(Western Vinyl, released Fri July 14)
Who, or what, is Art Feynman? Venturing far from previous solo outings and his established group Here We Go Magic, singer-songwriter Luke Temple cooked up the name and shrouded it in mystery. The project’s first video is a psychedelic trip through descending lights and distorted reflections; promotional photos show a man with his face obscured by hats and sunglasses, hidden behind a red smear. “Crush yourself to make a diamond” Temple aptly sings on Slow Down; Blast Off Through the Wicker feels precious because Art Feynman attempts to erase Luke Temple and form something new.
Temple channels Damo Suzuki’s bewitched yelp on Can’t Stand It and Hot Night Jeremiah, as well as the metronomic funk drumming of the late Jaki Liebezeit to match. True to the form of Can, much of Wicker’s finest tunes hit on a precision groove and let it roll, sometimes for over five mesmeric minutes, adorned with demonic guitar squalls. But the overall effect isn’t a lesser tribute to German krautrock – in fact, Temple’s melodious playfulness on the mantraic Two Minor and the uplifting Feeling Good About Feeling Good is in pursuit of the perfectly-phrased pop hook. That said, there’s an auteur slant to Wicker’s complete dedication – one that could easily have it mistaken for a Holger Czukay solo outing.
The high-life jollity and merry scales delivered at dune-buggy pace make for a convincing portrait. But, much like the holiday postcard album cover and desert setting of Temple’s promotional shoot, Wicker can feel like a set of snapshots from a different place; a speedy slideshow presentation of what Temple did during his time abroad. While North Western African guitar music isn’t sacred territory and Temple is by no means the first Westerner to appropriate its sound, the brief extent to which Wicker apes the style comes off as either blindly reverential or simply fetishistic. Indeed, Temple’s chosen name for the project conjures the image of exactly one of those appropriative Western musicians, if perhaps only through proximity to Paul Simon.
Upon first listen, what springs to mind is Woods of Solitude, a recent single by Congolese-Canadian musician Pierre Kwenders, in which descending-ascending high-life riffs chime beneath buoyant Lingala rhymes that envision the future. The synchronicity of the song’s moving parts feels consciously plugged into a nexus, rich with meditations on diaspora, cultural memory, and Afrofuturism. Art Feynman too is intent on meditating existence – the turmoil of progress, dominion over nature, the inner glow of inanimate objects – in an oracular language that recalls the sermonising of Fela Kuti, only markedly dampened and apolitical. It’s hard to ignore the feeling that Temple may be indulging in an ill-conceived modern orientalist discourse, attempting a return to the “primal” knowledge of non-European philosophies every bit as irritating as Flaming Lips’ babyish mysticism. Unfortunately, these gap yah awakenings lessen the enjoyment of what is otherwise a treat of an album.