Asymmetric phrase groupings and meter in Regina Spektor’s “The Trapper and the Furrier”

To anyone familiar with my compositions and avant-garde proclivities, it likely comes as no surprise that I am not a fan of singer-songwriter music (to put it mildly).

Yet, of the myriad singer-songwriters out there, I find Regina Spektor to be one of the most consistently unique.

It goes without saying that Spektor is a virtuosic lyricist, and the excellent poetry in “The Trapper and the Furrier” is no exception (I especially appreciate their political sting).

Musically, however, “The Trapper and the Furrier” also has some fascinating characteristics that are not often seen in the singer-songwriter genre.

The dissonant string accompaniment that heavily employs extended techniques adds much of interest. And the blues-inflected Dorian mode Spektor sings in the melodic line is also of note.

But what sticks out to me as the most interesting aspect of “The Trapper and the Furrier” are the subtle metric asymmetries.

As so many do, the chorus of the song consists of a conventional four-phrase structure. Internally, nevertheless, these are not typical quadratic periods.

The first three phrases of the chorus have a seven-beat pulse in compound duple meter: || 6/8 | 3/8 | 6/8 | 6/8 ||.

trapper-furrier-chorus-phrases-1-to-3

The fourth phrase of the chorus is then an extended five-bar phrase of 6/8.

trapper-furrier-chorus-phrase-4

This is not all. The verses also are interesting metrically — or, rather, one of the verses.

All three of the verses feature typical quadratic phrase grouping.

The following figure is repeated throughout the verses:

trapper-furrier-verse

The second verse, which starts at 1:27 in the recording, does something interesting, on the other hand.

Whereas the third verse consists of a typical period of four-bar phrases of the above 6/8 figure, the second verse has three-bar phrases.

The first verse, with which the song begins, is a cappella and somewhat free rhythmically, but essentially quadratic, like the third. The phrases of the second verse are truncated by a bar, only to later return to their “regular” quadratic structure in the third.

These metric asymmetries (what some might call “metric irregularities”) are fascinating, and not something one often sees in singer-songwriter music.