If you’ve never listened to a single second of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti before, I’d like your intro to be “Intro/Where Does the Mind Go?”
Although I wouldn’t consider this track to even one of Ariel Pink’s Top 100 songs, it does contain several of the avant-garde pop raconteur’s signature elements: it’s a song of ambiguous genre that goes on a little too long, with several mood changes, meta commentary, absurd lyrics (“Cap’N Crunch left a steaming hot dump in my stereo yesterday”), and a hook so catchy it should be illegal.
Ariel Pink (Rosenberg) was born the son of a Jewish gastroenterologist. His parents divorced when he was two and took turns raising him in the Beverlywood area of Los Angeles. He attended Beverly Hills High School and enrolled in the California Institute of Art before quickly dropping out. He joined a Hindu ashram and began to focus all his energy on making music. Rosenberg became a musician to hide his personality: he could sing in different voices, change his name, and use cover pictures that looked nothing like who he really was.
Working at a record store, Ariel developed an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, absorbing everything from Michael Jackson and Top 40 radio to more obscure, experimental acts like R. Stevie Moore, Can, The Centimeters, and (Pink’s personal favorite favorite) early work of the Cure. He began writing songs at “around age 10” and has recorded over 500 songs of various length and genre on hundreds of cassettes, the majority of which have never been officially released.
Pink’s early DIY recordings created a distinctive lo-fi sound that has inspired the creation of numerous new styles, most notably chillwave in the mid-00’s. Often called the Daniel Johnston of the 21st Century, his approach subverts the common practice of valuing songwriting over production, making the recording medium, sound texture, album art, and narcissistic myth-making a large part of his musical process. In the early days, Pink produced and played almost all of his own music, even creating drum sounds with his mouth to cover up his lackluster skills behind the kit. From 2000 to 2003, he issued four solo albums as bootlegs on handmade CD-R under the moniker “Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (similar to how John Darnielle sometimes performs by himself under The Mountain Goats name).
In the summer of 2003, Pink passed a CD-R of The Doldrums (produced first, released third) to Animal Collective at a random gig after being introduced by a mutual friend. Although Animal Collective themselves had yet to release their breakthrough album Sung Tongs, they had recently started their own record label, Paw Tracks. The Doldrums sat on the floor of the band’s van for about a week or so; one day they randomly threw it on and were immediately blown away. One of the band members (I imagine this being Panda Bear) said out loud “Whoa, what is this?”
Consider this to be an over-stuffed, non-sensical, by-no-means-comprehensive guide to the nine albums Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti has released onto Spotify (he has several more albums that received a very limited release: Underground, FF, Oddities and Somodities, and Ku Klux Glam with R. Stevie Moore). I’ll review and give additional loose thoughts on them all, along with an A-F letter grade. If you discover at least one new song out of the nuclear waste I’m about to sift through, I’ll consider this Spotlight a success.
“Will I write a song you love today? There’s no way to tell and who cares? Well I don’t.”–“Interesting Results”
One of my ten favorite albums of all time, House Arrest features Rosenberg doubling down on everything fun about pop music for a bonkers, yet accessible “debut.” Recorded a month after September 11th terrorist attacks, this record features the ectascy and effort one doesn’t often see in lo-fi basement tapes: nearly every song features overdubs, creative instrumentation, and mouth drumming so good I often mistake it for the real thing.
House Arrest welcomes listeners with two killer meta songs: “Hardcore Pops Are Fun” is a fun song about why songs are fun and usually puts a smile on my face in its’ first two seconds; “Interesting Results” has a “Sweet Jane”-level guitar intro while Pink laments that he’s “not going to try anymore.” Lazy “West Coast Calamities” is the closest thing to a 9/11 song, with Pink preffering the West Coast because there are no “skyscrapers to crash into or Statues of Liberty.”
Songs 4 through 7 mark an insane run: the demented synth pop da-da-das of “Flying Circles,” the double digit stops-and-starts on the hiccupping “Gettin’ High in the Morning,” the moaning Mo-Town “Helen,” and the breezily giddy “Every Night I Die At Miyagis,” easily the best song about eating placenta that you’ll ever hear. Aside from the genuinely affecting “Alisa,” and the scared “Higher and Higher” the remaining tracks here run a little long. This seems to only affect “The People I’m Not” which fizzles into (uninteresting) nonsense; the nine minute eleven second epic “Netherlands” is actually helped by the length, becoming super cathartic by the time the last verse hits. Weighty, wacky, and, both blessed and cursed by horrible recording equipment, House Arrest is Ariel Pink’s best Haunted Graffiti.
