Welcome to your most beautiful nightmare.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Before Today – Album of the Week
It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. Wise words, Sir. But where on earth is Ariel Pink at? It’s a considerable time since these ears heard a voice so consumed by otherworldly devices yet so rooted in the finest traditions of pop. I’m confused – but I like.
The name Pink, or Ariel Marcus Rosenberg as he’s known to his mother, has been bandied about for quite some time, thanks largely to those in the know devouring talk concerning semi-genius demo cassettes. But not us, nah we don’t really get a sniff of them. All’s we’re left with is a repackaged fantasy and a great looking press release.
Not since Bon Iver retreating to his log cabin with nowt but his shotgun and guitar ready to blow his brains/mind have we been dealt a story like this. Pink, apparently has recorded over five billion songs, attended LA art school, recorded various tracks using his armpits as drum tracks, oh, and signed to Animal Collective‘s Paw Tracks, cos they reckon he’s so on it. A little too convenient you’d think, especially hearing early traces of some of those lower-than-lo-fi recordings.
Not when you hear Before Today.
The first aspect that grabs you on this quite remarkable, transportive vehicle of sound is the production; smokey, cloaked in oddball nuance, squelching in dirt yet refined enough to hear every pokey little squeak and burp behind Pink’s curtain. It’s quite marvellous.
Next up is the in-your-face art-rock WEIRDO freakbeat with psycho lyrical tendancies – they course from the off to the very finish making for an unsettling but deeply involving listen – ‘What is this thing I call my mind, look for the things I can’t find, why am I so far from the ground?‘ – goes Bright Lit Blue Skies‘ rock and roll boogie.
For 45 minutes the listener is dealt a hand of WTF camp/drag/pimp/dealer/psycho-sexual scenarios readily toying with your mind and ears – not least through a series of beguiling effects; check the tongue clicks and growls of L’estat (acc. to the Widow’s Maid) – what on earth Pink is alluding to is anyone’s guess, but you know it’s pure filth – while Little Wig is a track so perverse in structure it grows from a chugging riff into a Bowie art-rock soar complete with drunken slurs of a choir that’s borderline prog.
It’s worth emphasising what a collaborative project Before Today is too, those early demos sounded at best DIY promise, at worst flimsy, here they take on an altogether massive horrorscape thanks to Pink’s Haunted Graffiti backing band. Beverly Kills, an 80s camp-disco thriller, complete with cop chase sirens and ghoulish dialogue, could soundtrack a Broadway production through sheer ideas alone and a lyric that’s as moreish as it’s subject matter suggests: ‘Never heard about Beverly’s freaks, yeah, think twice before you meet ’em. Made up of finest comedians, you can’t stop no incest from spoiling.‘ It’s both a cosmic disco jam and a tightly mixed pop song. Complete with Tarzan wails.
Then there’s the identity sex crisis serial-killer anthem, Menopause Man, acting as alt-jam to Prince‘s If I Was Your Girlfriend, as Pink implores to be broken, castrated, made gay – before a towering falsetto burns through a blistering final two minutes of top notch drama.
But there’s two tracks which raise Before Today from being leftfield oddity to crossover classic. Can’t Hear My Eyes is a Michael Jackson 80s dancefloor filler which hasn’t been captured this well in years; all Quincy Jones sparkle, tight-ass funk and deep moog boogie with the most impassioned ‘nooooo,’ (for the record on 2.53 exactly fact fans) in memory. The other is of course, Round Round, this year’s alt-summer non-hit.
A track so odd, so compulsive it’s a surprise it works, let alone is so radically brilliant. A verse which makes little sense trundles on to the beat of Thriller as Pink warbles on about his band before a telephone rings, is picked up – and BOOOSH! – that chorus.
The genius is that goofy bridge to the chorus – a bridge so seductive, so fucked up that degenerates into something so sloppy that when the rush of a big singalong bursts out of nowhere you’re slammed into a dance-off and can’t help but wonder where it came from. How did that power take hold? How am I transported from mild discomfort to universal joy? How?
