Review: Before Today by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Sometimes I feel that Ariel Rosenberg – the originator of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – has a secret Los Angeles-based promotional über-team behind him – after all, what could be a more perfect extension of the APHG brand than his latest album?
In Before Today, Ariel manages to find the line between his peculiar and now-famous aesthetic – sound-fuzz with vocal schizophrenia – and high quality stereo recording. There are still enough of his DIY sounds, but on this new album the other members of the band start to take on more important roles.
Each track seems taken from a different decade or genre. With a screech of car brakes the first track, ‘Hot Body Rub’, takes a saxophone groove into a place that’s partly A Certain Ratio, partly James White circa 1979. ‘Bright Lit, Blue Skies’ is clangy, ’60s-sounding pop; ‘L’estat (acc. to the widow’s maid’ is golden radio glam; ‘Fright Night (Nevermore)’ is early ’80s synthpop. Then, ‘Round and Round’ – the album’s first single and by far the most accessible track – is an addictive and dreamy disco ode to the multifarious vicissitudes of life. It’s a breathtakingly good single that over a hundred listens haven’t killed off yet.
‘Beverly Kills’ is a remastered track that appeared on the Scared Famous double-cassette from 2002. ‘Butt House Blondies’ is the novelty track on an album to which novelty is key; it’s a somewhat bewildering combination of ’80s metal and British psychedelia, peppered with the sounds of a woman’s climax.
‘Little Wig’ is more glam-metal, while the next three songs relax into a gentler place. The surreal ‘Can’t Hear My Eyes’ is a soft-rock ballad in which the saxophone returns in a timbre that would bring a tear to Sade’s eyes (or ears?). Instrumental track ‘Reminiscences’ is Afrobeat with a difference, making use of alternative instruments including synthesiser and organ to reproduce the genre’s distinctive sound. ‘Menopause Man’ is another humorously intended ballad about the dream of male menstruation, in which Ariel tells his female friend that he wants to be castrated and that: “lady, I’m a lady from today”. Building up the intensity one more time, the final track ‘Revolution’s a Lie’ is a sharp, punk conclusion to an album that ends, literally, with a whisper.
I often think that Ariel Pink is the sonic equivalent of the TV show Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job! There’s a connection between the two, apart from the obvious Los Angeles one: T&E collaborator Eric Fensler (and co-director, with Eric Wareheim, of infamous Flying Lotus video ‘Parisian Goldfish’), directed an excellent video for Ariel’s ‘The Bottom’. Then there are the vocal remixes, the use of authentic audiovisual noises, and the fetishisation of mistakes and the ordinariness of American life.
Before Today‘s album cover is, quite frankly, hilarious. It looks like a mash-up of Sesame Street and a generic 1970s rock cover: a bundle of guys against an urban (graffiti-scrawled) wall while a creepy, spectral little woman appears to be the “haunted” part of the band name.
Truly, this is an album haunted by the past. Ariel Pink is one of those American genius-artists who trawls up everything dirty about faded American pop history and restitches it into his own catchy melange of weirdness. Nothing on this album should be taken seriously, and yet I suspect Ariel Pink is the most serious and influential pop musician working in the United States at the moment.
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