Musical enigma, Art Feynman, gets rhythmic on his bold debut.
There is something understandably compelling about the artistic alter-ego. For one, it’s just kind of a cool idea to be able to construct a new identity while pursuing your craft. But beyond this, it presents a unique opportunity for an artist to shed any expectation we may have of the way they go about their process. Such can be said for established solo artist and a member of New York trio Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple, in his adoption of the ‘Art Feynman’ moniker. It appears that Temple has not taken the opportunity lightly, attempting to integrate a range of different musical influences on Feynman’s debut, Blast Off Through the Wicker.
Feynman has revealed African music and animism, an ancient religion focusing on the inherent spirituality of both living and inert objects, as two of his biggest influences on the record. These influences are communicated from the first track, "Eternity in Pictures", a rhythmically dynamic reflection on a statue. Feynman draws even more heavily on African-inspired rhythms on the tracks immediately following: the funk fusion highlight ‘Slow Down’ and the rambunctious "Can’t Stand It".
On the latter of these tracks, we begin to feel that driving rhythms are the only thing with which Feynman is concerned, so much so that the guitar solo outro, while virtuosic, seems forced. Fade-outs feel like cop-outs as Feynman resorts to far too basic measures in order climb out of the rhythmic hole which he has dug himself. Nevertheless, the track does communicate the vibrant energy for which the artist is striving.
Blast Off Through the Wicker is at its most powerful when Feynman’s beloved African influences are incidental to his songwriting, not the complete basis for it. The colossal "Feeling Good About Feeling Good" is a clear example; while authentic African rhythms and dogmatic choruses are key to the track, they appear to be harmoniously linked with Feynman’s own brand of electronic songwriting. While Feynman has admirably steered clear of loops and drum machines throughout the whole album, when the balance between the artist and his influences is not achieved, it feels like lazy musicianship.
A case in point here is, ‘Hot Night Jeremiah’, an overly frenetic romp which, while clearly informed by Feynman’s influences, is neither compelling nor creative. The self-indulgent, seven-minute rant would best have been saved for a ‘B-Sides and Rarities’ compilation, as it only distracts from what is usually good songwriting from Feynman.
The album’s mellow concluding tracks may be met with skepticism from some listeners. While a little disjointed, they do provide an alternate setting in which Feynman can explore his influences and animistic themes, albeit to a less effective extent.
Blast Off Through the Wicker has the groundwork of a strong album, but many will find it at times too rough around the edges to be accessible and too preoccupied to be engaging. What it has done, however, is provide a further creative outlet for one of today’s more ambitious singer-songwriters.