The psychedelic spirit of the sixties can be heard in this duo however loud the tape hisses



“My pants are slightly flared today, but I honestly do regret that. I gotta get to the tailor before anyone notices.” Glenn Donaldson [above, left] and Josh Alpher [right] are doing their bit to squash any outdated view we have of bohemic pop Mecca San Francisco, or at least they seem to be until you hear their home-recorded debut album, ‘Rough Frames’, which is as pupil-dilating and optimistic as any sweet tab of psych pop that’s tie-dyed the Bay Area sky in the last 50 years. The Art Museums love mods, not hippies. They bond over UK pop and punk, not music made in their own town or country. But ‘Rough Frames’, with the exception of the opening ‘We Can’t Handle It’ (which we dully noted in last month’s issue sounds like a Dictaphone Belle & Sebastian demo), largely sounds gleefully inspired by Love, The Byrds and The Mammas and The Pappas.

“We are pop fans,” says Glenn “and this is our museum. [We also love] The Monkees, The Smiths, The Jam, Buzzcocks, The Kinks, Flying Nun records, 80’s American punk and paisley bands too, and the 90’s work of Strapping Fieldhands, Magnetic Fields and Guided By Voices. Also I’ve been into Roxy Music’s disco tunes and Pulp. Josh is a Syd Barrett worshiper.”

“I wonder what Belle And Sebastian would say?” ponders Glenn’s bandmate. “Thank you though.” Josh snaps out of his brief daydream. “These are all hallowed names in our hearts.”

“We are burnt-out old hippie-punk-indie weirdos,” admits Glenn, proudly. “It’s all the same really, isn’t it? California has always been a blend of these seemingly disparate things. Black Flag were in fact HUGE Grateful Dead fans (look it up).”

The songs themselves – naïve and void of cynicism like nothing else we’ve heard outside of ma and pa’s record collection – were all written and recorded over the past six months, which is when the band formed. Onstage, like with so many duos, The Art Museums become more than two, beefed up with real life musicians Virginia Weatherby on electronic drums and Carly Putnam on bass. For what is largely a two-man show though, it’s quite the meteoric rise, from concept to debut album release in half a year.

“True,” says Glenn “but why wait? Everything’s meant to be fast in the modern world. And No! we don’t deserve any of the press we are getting, but it plays into our delusional thinking about ourselves and our work.”

“We really did start recording these songs without a goal in mind,” says Josh. “There was no record offer, so I feel very lucky to have Woodsist’s [releasers of the record] support.”

Glenn and Josh have created music forever, which in itself is a head start, and while Josh claims, “Glenn made me do it,” when talking about how the band started, the pair have been friends for 6 years, not months. Simplicity is the real key to their speedy progression, though. They record onto an old but time effective tape machine, which then predictably hisses all over their unfussy 60’s drum loops, Byrdsian, jangling arpeggios and idyllic, tight vocal harmonies. ‘Hssss’. The sound of escaping air chases the clean chords of ‘Sculpture Garden’, which could have been pinched from Love’s ‘Forever Changes’. ‘Hssssss’. Static accompanies a Spector-ish ‘So Your Baby Doesn’t Love You Anymore’. ‘Hssssssssss’. It almost engulfs the druggier ‘Sing A Song For Stacie’. It’s impossible not to notice it.

“That hiss follows me everywhere,” says Josh. “Why, even now… hisssssssssssssssss.  I suppose it’s a style thing. I guess… Glenn and I feel fairly at home and warm with the equipment we’ve been using, but would not be opposed to recording in other ways.”

“I love studios,” says Glenn “but that costs money ($300+ a day), and we have to work for a living. I love our old tape machine. I think it sounds great; some may disagree. I like hi-fi and lo-fi in equal measure. But, for example, Guided By Voices’ ‘Bee Thousand’ is a masterpiece for any format.”

Yes. So too, one imagines, is Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’’, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’. They’re all classic masterpieces largely due to their simple, melodic centres, high above such trivialities as technical recording issues, and ‘Rough Frames’ shares a fair amount with them. ‘Paris Cafes’ – the album’s hippy, flare-lovin’, sub-two-minute high point – certainly does, daydreamy and oblivious to today’s horrors, like a now-sadly-comic ‘child of the revolution’.

A lot can be blamed for that view of the 60’s and the west coast sounds born throughout the decade (one “Yeeaaah baby!” too many following Austin Powers’ own shagadelic revolution, countless other ‘flower power’ pastiches) but The Art Museums’ cynic-free mellow psych is a cool win for harmonious, simple song writing that gently and definitely drowns out the tape hiss.

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 14 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. February 2010

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