Album Review

Before Today

Before Today

by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti


4AD
8 / 10
26th July 2010

Reviewed by Paul Gallagher


Ariel Pink is a bedroom musician who's long enjoyed almost legendary status from leagues of devoted followers. Notorious for his art-school morbid pop sensibilities, when I first heard that he'd signed to 4AD I was immediately suspicious. What business did the slacker scribe of West Coast Calamities and Getting High In The Morning have with a Beggars-conglomerate label focused on the economics of the major independent music scene? But doubts have been comprehensively proven wrong over recent months - first when album tracks Can't Hear My Eyes and Round and Round started doing the rounds on blogs worldwide, then with the staggered release of the Round and Round 7" and then the album itself.

Before Today makes for impressive listening; this is Ariel Pink embracing the high-fidelity lifestyle. It's as if Pink's dieted on the improvised jazz scene of New York's checkered past and meddled in the camp underbelly of chamber pop to deliver one of the more joyous albums of the year thus far - there are notes and flavours of Bauhaus, obviously the more deranged-pop parts of the Cure, and even Bowie here. But there's also an urban jaunt of R'n'B on many of the notable tracks. The cover of Bright Lit Blue Skies is the most victorious; an incredible departure from what it was under the Rockin' Ramrods during the 1960s. And despite the noticeable mark up in production values, Pink never relinquishes what makes him an undeniable success. His strengths have always been in his idiosyncrasies, and Before Today is no different: album single Round and Round is a swirling fusion of unpredictable 1970s pop splendor that will sit notably as one of the tracks of the year.

Tracks such as Little Wig and Menopause Man stand as a challenge to the firmaments of traditional song structure melding the bizarre with the eccentric, all while steeped in show-reel pop sensibilities.

As well as borrowing stylistically from decades past, Before Today also contains a sense of literal history revisited. There's a resurgence of tracks from Pink's old cassette borne back catalogue. We've heard different versions of Beverly Kills and Can't Hear My Eyes scattered throughout past releases, but their freshest versions are evolutionary wonders of strength and survival. Even Round and Round (once a 4-track jaunt called Frontman/Hold On I'm Calling) has been completely rehashed to become a more expansive and improved work from what it once was.

While it's easy for a fan-boy such as myself to be positive, there's also a certain level of decadence that comes with Pink's new found technophile self. The stadium rock-esque over-the-top guitar shredding of Butthouse Blondies is obviously gratuitous, and while intentionally off-kilter it reveals itself as the weakest moment of the album. But in saying that, compared to unrestrained wielding of pop from similarly endowed groups such as Of Montreal, you can't blame Pink for letting the leash off a bit. And to be honest it's reassuring to note that while Pink has been spending long hours in places like Abbey Road to produce this record, there's still an element of the odds and sods bent that he's always been on.

With all these reworkings from the past, covers of underground garage anthems and borderline revivalist tendencies - you could accurately describe Pink's latest offering as pastiche. But is that a bad thing? His association with luminaries like Animal Collective meant that he was never going to sit out of the spotlight for long. The man's somewhat controversial past as a sideline peripheral musician of ill repute is no longer, and with Before Today comes an accessible opportunity for fans to embrace his step up in the world but also for all his naysayers to potentially be swayed.




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Video: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Round and Round
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