ON HIS OWN Leaf Peeper’s new record bursts with joy. | Photo by Justin Lumiere
Adulthood is full of distractions. But if you can maintain your attentions on some type of throughline, the noise of life sometimes falls in line and harmonizes around you. So goes the formula of Hitties Grande, a playful and rewarding outsider pop record peppered with noise and bursting with joy by a solo artist named Leaf Peeper.
As Leaf Peeper, the recording project from the former member of the Massachusetts psych-pop band Sore Eros, Matt Brown has found his throughline: love. He declares as much in track one of Hitties Grande’s 15 soulful, fuzzed-up bedroom-pop songs, when the melodic gallop of “Grow So Strange” and its psychedelic carousel of chimes, toots, and tinkers unexpectedly recedes about two minutes in. “Look around and all is full of love,” he sings, and a small choir of female voices lingers over the word in a sort of heat-radiating mantra. Of course it’s nauseating; most unironic expressions of love are. But it’s also super appealing, and over the next 40 minutes, Brown proves himself a reliable, totally compelling narrator on the subject.
You can mine it for inspiration all you like, but hammer the subject of love too directly and it can fall apart. Fortunately, Brown’s songs and lyrics hover around the subject, while a virtual orchestra of self-produced noise elements, experimental flourishes, and a parade of guest musicians suffuse it within the tone of the music itself. And it’s not like the definition is strictly romantic. Take “Lazy Men,” a brilliant slice of shitgazey pop cacophony with lyrics so constitutional they’re worth quoting at length: “they say we’re lazy men/renting DVDs/stepping outside for yet another cup of tea/oh, honey, that’s all right . . . atoms beaming from nothing/make women bare-legged in the spring/I believe! I believe! I believe! I believe! I believe!” Plenty great pop songs have embraced a slacker ethos, but the production of joy is a far cry from apathy, and “Lazy Men” is just as profound a refusal-anthem as any punk song I’ve heard in years.
Pop music is fundamentally an expression of fantasy, and the greatest strength of Hitties Grande is how effectively Brown erodes the space between reverie and his own day-to-day reality. Many artists try to connect to listeners by pandering to some universal condition, but the inspiration behind these songs is generated from specific moments of Portland life, and they’re a lot more vulnerable — and interesting — because of it. He takes on hunger and desire on “Pizza Villa” — yes, the restaurant — and in “Home” snubs a familiar-sounding downtown where the “socially ambitious people go out to roam.” There’s even a clarity to the guardedly impressionistic metaphors of shorelines and shopping malls within “Waves,” as the song’s too-soon fade helps to score its focus on loves gone by.