Regina Spektor's tricky tongue and fading Russian accent separate her from the ever-expanding crowd of Tori Amos/Fiona Apple wannabes who sport "funky" hats and own well-worn piano stools. Begin to Hope
might be less histrionic than 2004's Soviet Kitsch
, but it's still great fun to bear witness to this NYC songbird's post-hip-hop Baldwin-pop and quirky balladry. "Better" is the widest-screen song she's ever penned, a populist anthem strengthened by the steady hand of Strokes guitarist Nick Valenti. "20 Years of Snow" finds Spektor alternating unpredictably between Björk-like spoken/sung impressionism and agitated rapping to the ADD rhythms of scattered piano and sprinkled strings. The album's pick-to-click, "That Time," falls more into a rock vein, with gully-scraping guitars buttressing a litany of chatty reminiscences about old times good, bad, and all-out horrific, as she slurs, yelps and riffs her lyrics.