Art Feynman (aka accomplished recording artist and producer Luke Temple) stitches art pop, Nigerian highlife, worldbeat, and other lesser-known genres into a musical quilt that displays his unmistakable guile and eccentric songcraft.
On Half Price at 3:30 he delivers songs that side-smile while pointing out the emotional sinkholes that whirl beneath the most overlooked, seemingly commonplace scenarios. As effortlessly as he inhabits his Art Feynman character he also slips into the lives of other personalities, both living and fictional. Where previous entries in the Luke Temple discography (including his former group Here We Go Magic) have utilized organic timbres even while sailing far from the guitar-and-drums shore, Half Price sees him employing drum machines, slightly glossier production, and even autotune with a tasteful balance that suggests these tools have been in his kit all along. The result affectionately evokes guerrilla recording predecessors like Francis Bebey, Arthur Russell, and Haruomi Hosono in musicological detail, yet it is Temple’s hard-won creative voice that resounds over top of it all facing Half Price forward instead of nostalgically backward.
Album opener “Taking on Hollywood” boasts Feynman’s new sheen with thrumming bass drums, raindrop percussion, and hyper synthesizers, all of which serve as bed for Feynman’s tastefully roboticized vocal. As a plastic choir ebbs and flows, contributing playfully somber overtones, the lyrics imagine the internal dialogue of a character Temple describes as “a lazy narcissist.” Rigid world percussion and interjecting keyboard chords make up the danceable intro to Half Price’s satisfying second track, a breakup song called “Be Better.” Here his vocals are awash in abrupt reverb that gives a surreal dimension to Feynman’s pained melodies, and self-examining lyrics. “You filled up my life with madness,” he sings to his once-beloved before admitting “now I can see, it’s madness in me.” As the track climbs to catharsis, the elements fold atop one another into a dizzying Rubik’s cube of rhythmic guitar, that smartly contrasts the relative lightness and looseness of the following song, “Ideal Drama.” But it’s “The Physical Life of Marilyn” that drives home the thesis of Half Price at 3:30, serving as an example of Temple’s capacity to tell stories with immersive emotional fidelity, wherein he slips between character study and autobiography with ease. The song is cyclical and affecting, with churning layers of guitar and bass which prolong each section as if Feynman is approaching personal truths with difficulty. Here he seems to be perpetually hiking uphill, hesitant to reach the summit for fear of the bittersweet journey ending; he admits that the song arose out of indecision about whether to end a relationship, or have children with the other person, whose window in which to do so was quickly closing. A digitized guitar solo ushers us to the emergency exit, and the trepidation becomes relief on the following song “I’m Gonna Miss Your World.” The tune is the most Bebey influenced, and the homage is more than welcomed under Feynman’s respectful guidance. Though one may assume the lyrics are about the loss of a loved one, it’s actually about missing tour life while not on the road. As Half-Price at 3:30 plays on, its levity increases in fits, even if its subject matter doesn’t quite follow suit. Speaking of fits and suits, “Not My Guy” dissects the Trump narrative in a few repeating, jivey lines. “Came in through the back, jack, on America’s heart-attack,” Feynman mocks slickly over a bouncing, rotating beat, “you’re not my guy, you’re not your guy, you’re not anybody else’s guy.” While this kind of sardonic playfulness keeps Half-Price from wallowing, there are moments of true emotional depth, and scathing existential analysis that may be too hard to swallow without such interstitial joviality. Case in point is “Nancy Are You Hiding In Your Work,” which plays like a personal letter, confronting a friend whose life has visibly unraveled into unhealthy escapism disguised as productivity, a conundrum that may not be unique to American culture, but is endemic to it nonetheless. “Nancy” may in fact be Feynman, or Temple, or any of us who seek refuge from difficult self-examination under the excuse of creativity, while selling ourselves, and those around us on the idea that our art is somehow self-work. It’s wise of him to expose that it sometimes isn’t. The notion is delivered with a concerned and intimate tone, built out of rubber bass, a plodding drum machine pattern, and synthesized harp plucks that ballast Temple’s gentle and soulful timbre.
Half-Price at 3:30 departs on what may be its most tender moment, a sedated and minimal romance called “I Can Dream.” True to its title, it begins with minute keyboard tones that waiver hypnagogically behind Feynman’s closeup vocal, as he invites someone dear into his interior life. “I can dream about you being made for me,” he sings, “lost in the land of my dreams.” He goes on to encapsulate, albeit inadvertently perhaps, the proposition of Half-Price at 3:30 in the line “never a story came perfectly to life in the way I envisioned.” The everyday imperfection that Temple lays bare when he’s telling a story– be it through his own eyes or that of an offbeat tragicomic avatar– never fails to reveal something quietly interesting, vulnerably honest, and infinitely listenable.