folk are now officially severed thanks to David Kahne’s atrociously overblown production. Kahne did a pretty slick job on the last Strokes album, but none of the restraint he managed to muster for that band carries over here. What Spektor had shared with the anti-folkers — the intimacy, the edginess — gets muddled amongst his mess of straightforward orchestration, electronic beats, and wimpy reverb. Considering her first three records held their own despite keeping outside instrumentation to a minimum, going so far as to dodge the piano on certain songs doesn’t do the record any good. It also undermines what Spektor has been trying to assert since 2004’s Soviet Kitsch: that she isn’t just a girl with a piano who deserves to be lumped in with the Tori Amoses and Fiona Apples of the mainstream pop scene. Not to turn this into a selling-out argument, but it’s harder to read the eccentricity of her songs when it takes sifting through the gloss of annoying pop production to even scratch the surface.
So Begin to Hope may not get points for consistency, but it still scores high as far as straight-up pop records go. Reworked versions of old songs like ‘Samson’ and ‘20 Years of Snow’ may suffer from Kahne’s heavy hand, but they warrant revisiting anyway. The newfound slickness even works on ‘Hotel Song,’ a doo-wop chord progression tacked onto a goofy tale about a one-night stand. None of the songs are as immediately arresting as those from her back catalogue, but they’re still adequate.