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Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today

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Artist: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Album: Before Today

Label: 4AD

Review date: Jun. 7, 2010

I don’t know much about Ariel Pink, and I prefer not to. It’s far more interesting to wonder about why someone would want to make music like his. It certainly isn’t built to move you emotionally, and more often than not Pink’s goofy and distinctly antisocial blend of psychedelia, pop and TV theme music makes the listener feel like she’s the butt of a joke.

Pink’s music could easily be the worst music in the world if it weren’t so... good. As alienating as his brand of whimsy can seem, it’s catchy in a very traditional way, and corners are cut off in all the right places. The best of it is also very detailed. Like Robert Pollard’s, Pink’s huge catalog of work is very hit-or-miss, and much of it has a tossed-off quality; unlike Pollard’s, that tossed-off quality has more to do with a careful kind of pseudo-spontaneity than with it actually being tossed off.

Upon encountering Pink’s music for the first time, it’s common for listeners to assume it was made decades ago. His stylistic choices, which on Before Today range from sunny 1960s pop to krautrock to ’80s dance music, are a big reason for this. And just in case it weren’t already clear, Pink also spells it out with nods to pop hits of the past. “L’estat” appears to reference the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and the slinky bassline on “Round and Round” is straight out of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And the “Knock knock knock knock / On the door” lyric in “Fright Night (Nevermore)” is straight out of the B52s’ “Love Shack.”

But part of it is also that his choices are so strange that they seem far away, separated from our understanding by a generational gap or something. Why dress up so many perfectly catchy pop songs with 1980s-DMV-instructional-video grade synths? Why all the reverb, which obscures the words? Why the boxy, lo-fi production? You could ask similar questions about details of individual songs, too, as on “Round and Round,” in which Pink beatboxes like he’s half asleep. Or “Beverly Kills,” which begins with some ridiculous laughter and dialogue that, like the song title itself, initially seems like an attempt to be menacing but can’t possibly be taken seriously.

All this would make Pink’s music merely bad, or outsider art, or something, were it not for Pink’s considerable craft and for the sense that he knows certain aspects of his music seem jokey. And yet his music isn’t satire, since satire typically involves a target, and Pink doesn’t have one.

Half the fun in listening to Pink’s music has to do with puzzling over its weirder aspects, and you only need to do that once. Before Today accomplishes exactly the same thing all his other good records do, so I’m not sure it does much for me that, say, House Arrest didn’t. Nonetheless, it’s still one of his better records — there are some excellent pop songs here, and it’s a good place to start for listeners who are unfamiliar with Pink’s bizarre schtick.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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Worn Copy

House Arrest

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