Luke Temple’s second album as Art Feynman, titled Half Price at 3:30, is grounded by the same qualities that made 2017’s Blast Off Through the Wicker such a tasty little indie-pop treat. I’m not implying that Temple is stagnating. The word most befitting this album, and the Art Feynman sound, in general, is refreshing. On Half Price at 3:30, Temple again proves himself adept at building colorful worlds from unexpected and well-placed aural flourishes. He’s all nuance, carefully mining aural crevices left untapped or unnoticed.
For those unacquainted with Art Feynman, here’s an overview of the features that make up both this album and the project’s overall sound.
1. Temple doesn’t pull genre tropes in unexpected directions so much as subsume them. On Half Price at 3:30, you get influences as disparate as 1980s synthpop, African rhythms, lo-fi Casio haze, even some looping reminiscent of techno at its most refined, but without the bass barrage and buildup/release dynamics. Instrumentally, “Nancy Are You Hiding in Your Work”, “Night Flower”, and “Taking on Hollywood” recall both Holiday-era Magnetic Fields and Tangerine Dream. There are seemingly unvarnished, close-up vocals and puddles of Auto-Tune. “Not My Guy” brings the funk, and “I Can Dream” brings the lullaby. For a sound this cohesive, Temple covers a lot of stylistic ground.
2. Art Feynman revels in texture, tone color, the physicality of sound. Temple’s plosives can sound like a smooch in your ear, or the crisp pop of a soda can tab, even as he’s cooing into what sounds like the flimsy microphone that came with my parents’ Gateway computer circa the early 2000s. The percussion clinks, plucks, even splashes, urging listeners to concentrate on subtleties blanketed under the synthesizers. The anti-Trump ditty “Not My Guy” features pliant, almost slippery guitar tones that compliment the snare drum crunch. On “Ideal Drama”, a rhythmic gust blows into the left channel with a grainy crackle reminiscent of blown-up jpegs. That offsets liquified percussive sounds that could have been painstakingly altered from presets on FL Studio or looped from recordings of the inside of Temple’s mouth as he sloshed Jello globs around on his tongue. Gross image, but spine-tingling auditory sensation.
3. Like Blast Off, Half Price at 3:30 is an intimate listen. The soundscape is maybe a touch grander than the debut, but none of these songs feel as if they would hold together performed live in a large venue. These songs might not make sense played live at all outside of, say, a cozy coffee shop with impossibly silent cappuccino machines and stellar acoustics. Concerts tend to smudge up tone quality, washing over subtleties with catharsis-by-decibels. This music succeeds in near opposition to this; Temple neglects big sounds for tiny sonic details layered artfully. You won’t find any anthems here. The songs are tightly packed and controlled even as the programmed guitars and synthesizers meander. Solos tread close in volume to the other instruments, setting out on dizzying excursions without stealing the show.
Stealing the show is something you couldn’t accuse this album of aiming for. Temple’s Art Feynman project resembles something of the Ariel Pink/John Maus DIY-tinkering-as-indie-pop and, more noticeably, Arthur Russell’s outsider pop. Also inherent in the album is a small record stack’s worth of music culled from across the globe, all melded into an amalgamation that, once again, deserves to be called refreshing.
None of these influences bring to mind radio-play aspirations, and Temple doesn’t seem concerned with twisting his sounds back to the center to try and win over casual listeners looking for an easy-bake summer hit. Instead, Half Price at 3:30 is an album for open-minded music fans, a minor statement best enjoyed with quality headphones in a quiet room during an hour of distraction-less free time.