The Russian Futurists: Our Thickness
Upper Class

Like Dykehouse's Midrange, The Russian Futurists' Our Thickness shows once again that an irresistible collection of hook-laden pop music can come from a single individual producing music out of a bedroom—a single individual of incredible talent, that is, judging by the ten stunners comprising Torontonian Matthew Adam Hart's third outing under the Russian Futurists nom de plume (for the record, Hart also recorded parts of the album at a rented cabin). While the two albums share a similar blurry sound and rich pop sensibility, Hart's album draws heavily on the sonic legacies of Brian Wilson and Phil Spector in musical and production styles, respectively.

In fact, Brian Wilson probably would love this album, so full is it of innocent, insinuating melodies that lodge themselves into your eardrums for days on end. A perfect length at 38 minutes, each of the album's ten songs is a pocket jewel of effervescent pop bliss. The melodies are, on the one hand, serpentine and labyrinthine yet, through repetition, turn memorable, and suggest melodies one imagines children would delight in singing. With its sleigh bells, banjo, baritone sax, and chiming keyboards, “These Seven Notes” sounds like a virtual Brian Wilson homage, an impression not dispelled by its lightly rocking, sing-song chorus. In addition, “Our Pen's Out of Ink” features the kind of rollicking blues piano figure Wilson adores as well as bright Beach Boys harmonies.

The production style, a huge analogue sound drenched in reverb, is almost crude, with instruments and vocals congealing into a blurry 'wall-of-sound' mass (the legendary mono mix of Pet Sounds and songs like “Wouldn't It Be Nice” in particular serve as good reference points). No doubt the sound quality is attributable in part to Hart's production methods (his 2001 debut, The Method of Modern Love, was recorded in his childhood bedroom for less than $100, using by his own admission “awful equipment,” and 2003's Let's Get Ready to Crumble likely cost little more to produce).

Lyrically, the album explores themes of romance and vulnerability though the clarity of the words is often lost when vocals are submerged into the sonic mass. That's hardly an issue, though, as Hart might just as easily be singing gibberish for all the difference it would make to the music's impact—sound and melody come first, lyrical content second. At the same time, the accompanying lyrics reveal Hart's tendency to offset the music's sweetly addictive melodic dimension with the darker lyrical undercurrent of heartbreak.

Virtually every song offers one pleasure after another. Sounding nothing like its namesake, the punchy “Paul Simon” roars out of the gate, alternating harmonica and Farfisa-powered roller-rink wails with Hart's singing. “Still Life” marries syncopated, sashaying rhythms with a sweeping, string-laden vocal melody, while guitars, drums, harpsichords, and horns bump and grind in a huge lumbering mass. Mirrored by a swirling mass of drums, bass, and Spanish guitars, the hypnotic vocal melody in “Hurtin' 4 Certain” exudes an Eastern flavour, so suggestively you almost expect the psychedelic twang of a sitar to surface too. Other highlights include the dreamy “Sentiments Vs. Syllables,” the New Order-flavoured “It's Over, It's Nothing,” and the bright pop-soul of “Why You Gotta Do That Thang?”

While radically different in style, fans of Junior Boys' Last Exit will find much to like about Our Thickness. Compared to The Russian Futurists' anthemic pop, the Junior Boys' 'plastic soul' is restrained but the two groups share an equal gift for infectious melodies (and apparently, a dream bill is in the offing with an upcoming North American tour bringing The Russian Futurists along with Caribou and, yes, Junior Boys to your town). Uncut magazine called The Method of Modern Love “one of the most melodically seductive and exhilarating records of recent times,” a description that probably applies to Our Thickness even more, if the anthemic roar of the epic closer “Two Dots on a Map” has any say in the matter.

May 2005