Regina Spektor - FarRegina Spektor was born to a Jewish family in Moscow. After emigrating to the states, she studied classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music and began recording pop songs when she was 18, with the “anti-folk” crowd in the East Village.

When it comes to solo singer-songwriters, it’s very easy for whimsical to tip over into precious (Tori Amos), literate into insufferable (Natalie Merchant), or cute into cutesy (Miley Cyrus). Spektor has always avoided those traps by keeping her production spare and crisp, mixing insanely catchy hooks and an impish sense of humor with amazing vocal dexterity and an angular, offbeat melodic sense.

I agree with some reviewers who say that her third album, Far, removes too much vinegar from the recipe and leaves too much sugar. That may have something to do with the influx of famous producers (including Jeff Lyne of ELO fame), or a hankering to show up on Grey’s Anatomy again. Regardless, there are plenty of gems. I love this song, “Blue Lips” — obliquely environmental to boot.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.