Under Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

Outsider iconoclast Ariel Pink has been making music on his own for years, which means that his move to a full band in a bona-fide studio was all but inevitable.  That’s especially true considering his rabid (and star-studded) fanbase.  More than anyone else, though, it was the fellas of Animal Collective who gave Pink his biggest break, releasing a number of his albums on their Paw Tracks label.  Think of Pink as the experimental Badfinger if you must, but for someone whose career has been heretofore defined by tinny, lower than lo-fi production, his latest move might be his boldest.  Signing with 4AD toward the end of last year, Pink and his band, Haunted Graffiti, have acted on the promise of a string of 7” singles and released Before Today, which washes away Pink’s tape hiss and replaces it with a slicker, more polished production.  Even though Pink’s older material thrived on a warped and worn aural assault, his songwriting was impeccably skillful.  Though often barely audible beneath his carefully-constructed wall of fuzz, Pink’s melodies and harmonies evoked the same classic era of pop music his recording techniques emulated.  In order to match the material on House Arrest or The Doldrums with the newfound professional production, the songs on Before Today had better deliver.  And deliver they do.

While the new set isn’t always as immediately head-turning as Pink’s older songs, Before Today boasts its fair share of odd beauties.  The icky, sticky opener, “Hot Body Rub,” sounds like the theme to a lost public access show, and “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is a saccharin-sweet slice of un-ironic soft rock (wind chimes and all).  Front and center, as usual, is Pink’s acrobatic intonation, which gives the rather eclectic album a sense of much-needed continuity.  How else would songs with the disco-glitz of “Round And Round” and the spacious minimalism of “Menopause Man” seem appropriate on the same album?  Also standing out are “L’estat (Acc. To The Widow’s Maid),” which begins like a total nugget and ends like a proggy epic, and “Little Wig,” which hearkens back to Pink’s earlier tapes more than anything else on the album.  Before Today works on a number of levels, all of which are beneficial for Pink himself.  Those who were hesitant to get into his music for fear of getting a nasty headache (for a while, this group included me) can rest assured that Before Today features just as much of Pink’s talent as the previously-mentioned oldies. The diehard devotees shouldn’t feel left out, either, because Before Today features plenty of the bubbly weirdness that has endeared Ariel Pink to so many all this time.

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~ by E. on June 30, 2010.

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