For a record that starts out with the sound of an airplane shooting by, followed by music you might expect to hear in a bad grindhouse movie at some dank, seedy theatre on a Saturday night, there ought to be some great story behind it. Even the punk artwork demands notice be taken. Turns out there is a pretty good tale, and it’s a feel-good bit of business too. Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, otherwise known as Ariel Pink, after collaborating with some mutual performers back in the early 00’s, happened to get a CD-R of his music passed along to some of the members of Animal Collective.
They were instantly impressed, and vowed to sign him to their fledgling record label, Paw Tracks. But his early music was inconsistent, particularly during live shows where he was regularly booed. Audience members consumed by the early hype surrounding Pink’s music were often disappointed and frustrated that the live performances didn’t mirror the recordings. And what started as some real heavy negativity for Pink ultimately became the catalyst for forming the Haunted Graffiti, the live band that replaced prerecorded audio at the live shows, and eventually lead up to his signing with 4AD records in November of last year.
Where the rocky road, and journey of avant-garde self-exploration, has lead Pink is this, his full band’s proper debut album, Before Today. It’s a flurry of throwback devices, from bass-happy 70’s pop to synth-infused freak folk. Influences and sound-alikes are frenzied, and show up every other second; he’s a little bit Bowie on “Friday Night (Nevermore)”, tips his hat to post-punk versions of The Clash on “Beverly Kills”, and even emulates a little 80’s new wave (perhaps Gary Numan or New Order) on “Can’t Hear My Eyes”.
But it’s kind of hard to tell where the album is going, or where the listener is supposed to be going, when all’s said and done. It’s quite possible that this is an effort to make up for the large body of work that went largely unnoticed before the Haunted Graffiti, a pre-greatest hits album before Pink is even able to carve out his indie niche. It’s pure speculation, and despite there being a lack of focus, the music still stands above a lot of its contemporaries with excellent songwriting and accomplished artistry. Maybe the best example of this is “Bright Lit Blue Skies”, introduced by Pink’s Morrissey-like sleepy voice with the lyrics, “Oh what is this thing/I call my mind…” over jaunty percussion, bassline and blaxploitation-esque syncopated guitars. It’s unorthodox, but entirely effective, and a sign of great things to come.