The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Art Feynman
Blast Off Through The Wicker Michael Hann , July 20th, 2017 15:47

Art Feynman is a new artist from California. That's what his label - Western Vinyl of Austin, Texas - are saying. They're lying. Art Feynman is really Luke Temple, he was born in Massachusetts and has spent most of his life on the East Coast. That's not exactly a revelation on a par with The Fireman turning out to be Paul McCartney, given that Temple has never really done more than impinge upon the outer edges of the pop consciousness. He made four albums with Here We Go Magic, and five under his own name. This is actually his 10th album.

It's most likely that the artist and label have chosen to claim this is the work of a new artist because they know how hard it is to get anyone to pay attention to someone 10 albums into a career that has attracted nods of appreciation but not a lot more. It's easier to stop traffic on the M1 through telekinesis than it is to create buzz for someone who has been judged and found wanting by the music industry. That might be wrong; but that's how it is. So if you want an album to be heard, to be appreciated, without a shrug of "Oh, him? Again? Nah. Can't be bothered," then you need to think of something.

And Blast Off Through The Wicker is exactly the kind of album that would be ignored were it introduced simply as the 10th album from someone already judged by the industry. It's not a bold statement; it's not an angry confrontation; it's not a revolution. It's a reconfiguration of things you've heard before, put into different combinations, the light directed into different corners. You can hear - the press notes are honest about this much - bits of Arthur Russell, of Krautrock, of West African music - but it always sounds like an American indie record.

That's not a pejorative. Blast Off Through The Wicker is a really terrific little record. And it is little. It's a murmur, a sigh, the breeze through a half-opened window on a sultry, heavy day. It's summery, but not in an idealised way: it's not a trip to the beach and a night at the club. It's a sip of something cold when you're feeling a bit too hot, when the city is a bit too crowded.

Everything here is slightly distorted, the studio acting as a heat haze over the music. Sometimes one doesn't know if something real is being altered, or whether it has been synthetically created: are those heavily treated steel pans on 'Can't Stand It', or synths made to sound like steel pans? Like much of the record, 'Can't Stand It' sounds unsure: it's twitchy without being paranoid; it doesn't enclose, it offers possibility (and, remember, possibility can make one nervous. Possibility is the opposite of certainty). The twitchiness mounts as the song enters its second half; the percussion turns clicky, jerky, and then a deep psych fuzz guitar solo erupts, alternating between long, lazy sustained notes and little disruptive flurries of playing.

Making music based on the past is a card trick. The principles are always the same; the trick succeeds not because the audience has never seen someone guess the card before, but because they've never seen it guessed in that fashion before. Feynman/Temple is an adept card sharp. 'Feeling Good About Feeling Good' takes the hoariest of indie rock sources - the R&B guitar chug of the Velvet Underground - and relocates it to happy hour. The riff is rendered woozy, as if Reed and Morrison had preferred margaritas to speed. It raises, briefly, the question of what a cross between the Velvets and Kid Creole And The Coconuts might have sounded like. It poses that question over a leisurely seven minutes and 40 seconds, long enough to bring in West African rhythms and fit in another spacey guitar solo before the end.

The references are frequent: Harmonia on the opening track, Eternity in Pictures, with its burbling, rippling synths, though paired with the fragility of indie pop (I was reminded, too, of the least bombastic moments of Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre: often, Blast Off Through The Wicker sounds like the work of someone who loves the German groups of the 70s but who can't help wishing they'd been a bit better with hooks and tunes). Can crop up frequently, especially the groove-centred Can of 'Halleluwah': the closer, 'Small Town Blues', is in essence a country song, a traditional chord progression given a Liebezeit backbeat and allowed to fly off in its own direction. It makes two things that have been done to death sound fresh.

There are missteps: 'Hot Night Jeremiah' doesn't earn its seven minutes, not least because Alan Vega was always the only person who could ever get away with Alan Vega-isms without sounding ridiculous. Everyone else just sounds like they're impersonating Alan Vega. You might as well copy Mark E Smith: the sui generis vocalist is the one you need to avoid imitating. And the following two tracks, 'I Rain You Thunder' and 'Party Line', suggest someone realised they may as well frontload the album and clear the weaker tracks to the back (stay to the end, though, for 'Small Town Blues').

Blast Off Through The Wicker isn't a big album. It takes big things, big musical footprints, and miniaturises them. It is a reduction, not an expansion. It is a record that inverts and internalises its inspirations rather than externalising and projecting them. It's delicious. Try it.