The Russian Futurists

The Weight's on the Wheels

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The Weight's on the Wheels trails its predecessor by well over five years, but impressively, little has changed about the music of the Russian Futurists -- still, at least on record, the one-man indie pop operation of Torontonian Matthew Adam Hart -- in all that time. Indeed, little has changed over the whole course of Hart's decade-long, four-album career, save for a slow, gradual increase in fidelity and sonic clarity, a trend which continues here -- it's the first Russian Futurists album to feature an outside producer -- perhaps (though probably not) to the point that he'll finally be able to shake the knee-jerk "bedroom pop" tag. Certainly, "Hoeing Weeds, Sowing Seeds," which bounds out of the gate as if to signal an especially eager and joyous return, is the shiniest, punchiest-sounding thing Hart's ever unleashed: a thumping, club-ready electro-pop ditty with an instantly hummable melody; a fitting successor to the last album's euphoric calling card, "Paul Simon." Sadly, though, it's not all that representative. Only "Tripping Horses" tries for danceability in a similarly electronic vein, with decidedly more middling success, and while Hart's penchant for hip-hop-inflected beats is well-indulged throughout -- most blatantly with the new jack swing of "100 Shopping Days 'Til Christmas," an uneasy seasonal relationship dissection featuring some uncharacteristically hip bass playing -- nothing strays far from his comfort zone of scrappy, wheezing synths and low-rent symphonics, oddly poised between chintziness and grandeur. Even with a bit of extra polish, there's no hiding the quirkiness of his highly detailed musical confections; indeed, it's all the more evident that the Futurists' distinctive insularity has always stemmed not just from lo-fi production, but also from Hart's general idiosyncrasy as an arranger and a songwriter. And the songs on Weight are just as knotty (and nerdy) as ever, full of tongue-twisting, dense wordplay, cleverly inverted cliches, internal rhymes, the occasional neologism ("MelanJolly"?) -- so thick with words, actually, that Hart sometimes resorts to overlapping his own multi-tracked vocals to avoid cutting off phrases by pausing for breath (there's also an actual duet, with the Heavy Blinkers' Ruth Minnikin -- the starry-eyed "One Night, One Kiss" -- which serves the same function). Still, with a few exceptions -- "Horseshoe Fortune" for one, a sweet, upbeat closer with a chiming, folk-ish vibe and an odd but laudable message (be thankful for surgery, basically) -- most of these songs are not quite up to Hart's usual caliber. His inherent charms are hard to deny; they just feel slightly threadbare this time out.

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