It really helps if you’re listening on headphones. You see, it took me about three attempts to truly bask in the glorious glow of The Russian Futurists’ new disc, Our Thickness. I listened, first, on my home stereo, half distracted by external concerns — house cleaning, phone calls, etc. Then I listened in my car, soaking in more of Matthew Adam Hart’s one-man orchestra, but ultimately missing out on most of the best aspects, due to the limitations of my inferior automotive sound system. But the third time was a ch…well, you know. With Hart’s Casio-tone grandeur attacking me from the right and from the left, I succumbed to the lovely, joyous pop quirks of Our Thickness almost instantly.
Though Hart has yet to receive the mainstream props that his bedroom symphonies warrant, he’s been publicly lauded for years by the likes of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. But then again, Hart’s initial impression on the Athens guitar player was made way back when, before the age of The Postal Service and during the era of Beck’s sincere, sample-less melancholy. In any case, Hart has been making eccentric lo-fi “teenage symphonies to God,” to quote Brian Wilson, for several years now. And on his third disc, Our Thickness, Hart shows no signs of slowing.
For just one feller from Toronto, Matthew Adam Hart makes a record as dense as one made by an entire orchestra. First single and opening track “Paul Simon” is a heavy, multi-layered powerhouse. First the drums pound, then the horns, keyboards and guitars blast away. But Hart’s humble vocals add a sense of low-key charm to the otherwise overwhelming song. But in “Sentiments vs. Syllables,” Hart’s vocals sing in tune to the stuttering samples. The bouncy “Our Pen’s Out of Ink” is my favorite, a sunny, super-catchy track with irresistible “ba-ba-ba” vocals during the fantastic chorus.
Hart outdoes Beck on “Still Life,” recalls Aqueduct on “Hurtin’ 4 Certain,” tries his hand at hip-hop on “Why You Gotta Do That Thang?” and exposes his sensitive guy side on “It’s Over It’s Nothing”: “It’s over it’s nothing/I’m glad I was sober/I knew you were bluffing/But holy fuck it stings/when you say those things to pull my puppet strings.” In under forty minutes, Hart manages to build up a formidable wall of sound, all the while pulling off a sound that never sticks to one style.
Our Thickness is what every one-man band should strive to be. It’s powerful, cinematic, ambitious and cuddly all at once. And it’s particularly mind-blowing on headphones. That much, I can tell you for sure. For Hart’s sake, I hope that The Russian Futurists start getting around to more ears than just those of Peter Buck’s. And he certainly better have made a copy for Stipe.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.