[sic] Magazine

The Art Museums – Rough Frame

Taking advantage of a resurgence in vintage recording methods and the hiccupping ascendancy of the cassette, San Francisco’s The Art Museums hit the ground running with their debut Rough Frame. Utilising a Tascam 388 tape machine, their sound could never be anything but lo-fi and it doesn’t disappoint.

The duo, consisting of Glenn Donaldson of Skygreen Leopards and Josh Alper , inject some markedly British Mod into their mix. With flat rather than fucked production, their poppish, new-wave post-punk often idles into The Style Council estate before leaving with the TV Personalities ‘ best jangle.

Stuck in the 80s therefore, The Art Museums nevertheless seem even more strongly akin to Belle and Sebastien experimenting with a drum machine. The half of “Oh Modern Girls” that manages to emerge from the fuzzy production couldn’t be more Tigermilk if it tried, and in pining for the past confirms what their influences suggest.

Rough Frame opens with “We Can’t Handle It” and its duly full of echoes, frazzled melodies and warm levels of tea-swigging twee. At nine tracks long, variety is hard to come to by so it’s lucky tracks like “Sculpture Garden” and “So Your Baby Doesn’t Love You Anymore” are so pleasingly inoffensive to compensate. The title track generously throws in a reverbed and could-be iconic riff and deservedly warrants immediate mention therefore. “Sing A Song Of Stacie” is closer to the deadpan art-rock of The Velvet Underground , menacing its way through some heavier bass work and jangly “la, la lahs”.

The biggest gripe with Rough Frame is not with what is present, rather with what isn’t. Either their strongest material to date, the stop-happy fuzz-pop of “s.h.o.p.p.i.n.g”, didn’t make the cut, or more likely is going to remain on sought after 7”. As such, “Paris Cafés” walks off with the Rough Frame prize. Led by a synthetic drum pattern, open-handed strumming gives way to blissed out rhythms and its wistful tone is made all the more effective by its sub-two-minute length. “30 Seconds” is less truthful and closes the album in four-minute similitude.

So, with Rough Frame, lo-fi steamrolls on and the Woodsist label is driving. They better be careful though, a few more successes like this and they might be able to afford hi-fi equipment as a result. And then what?

Rough Frame is out now on Woodsist.

Listen & Learn