atthew Hart, the one-man bedroom Ontarian behind the Russian Futurists, creates music that could soundtrack the giant-peach world of Roald Dahl. Charlie Bucket surviving the oompah-loompahs of the Chocolate Factory to try his hand inside the Glass Elevator. Violet Beuregarde, Miss Spider, the Witches, and the Vermicious Knids. They all peopled his glow-worm tales as surely as Hart’s own characters, his lovers both doomed and resurrected.
And it worked for him. His head was ripe for cracking, and he cartooned it wide open. Come one, come all, inside this strange low-budget pop-orchestra, and take a peek into the jelly-brained mind of its creator. In short, he was the carnival’s piñata, beaten, and tossed around in our collective consciousness until something good came out.
Tunneling through the kaleidoscope of Dahl-like dreamscapes and whip-creaming them from the inside with his triumphant, Beach Boy melodies and the eccentric whimsy of post-aught creationists like Wayne Coyne and Stephen Merritt, Hart is in many ways the ideal frontman for 2005’s isolationist variety of indie pop. He stoked the solo fires early with 2001’s acclaimed but flawed The Method of Modern Love and in many ways perfected his vision with 2003’s far superior Let’s Get Ready to Crumble. Like electro-cohort Marc Bianchi (of the Young Machines), he smoothed confessional heartbreak and post-twenty angst into teeth-decaying pop-confections, but somehow, he never fell victim to Bianchi’s self-pity or defensiveness. He managed to stay above the awful bedroom pitfalls—tendencies towards painfully accurate self-assessment—and level himself with the sort of bold honesty that comforts.
His third album, Our Thickness, uses the same bliss to largely the same ends. Opener “Paul Simon” is Graceland with Star Wars wallpaper covering up the safari, giddy on short horn samples and clanging synth bombast. It’s a classic example of the immodesty of childhood, content to fill all the dark corners and unknown shadows with soothing voices. “Hurtin’ For Certain” trips on daisies and unbroken paper chains, until Hart’s gorgeous bridge, when tingling synths and a lock-step beat surround his pained refrain, “Is there some sound that you hear before it all disappears / Does some siren go off before everything is lost / Is there a ringing of bells before it all goes to hell / We need emergency tests for things submerged in our chest.” Of course, like all of his compositions, the lyrics are nearly suffocated by Hart’s hyper musicianship. It’s just this sort of shadowing that sets him leagues ahead of fellow confessors; his genius lies in how little he allows out on the first few listens, clouding his psych-couch pleadings in backdrops you can’t question.
And yet, he’s certain to be criticized, now three albums deep, for the lack of progress behind most of these songs. It’s the pop lovers’ demand: first album, unique; second album, we’ll tolerate more of the same; third album, time to move on, ace. Such assessments seem to miss the heart here though since, on Our Thickness, the best numbers show Hart gaining subtle confidence as a composer without feeling the need to break the mold completely. “Our Pen’s Out of Ink” is Spector-esque pop circa the Ronettes. Thick splashes of beat and fissured studio sounds back Motown piano stabs, mounting into a chorus that sounds like Andrew Webber soaked in chloroform. “These Seven Notes” must have been recorded at the wrong reel-speed, as it waltzes through a lazy drool of Candyland chimes and faux saxophones. Hart opens himself up above the gauzy chorus, insisting “No more half apologies / Let’s make that our policy / No more walls or laying bricks / I’m coming out and saying it.”
Closer “Two Dots on a Map” is easily the album’s most puzzling inclusion. Beginning with soft AM Gold strings, the track honeys into a playground melody unlike anything Hart’s ever recorded. Sunblind and gummy, he lives up to the too-often applied ‘bedroom symphonist’ here, but only with the listener’s help. It’s still unclear whether he’s snickering at us all with these over-the-top samples, but that’s the charm behind Hart’s juke-land dreams. Plug a quarter in for another stiff head-trip or stick to your gas-fume, new-wave blues. The choice and the second-guessing are yours, but I know which muse I’m tracking this May.