That’s the beauty of Ariel Pink, you can’t quite figure out what he is, and what he’s doing but you know he’s bloody good.
Motorpsycho: Heavy Metal Fruit
Norwegian’s Motorpsycho follow in the great tradition of Dutch uber-rockers Golden Earring namely making Nordic spacerock rooted in English prog with an undercurrent of Canterbury folk. For every gentlemanly aside there’s a tidal wave of bluster and measured, noise-groove.
The song titles maybe proposterous – see X-3 Knuckleheads in Space/The Getaway Special or Gullible’s Trevails Pt 1-4 – but that’s a knowing wink at the fantastical odyssey on display, the latter tune a 20-plus epic which in truth never tires; all Led Zep percussive thunder, layered harmonies and an outrageous outro The Mars Volta would be proud of.
Elsewhere, there’s licks-a-plenty on the latin-tinged W.A.B.T (another 10-minuter) while opener Starhammer (another 12 minutes) manages to infuse Sabbath‘s metal thunder with Floyd‘s Dave Gilmour soloing ensuring your ears may at first be bewildered but stick with it and this is a trip you’ll be happy to get lost in time and again.
Four Tet: There Is Love In You
It’d be cruel to say Keiran Hebden had lost it in recent years, but there’s been little to match his 2003 offering Rounds while contemporaries like Warp‘s Bibio have gegged in on his folk-infused electronics and the indie hipsters, Animal Collective et al, certainly owe a debt to their more dance-inspired moves.
However, There Is Love In You dispenses with all dalliances with the guitar, and jumps head first into a warm, liquid-like glow of lite-head rushes basking in soft bubbles of sound – and it’s easily his best for seven years.
Released back in January, it has lost none of its polish both as a great start to the day or ease into the end of evening record; with the two openers working as the ideal buffers. Angel Echoes is aptly that – a chorus of soulful electro voices beckoning you inside before the nine minute Love Cry rocks back and forth in hypnagogic fashion. Spellbinding stuff.
Clogs: The Creatures In The Garden Of Lady Walton
Journalistic cliche buzzword: eclectic. Gah, gotta be hatin that word. It clunks off the tongue like a loaded ball of phlegm. Think I prefer jumble. So, this be a big ol’ jumblerock of bobbins thrown together like a handknitted blanket – multi-coloured, warm and embracing and perfectly-suited to the coming of the winter chill.
Knitted together by The National main bro Bryce Dessner he employs the quite remarkable pipes of operatic lung beast Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) to belt out symphonic blasts amid delicate ukele, mandola and billions of blowing brass instruments.
There are moments when the grandiosity is overbearing and it’s often the most understated numbers which steal the show – like on the instrumental wood-block tumble of To Hugo, the luscious string sweeps of I Used To Do or standout Last Song which sees The National frontman, Matt Berninger, carry a simple plucked banjo into strikingly sombre territory (feel the anguish!) – but for sheer audacity and bredth of scope this is a jumble worth sifting through. You may even find a certain Sufjan in amongst the pile.
The Fall: Your Future Our Clutter
It took my mate Bobby Cocker about six years to force-feed The Fall to me. Even now, I’m only just getting them – or should I say Mark E. Smith.
There’s without question a certain peversity to enjoying The Fall for they revel in antagonistic, anti-music with a vile, acid-tongued lyricist angrily attacking your inner ear. FOR EIGHTY SEVEN THOUSAND RECORDS. Who can digest that amount of vitriol?
Having only stomached about a tenth of Smith and his ever-rolling conveyor belt of musicians’ output, I’d non-committally suggest Your Future.. is their most palatable – Mexico Wax Solvent and lead single Bury Pts 1. + 3 are killer post-punk pop – but as per this is the sound of a headball hurling his pint pot in your direction as all manner of musical spikes prick you were it hurts.