Spiking piano-driven songs of heartbreak with comic turns of phrase, cartoon voices and beatboxing outbursts, Regina Spektor has become her generation's Joni Mitchell – a singer-songwriter who nail-guns emotional truths between wisecracks. Her latest, even tighter and more flamboyant than 2009's Far, may be her best. Exhibit A: "Firewood," which treats mortal illness (a recurring theme for her) with elegant surrealism, imagining a piano used for kindling while boldly telling a comrade to "Rise from your cold hospital bed/I tell you, you're not dying." Elsewhere, "Ballad of a Politician" is sharp satire, instructing a handshaking officeholder to "Shake it, shake it, baby!" Even apparent novelty songs carry a payload. "Oh Marcello" is a Mafioso narrative with outrageous accents and real pathos; "Open" employs a hysterical gasp for air as a percussive vocal device, to unnervingly powerful effect. "All the Rowboats," which denounces museums as "public mausoleums," is telling, coming from a classical-music defector. But more so is "Small Town Moon," with its mouthful of "baby baby"s and "Whoo!"s, working a delicious metaphor for pursuing your own muse, damn the torpedoes. Here's hoping Spektor never stops.
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• Photos: Random Notes