The Russian Futurists
Me, Myself and Rye
(Memphis Industries; 2006)
By Aaron Newell | 22 October 2007
I will keep this short since I almost got carpal tunnel in one sitting writing the last Futurists review. Which, and not to step on my own trumpet, received an award from some curious Prefix Mag blog dude for being “typical of the worst website on the internet, except worse.” But also which evoked over a dozen e-mails from you, kind, confidence-refurbishing readers, about how “Yeah, the Russian Futurists changed my life," so thanks for that.
Having said that: THE RUSSIAN FUTURISTS HAVE A BEST OF.
The story behind this is kind of simple: the savvy Matt from Memphis Industries licensed the sappy Matt from Toronto’s entire recorded history from Upper Class (in order: The Methods of Modern Love , Let’s Get Ready to Crumble , and Our Thickness ). The two Matts then conjointly compiled a conspicuously coherent compendium of cute, computer-crafted classics from the Canadian communist’s catalogue. Now they’re releasing Me, Myself and Rye, a ridiculously user-friendly history of the Russian Futurists, in the UK, Europe, and Africa. A good quarter of Earth can now try to succeed where North America has failed: in the deceptively difficult task of giving this guy his propers.
The tangent I said I wouldn’t go on: a few nights ago I spoke with Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. I accused him of baiting Matt Hart into being his arch nemesis. There are similarities: somewhat solitary recording processes, abandoned-diary songs rich with maybe-characters, and gorgeously complementary melodies with layer-cakes of electronic wash. But where Casiotone has crafted an expertise in dissecting doldrum and isolation and why the kids aren’t ok, Futurists has moved from this towards squeezing the kids’ collective shoulder, trying to purge the funk, seeking temporary resolutions in distractions. This is why, back to back, Ashworth’s Etiquette and Hart’s Our Thickness make for a cinematic hour. Casiotone’s fish-in-a-barrel characters see their audience at eye-level and look straight through, seeking for anything positive to defrost their lives; the Russian Futurists use anything-but-real-life melodies to offer some respite from the frigid feeling. These two guys could perfectly score a film about lost kids who drink their ways out of hangovers and break up with each other just for the break-up sex.
The best example is “It’s Not Really Cold When It Snows,” where Hart finishes that line with “Unless you’re underdressed.” It’s a distillation of the Futurists attitude. The first verse is sung through with “Come on’s” and “Get outside’s” over a rickety break and sparse synth strings until the chorus ends and a tide of chimes and deep, digitized harmonics spill over his vocals, sweeping them into a second, refreshed chorus. This arrangement persists for the rest of the song, with Hart continuously adding stacks of whirling high-end keys and vocal harmonies through to the track’s end, at which point we find we have a snowsuit on and lots of crud in our eyes and a two-person Krazy Karpet under our arm, and it’s still August. Elsewhere on “Still Life” he sings “When I wake up / why wake up’s what I’m wondering / but I still try,” followed quick with “Oh, I love you, how I love you.” Maybe a little fey, but by pairing those words with celebratory strings that soar into a tumbling cascade, and those rumbling, chopped big-band horns that form the song’s low-end, Hart lands squarely on the “poignantly heartfelt” side of that fence. And these songs aren’t “moments” so much as isolated examples of why, repeatedly, the Russian Futurists gets labelled “A Bedroom Orchestra.” Pardon the awkward tense, but, he is.
Aside from providing the simple pleasure of having thirteen of these moments in one place, Memphis has also done us the favour of remastering some of the more richly-textured songs. See a rejuvenated “Paul Simon,” with its massive pop-symphony horns, and how, unlike half of the shit Rhino reissues, you can actually tell that “yes, this has been remastered and now sounds even more fucking awesome wow food tastes better now and my life is generally great.” Where some of the less-developed songs from Hart’s first release don’t always jive with the gloriously fleshed-out tracks like “Telegram From the Future” and “Our Pen’s Out of Ink,” their inclusion will probably be welcomed by the European audience, who, as a large, homogenous group of like-minded people, really like dance music (and will therefore make “Science of the Seasons” their national anthem).
A special conclusion: Dear Canada, please start supporting artists like the Russian Futurists, Chad VanGaalen, Junior Boys, Final Fantasy, Jim Guthrie, the Cansecos. You know, those singer-songwriter bedroom types that make music because they enjoy it, then get found, or invent record labels with their friends, and may or may not have the most genius live show because their music matured in a small apartment somewhere, but can make beautiful, intelligent, rich, textured recordings that subtly suggest certain things about “Canada” that David Usher was never capable of, aside from our innate ability to choose a decent shampoo/conditioner combo. Get to know yourself, start hugging more people, more bears, more trees. Look — and I mean really look at water (it’s awesome). Realize that shirts featuring the word: “Roots Athletics” and a big beaver on the front connote something totally different in the UK and Australia. Slide around on sidewalk ice this winter, being mindful of traffic. Build more snowforts, have community meetings in them, go to war against other snowforts, steal their hot chocolate recipes. Appreciate the environmentally-friendly heating potential of cuddling and red wine. I mean, Chad’s recent cover art is a covert affront to Stephen Harper if there ever was one. Not so much konichiwa as Kyoto, bitches. We need these guys, more now.