Album Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

The first time I ever heard the name Ariel Pink was about five years back, when he opened for Of Montreal at the El Rey Theater. Sometimes it is difficult to even remember who opened a show for a band last month, but this opener, Mr. Pink, was a different kind of bad. It was bad enough to linger for years and now being so far removed from it, it is hard to remember anything specific about it. My impressions were that Ariel Pink was drug music, with the singer clearly high and/or drunk, that he shared a similar sexual ambiguity with Of Montreal and that was the sole reason for his being there, and that he performed so badly that he must have either no talent or no respect for his audience. Maybe even both. It was difficult to watch, even nauseating at times. If it was a cruel joke to make people uncomfortable, then it was even more infuriating. An audience should not be taken for granted. Being given the opportunity to have hundreds of people devoting their attention to you is something some people work for their whole lives and never get, so to see Ariel Pink not take it seriously in the slightest took a long time to forgive. Basically, until this week.

I didn’t pick Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s album to review because I thought it would suck. Writing about albums you don’t like is both difficult and unenjoyable. Plus, you have to listen to music that bugs you over and over again. On the contrary, all the buzz has been so positive that I had finally convinced myself that people grow up, that he might have greatly improved and earned all the ink he gets. The signs had been confirming this. Friends I respect had been liking Ariel Pink on Facebook for the last couple years. The band Girls sported Ariel Pink apparel at live shows and name dropped him in their “Lust for Life” video. Chillwave cited him as a primary influence. Coachella invited him to perform. All signs pointed towards me being in the wrong, that somehow I saw his worst performance. Basically, I was ready to put everything behind me, eat crow, and become an Ariel Pink fan.

Track 1: Hot Body Rub. First lyric of the album: “Hot Tub. Get into my hot tub.” Are. You. Fucking. Kidding.

This is it, huh? This is seriously it? Before Today, which has already been rated a nine by Pitchfork, is what spawned all this quite good, current music? Ariel Pink, who was the first act signed by Animal Collective, who can’t sing at all, who is probably insane in some capacity. I’m calling bullshit on every bandwagon-jumping person who is listening to this album for the next month and saying how much they like it. Sure, it is not unlistenable. It is much worse than that. It is a case of process being considered more important than product. Technically adventurous movies that are of poor quality and little artistic merit are called Jerry Bruckheimer films. The first thing an artist should be judged by is the quality of his work, not by his process and definitely not by anyone else who may learn things from him later on. Pavement is called influential, but you know what, Pavement is really damn listenable. Even the early lo-fi stuff had melodies that have become classic, and when they went hi-fi, they cleaned up nicely.

Let it be said that my all-time least favorite artists are Frank Zappa, Primus, and Dave Matthews. Putting Matthews aside, I dislike these others probably for the same reason that I find Ariel Pink’s  music so reprehensible. It is painfully self-aware, every song sung tongue-in-cheek. Its chief goal is to prove that it is smarter than you, and its fans love this, because they want to think they are smarter than fans of other bands. Yes, Ariel Pink may be a genius. But, who cares. What I want to know is why I am listening to music that reminds me of The Loveboat (“Round and Round”). What I want to know is how Ariel Pink, who Pitchfork has been praising consistently for the last year, all of a sudden is good when the same Pitchfork had never rated anything he produced higher than a seven, mostly scoring solid fives. Check it out for yourself. Got to love revisionist histories. It’s like we are in America or something.

But looking at a 2004 review of Pink reveals a good point: “ criticizing the songs for their excess completely misses the point. This album can’t contain Ariel Pink, and wasn’t supposed to, and his next 500 CD-Rs will have the same problem. The songs are secondary to Pink’s burgeoning cult of personality– the album turns its imperfections into selling points, its pigheadedness into firm resolve.” (P4K) And this is true, I think. Ariel Pink has a remarkable backstory and is a hero for the DIY scene. If that is why this disgustingly juvenile music (titles include “Butt-House Blondies” and “Menopause Man”) is beloved by some, I can accept that. Just call the cult figure what he is, a torchbearer. You can be influential without being good. The first of anything is usually not good. It takes a little time to perfect the craft, whether it’s baking a cake, inventing a lightbulb, or sitting in your bedroom and penning an album based on nostalgic sounds, childlike innocence, and the corruption that comes with growing up, all while smoking weed and experimenting with psychedelics. This music will be great someday. Some people think some of it is now, but not here. Not Pink. No way.

And so here is the first zero I have ever given and hopefully the last. I will probably get some hate. I will probably be criticized for not analyzing the individual songs more deeply, but honestly, it doesn’t deserve that kind of attention. This is two strikes, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. I will see you for your last chance in five more years.


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