The Art Museums Rough Frame

[Woodsist; 2010]

Styles: lo-fi indie pop
Others: Guided By Voices, Eat Skull, Skygreen Leopards

I trust Woodsist. It has never dealt me a skunk record, and when it releases something new, I tend to welcome it right away into my congested listening queue. The label has managed to find a soft spot in many listeners for the various nuances of lo-fi indie pop: sometimes the permutations are more psychedelic, sometimes noisier, sometimes quieter and more rustic. But while Ganglians, Wavves, and Woods are easily discernible from one another, it’s also easy to see where each of these bands share common ground. It should come as no surprise, then, that Rough Frame, the debut effort from The Art Museums, fits comfortably and appropriately into this shared aesthetic, adding another set of solid jams to Woodsist’s stellar catalog.

The duo — made up of Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards) and Josh Alper (Whysp) — has a tag on their MySpace that reads “cheap music for cheap people.” It’s hard to disagree: the band’s sound owes a great deal to the cheap Tascam that was used to record Rough Frame. They claim (with a wink and a nod) that if they had more money, they would have a better recording; but there’s no doubt that these dudes see the inherent value in such a cheapster approach. In fact, there’s a definite broke-ass slacker essence permeating all aspects of Rough Frame — in the lyrics, the recording values, and the overall “let’s go get drunk for free at an art opening” swagger — which serves as one of the most endearing qualities of this 25-minute record.

Opening track “We Can’t Handle It” kicks off the record with a thin, unassuming drum machine beat and heard-from-another-room vocals and guitar distortion. “Sculpture Garden,” a cheeky little pop song about studying cinema and art history, follows as the soundtrack to a cheap (see: free) date at an art museum, discussing the merits of Carrington and Mondrian on a sunny, joint-enhanced afternoon. “If you can dream/ You can understand what they mean/ In the sculpture garden.” At under two minutes, it recreates a brief, wondrous slice of life, a bohemian conversation with that girl who sits two seats down from you in class. “So Your Baby Doesn’t Love You Anymore” is another song caught up equally in the realms of abstract ideas and grounded reality. Dude is getting dumped, but he can only think about his situation in terms of tired artistic tropes.

“Paris Cafes” is perhaps the standout track here. Like “Sculpture Garden,” it reflects an ideal slacker wonderland. Slightly wistful, pop-smart vocals bring to mind the best of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. “When Amber Melts” contains yet more idealistic, art-damaged laments like “I would destroy my mind/ Before I would destroy my heart.” Here and at other points on the album, Donaldson’s guitar flourishes bring to mind his similarly sunny work with Skygreen Leopards, albeit less pastoral, but no less carefree. The rest of the album proceeds in an equally easygoing way, but because of its brevity never gets tiresome, only lending itself to repeated, effortless listens.

Like a label such as 4AD, Woodsist has succeeded in cultivating a versatile catalog with a strong central aesthetic. While The Art Museums may not be the Cocteau Twins of Woodsist (a status certainly reserved for Woods), they fit in nicely in a more Lush sort of role. Rough Frame exists simply as a solid record, set to to properly score a day of lounging.

Links: The Art Museums - Woodsist

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