Good Songs: “Hardcore Pops Are Fun,” “Flying Circles,” “Gettin’ High in the Morning,” “Helen,” “Every Night I Die at Miyagis,” “Alisa,” “Almost Waiting,” “Netherlands,” “Higher and Higher”
Bad Songs: “The People I’m Not”
Favorite Song: “Interesting Results”
I’m recording this song from memory, I heard it long time ago. I don’t know who wrote it, I don’t who sang it, I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know why.”–“Don’t Talk to Strangers”
A burrowing 70’s AM radio nightmare, Lover Boy contains a lot of absurd, sick love songs that melt into goo, one after after another, resulting in one of Pink’s most cohesive efforts. Opening song “Don’t Talk to Strangers” feels like the beginning of a cheesy 80’s shcokfest heavy on boobs and blood, perfectly-timed bleeps lift “I Don’t Need Enemies” to hidden gem status, the Lolita-esque “Older Than Her Years” is a surprisingly sweet song about forbidden, unacted upon, love. “Want Me” genuinely could’ve appeared on Nuggets.
Lover Boy kind of crumbles in the last six tracks, with “Doggone” being the lone highlight: “Blue Straws” plays like a pointless experimental radio serial and “Phoebus Palast” flouts a sick slide whistle bouncing around a hall of mirrors. But despite those foibles, Lover Boy is fun and fascinating.
Good Songs: “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Older Than Her Years,” “Want Me,” “Hobbies Galore,” “Let’s Get Married Tonite,” “Doggone (shegone)”
Bad Songs: “Blue Straws,” “Phoebus Palast,” “The Birds They Sing In You”
Favorite Song: “I Don’t Need Enemies (Holy Shit Single 45)”
I’ve also noticed that this song syncs near perfectly with this clip (start the clip at the 0:24 mark and the song at the 0:00 mark)
“The kids of today must defend themselves against the 70’s!”–Mike Watt, “Against the 70’s.”
Worn Copy — the final album Pink committed to tape before Before Today, between 2002 and 2003 — doesn’t cohere quite as solidly the others, even Thrash and Burn. It covers a lot of ground and once again feautures a boatload of good songs, but none of them are really the type that burrow in your brain or echo off your shower curtains.
After the 11 minute prog rock opener, “Trepanated Earth,” hits spill out like intestines: poppy “Immune to Emotion,” dance floor orgy “One on One,” the anti-capitalism advertising jingle “Credit.” Obvious highlight is “Life in L.A,” a downer that perfectly captures the feeling of being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The rest of the album is perfectly fine, purgatorial elevator music.
Good Songs: “One on One,” “Credit,” “Immune to Emotion,” “Artifact”
Bad Songs: “Jules Lost His Jewels,” “Trepanated Earth,” “Bloody! (Bagonia’s)”
Favorite Song: “Life in L.A.”
“It seems as though Ariel Pink has beaten “Weird Al” Yankovic to a 69 Love Songs parody”— Pitchfork’s review of The Doldrums.
This, it seems, is where it all began. Paw Tracks first non-Animal Collective release is a depressing break-up album that features Pink at his most restrained: bashful lyrics, limited compositional fireworks and extremely poor fidelity. The dour music, album title, and graveyard album art assume Pink to be a Pop Boo Radley instead of the glam rock diva he truly is. “Good Kids Make Grown Ups,” “Until the Night Dies,” “Let’s Build a Campfire There,” are truly asphyxiating: a rave ended by a turntable bursting into flames.
Mouth drumming in full effect, Pink sounds alone and trapped in a well. Bittersweet highlights “Among Dreams” and “For Kate I Wait” are both about longing for someone who is not there, the latter being about musician Kate Bush. This alien, cohesive collection of Eeyore-pop is not a good apporoximation of APHG, but is a good listen when you’re feeling impossibly down.
Good Songs: “Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups,” “Among Dreams,” “Haunted Graffiti”
Bad Songs: “The Ballad of Bobby Pyn”
Favorite Song: “For Kate I Wait”
Thrash and Burn
“Huh? What?”–“Starry Eyes”
The following paragraph written by Ariel Pink appears on the reverse side of his album Thrash and Burn.
