108. Song No. 1,455: “Buildings,” Regina Spektor
Oh, woooooow, speaking of songs I cannot believe I let fall off my radar over the years because I love the absolute hell out of them.
I mean, who hasn’t been in a determinedly untenable relationship that demands more maintenance than modern marvels standing in triumph against the daily barrage of elements working to level them? The mathematically improbable occurrence of last chances, the waning patience, the misdirected energy in sustaining denial rather than confronting the issue, the guilty but powerless perpetuation of ruinous behavioral cycles that both parties are resigned to reliving over and over again until the infinite spring of goodwill that forgives always being the one to compromise or be compromised runs dry and maaaaybe an ultimatum is the best outcome when those limits are finally realized: It’s all there.
The exuberant experimentation that dominates Spektor’s earliest recordings — like her debut album 11:11, which the unequalled multi-hyphenate songstress self-recorded and sold at shows in the early aughts and showcases just how much fun she has making music do things no one else thinks to try — is just one of the most endearing aspects of her music. The soulfulness, the vulnerability, the somehow simultaneously emotionally rich and expressively sparse lyrics, the streams of consciousness echoing the touchstone human experience inspiring them all work together to sing of complex feelings and reframe meaningful moments into these songs that explore so much so well and so fleetingly.
With 40 peering around the corner, a lot of the most significant people in my life have already faced down divorce or are steeling themselves to begin that journey. Breakups felt like the end of the world in high school and college; they take on a whole new crushing, long-term heartache as adults cleaving a shared life in two. It’s a hard road as an outside observer trying to be a supportive friend; for Spektor, barely in her 20s, to so effectively encapsulate everything from a hopeless cycle to the last straw to the kaleidoscope of fragmented word balloons heralding the end is a testament to how masterfully she can land such a shattering impact with just a few minutes of music.
“Buildings” is a lyrically devastating song whether you relate or not to feeling like a bystander in your own helplessly disintegrating relationship, but its wistfully beautiful music is the clincher. It is honestly just a lovely little wisp of a song almost reverently plunked out on a piano (and I’m just as much of a sucker for some good piano-dominated tunes as I am when a string, horn or saxophone section join the party) in such orchestrated chaos that it feels like the aural version of an impressionist painting: It’s a picture of a feeling that zeros in on the heart of the matter rather than its form, a blur of color and a suggestion of shape doing all the heavy lifting so the entire spectrum of feelings within can come to the forefront and show you rather than talk about the magic that deft hands seem to summon from the ether.