released June 8th, 2010

from the album - L'Estat

from all music

The alternative pop/rock and lo-fi recordings of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti are full of intrigue — and full of contradictions. Pink, a male singer, composer, musician, and producer who is based in Los Angeles, provides songs that are melodic, catchy, and familiar — songs that, in their own unorthodox way, recall the most immediate, accessible, straightforward FM pop/rock of the '70s and '80s. But Pink's work also comes across as bizarre, trippy, skewed, and twisted — and a lot of that strangeness comes from his production style. As a songwriter, Pink has a real sense of pop/rock craftsmanship, but his very muddy way of producing and his oddball, kooky sound effects make the late-'90s and early-2000s recordings of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (which is really the name of a project, not an actual group) sound highly eccentric.

At times, Pink (who plays guitar, bass, and keyboards) sounds like he is singing into a mono cassette recorder in a basement or a garage back in 1977 — he really goes out of his way to sound as under-produced and demo-like as possible. But once you get past his production style, it becomes apparent that Pink has strong pop/rock instincts (sometimes adding a touch of blue-eyed soul). The southern Californian brings a long list of influences to the table — influences ranging from David Bowie, John Lennon, the Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, and the Raspberries to Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, and late-'70s/early-'80s new wave. Some of Pink's melodies wouldn't have been out of place on Bowie's Station to Station album in 1976; some of them would have worked well for A Flock of Seagulls, Men at Work, or Talking Heads in the early '80s. But because Pink's production style is so quirky and off-center, those comparisons may not come as easily to listeners who don't have a taste for the bizarre — and depending on who you talk to, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti is either mindlessly self-indulgent studio masturbation or the work of an insane musical genius. There are some listeners who just plain don't comprehend what he is doing, but the small cult following that Pink acquired in the late '90s and early 2000s tends to be highly enthusiastic — Pink's admirers really swear by him and insist that there is a method to his madness.

Pink recorded his first Haunted Graffiti project, The Doldrums, in 1999 and 2000; that disc was followed by Vital Pink a few years later. At first, The Doldrums and Vital Pink were only CD-Rs that Pink burned on his home computer and circulated himself, but in 2004 Pink landed a record deal with the independent Paw Tracks label (which seemed to admire his do-it-yourself work ethic and made him the first Paw Tracks artist who wasn't a part of the Animal Collective). In October 2004, The Doldrums was reissued by Paw Tracks and enjoyed much better distribution; Paw Tracks' version of The Doldrums spans 1999-2003 and also contains the material from Vital Pink. Likewise, Worn Copy, which was originally issued by Rhystop in 2003, was reissued by Paw Tracks in 2005. The following year was a busy one for Ariel Pink, with House Arrest — a collaboration with another one of his projects, Ball Bearings Piñatas — arriving at the beginning of 2006 and another new full-length album due that summer.

album review

Ariel Pink calls Before Today his first album. Technically, that’s far from the truth -- he has more than a few collections of songs under his belt, but many of those albums, such as House Arrest, Lover Boy, and Scared Famous, came from a creative burst Pink had in the early 2000s and were issued and reissued well into the decade. During that time, he became the father of chillwave, an entire genre inspired by his mix of ‘70s and ‘80s AM pop touchstones and woozily nostalgic lo-fi production. However, Before Today does feel like a debut, or at least a fresh start; it's Pink's most cohesive work yet -- relatively speaking, that is. While this is the first of his albums to sound like it was recorded in a proper studio, there’s still a film coating his music; Pink's surroundings are just polished enough to make Before Today's lush harmonies and synths sound like they’re on a cassette that’s been dubbed over only a few times and left in a glove box for a couple of years instead of a couple of decades. If anything, this higher fidelity just underscores how weird Pink's music is. He sings about getting a disease in a hot tub in the clammy, sleazy album opener, “Hot Body Rub,” grunting like a bad James Brown impersonator while saxophones drone. It’s also hard to imagine many others who would open a blue-eyed soul song with a car chase (“Beverly Kills”) or mix lysergic verses with pop-metal choruses and call it “Butt House Blondies”; the way Pink mixes and matches sounds with abandon and tops them with goofy, surreal lyrics suggests Ween as an influence, or hints that they’ve been under the same influences. Elsewhere, Pink works from a wider palette of genres to mash: the frothy instrumental “Reminiscences” is the world’s coolest and campiest elevator music, while “Revolution’s a Lie” closes the album with driving post-punk. And while songs like “L’Estat” are almost too dense and busy to keep up with, Pink’s pop finesse shines on “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” the equally breezy and creepy “Fright Night,” and the album’s single, “Round and Round,” which suggests Synchronicity-era Police. But even when the music calms down, he can’t resist some head-scratching wordplay, as on “Can’t Hear My Eyes”' just-off-the-yacht soft rock, where Pink sighs, “I want a lady as beautiful as the sunset on a strip,” or on the gender-blurring “Menopause Man,” where he sings, “You’re trying too hard to be yourself.” He doesn’t have that problem on Before Today -- even with some of the smoke and mirrors removed, Ariel Pink is still a singular talent.

Track Listing

1 Hot Body Rub 2:26
2 Bright Lit Blue Skies 2:24
3 L' Estat 4:26
4 Fright Night 3:35
5 Round and Round 5:08
6 Beverly Kills 3:56
7 Butt House Blondes 3:27
8 Little Wig 5:46
9 Can't Hear My Eyes 3:19
10 Reminiscenes 2:33
11 Menopause Man 4:00
12 Revolution's a Lie 3:44