As with stored memories one has acquired early in life, Thrash and Burn survives for me less as a finished piece of music in/itself or even a moment captured in time; more a catalog of lifetimes, each piece unique and unnamed, together they recall glimpses of forgotten future-pasts; in cosmology, as one peers ever deeper into the void, first beyond the fixed population density of stars nestled in a ‘suburb’ at the outer edge of our galaxy, into an evermore all encompassing blackness surrounding a thin lane of galaxies, one heads off in one direction, floating along a lonely string of Christmas lights which recede with the distance. Much further downstream, a giant wall of light scaffolding fades into view. That is destiny’s orphan multiverse inhabiting a single frame in its infancy. In time, we would transcend it. From where we stand our footsteps recede and fade into the darkness. But our beginnings are not lost; for someone standing off and above our horizon, in a human ear much more young, the secret of our coming of age shall be preserved revealed and discovered yet once again…
Oh boy… this 36-track double album of songs Pink recorded as a college student in 1998 was released 15 years later by Berlin’s Human Ear Music as a 250-copy 4-cassette boxset. Listening to this record is like reading the above paragraph over and over again next to a squealing radiator. Much like Pavement’s Westing (By Musket and Sextant) and Beck’s Stereopathetic Soulmanure, these are stripped down, anemic demos meant to be observed rather than enjoyed or understood. But unlike those two albums, and even Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, there is almost nothing here in these comatose NINETY MINUTES to justify Thrash and Burn’s exsistence.
Guitar noodles, keyboard drift, inaudible vocals, babbling static, long stretches of noise. It some ways, it’s kind of charming that Ariel released this embarrassing “catalouge of lifetimes;” it’s like if Kurt Cobain had released his own Journals. The only time I’ve ever listened to this the whole way through is when I was home sick with the flu; Disc 1 is blurry, Disc 2 is abrasive. There’s a few breadcrumbs I enjoy: “Pleasure Spot 1″‘s layering of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll,” the murky guitar of “White Rain in the Windy Summer,” and had the entire album been similar to “Shoes,” I might’ve loved it. However, this is the only album I’ve ever listened to where I thought to myself “I could do that.”
Good Songs: “Pleasure Spot 1 (Sweet Jane Rock N Roll),” “Those Were the Days (Now I’m 21),” “Disco MIA AKA Bust a Move,” “White Rain in the Windy Summer”
Bad Songs: “Foul Play,” “Cemetary Suite,” “Starry Eyes,” “Memorial,” “Funeral,” “Leggos,” “Feel It With Your Landlord,” “Rita Mae Brown,” “50 Cents,”Pleasure Spot 2 (Lucinda Cunt),” “You Die Slowly and Then You Die”
Favorite Song: “Shoes” (keep in mind that this is the best song on the album, by far)
Random brilliance and sonic bullshit. Nearly every song has the DNA of a hit song buried benath somewhere deep inside; equal parts tantilizing and terrifying, like an evil technicolor toon.”Are You Gonna Look After My Boys?” may be the best song ever sung in a Fred-like falsetto, features Pink gravely warning a babysitter.” So many of these songs, “Baby Comes Around,” “Politely Declined,” enter like a flash mob and immediately change there tune right before they overstay their welcome.
A best-of of two Haunted Graffiti cassette releases: Scared Famous and FF, this album has a little something for everyone. But to be fair, that “little something” for you could be a nice ten-second riff while the rest of Scared Famous sounds like processed meat. But to me, this Butthole Surfers-meets-The Monkees collaboration is a pop rollercoaster I will willingly ride again and again.
Good Songs: “The List (My Favorite Song),” “Gopacapulco,” “Baby Comes Around,” “Politely Declined,” “Girl in a Tree,” “Jesus Christ Came to Me in a Dream”
Bad Songs: “Howling at the Moon,” “In a Tomb All Your Own,” “Beefbud”
Favorite Song: “Are You Gonna Look After My Boys?”
“Write the songs that say ‘I like that!'”— “Round and Round”
Nobody saw this coming: indie rock’s clown prince not only got signed by major label 4AD, not only assembled a terrific backing band, but used this once in a lifetime opportunity to make one of the finest albums of the decade. Before Today contains several homages to vintage rock and roll songs, as well as reshaped, hi-fi reimaginings from Pink’s own deep catalouge. There’s a sense of seriousness and purpose we haven’t seen with APHG before or since.
“Hot Body Rub,” The Rockin’ Ramrods’ “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” and “Lestat” are all delightfully breezy, and “Fright Night” sounds like a disco ballad written by Edgar Allen Poe. All these songs features so many unique transitions but the stitches never show. And then there’s “Round and Round”, Pitchfork’s #2 single from 2010-2014, recycled from a forgotten Pink song “Frontman/Hold On (I’m Calling)”. Mastered at Abbey Road, this endlessly replayable song contains so many bursting, fully functioning units, which in themselves could all become great songs of their own.
Closed out by the fantastic 1-2-3 punch of “Reminiscences,” “Menopause Man,” and “Revolutions a Lie,” Before Today is an unforgettable album that may have abandoned Pink’s underdog DIY roots, but shows the rare instance of an artist successfully transitioning to a new sound for a wider audience.
Good Songs: “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” “Fright Night,” “L’estat,” “Beverly Kills,” “Menopause Man,” “Revolution’s a Lie”
Bad Songs: None
Favorite Song: “Round and Round”
“I’m not real and I won’t call you”–“Mature Themes”
In 2012, Haunted Graffiti drummer Aaron “The Funny One” Sperske sued Ariel Pink for $1 million in punative damages, saying he was squeezed out the partnership and helped write songs on Mature Themes. The matter was setted out of court, so we’ll never know Sperske’s contribution to this nice batch of songs. Moodier and more antisocial than the breakout Before Today many people speculated that this album was designed to alienate potential bandwagon fans. But In Utero this is not, as evidenced by the first three seconds of goofy opener, “Kinski Assassin.”
“Only in My Dreams” is baffingly good, sugary sweet on the surface and a Chinese puzzle box underneath. Acidic closer “Baby,” a Donnie Emerson original, was played during the prom scene of The Spectacular Now. This is actually a really hysterical record, with most of the lyrics basically equating to nonsense gibberish. This can get tedious after awhile, especially on “Schnitzel Boogie.” Overall a great “sophomore” record best played at sunset.
Good Songs: “Kinski Assassin,” “Baby,” “Is This the Best Spot?,” “Live It Up”
Bad Songs: “Schnitzel Boogie”
Favorite Song: “Only in My Dreams”
“I’m Broadway Kurt Cobain, clap your hands.”
The years after Before Today have seen Ariel Pink transform the “most hated man in indie rock:” alienating his earliest fans, becoming a troll on social media, and calling Grimes “stupid and retarded.” Although I don’t condone any of this Kanye-esque, self-promotion, Pink can sure put his money where his mouth is.
pom pom is an intergalatic Spotify on shuffle: none of the 17 tracks here seem
related in any way, but nearly all of them would please the giant gold head on Rick and Morty who asks “Show me what you got?” Speaking of Rick and Morty, Pink imitates those characters having an incident at a strip club in the cautionary funk tale “Black Ballerina.” Other weirdness within: Pink attempts to become the new “Jell-O” spokesperson with lavish results, “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” flies a freak flag, and “Dinosaur Carebears” is a song Animal Collective would think is too ridiculous.
There’s also a suprising amount of digital age heart on here: “Put Your Number in My Phone” is about being rejected electronically; “Picture Me Gone” shows Pink writing a will to an illegitimate child with a long string of selfies; “Dayzed Inn Daydreams,” has Pink imagining himself as a unknown destitute with thousands of unheard songs.
This might be the most unlikable protagonist of a great album since Pinkerton.
Good Songs:”Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade,” “Not Enough Violence,” “Dinosaur Carebears,” “Negative Ed,” “Put Your Number in My Phone,” “Black Ballerina,” “Picture Me Gone”
Bad Songs: “Sexual Athletics,” “Exile on Frog Street”
Favorite Song: “Dayzed Inn Daydreams”
Other than a few singles here and there, Pink has not released any new music in nearly two years, performing songs from pom pom on tour ad nauseum. With so many tracks alledgedly unreleased, it’s difficult to determine whether Pink is simply drawing from this vast well he dug in the early 2000’s or is still creating new work. Now that he’s operating under hi-fidelity, he can simply re-arrange the fuzzy puzzle pieces from his past into something audible, and new.
1. House Arrest
2. Before Today
3. pom pom
4. Scared Famous
5. Mature Themes
6. The Doldrums
7. Lover Boy
8. Worn Copy
9. Thrash and Burn
ALBUM COVER RANKINGS
1. Scared Famous
2. The Doldrums
3. Before Today
4. Thrash and Burn
5. Mature Themes
6. pom pom
7. House Arrest
8. Lover Boy
9. Worn Copy