Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
f last year’s reissue of The Doldrums said anything about Ariel Pink, it was that he’s the most dedicated kind of sensualist: a poor, messy one. Emerging from a pile of half-trashed copies of Us and myriad plastic cups warped by dishwashers and stained with purple lipstick, he offered AM pop visions of urban erosion; exhaust-choked and piss-drowned balladry, succumbing to hiss and withering fidelity. There was something touching and hopelessly terrestrial about the built-in decay of his music, when it worked. People seemed to have some ethical qualms; some recoiled at the idea that it was faux-idiot savant vaudeville, that Ariel was just some well-adjusted kid from suburban L.A. making wacky, entitled bullshit. Authenticity wars aside, the newly reissued Worn Copy (recorded after The Doldrums, but still a couple years old) plays to the aggressively sillier and kitschier aspects of his music, which aren’t terrible, but aren’t half as compelling as the mysterious solemnities he’s capable of.
Granted, Worn Copy is a lot more accessible than The Doldrums; the latter went down like tattered home movies and Robitussin in a dimly lit rec room, the former is like getting hosed with Gatorade and Mardi Gras beads over a fast-panning sequence of mountain climbing at a pep rally in the middle school gymnasium. It’s likely that a lot of people will find the thumping rollerblade rock of “Jules Lost His Jewels” or the ghetto-blasted disco tedium of “Credit” instantly more enjoyable than his moodier, more fractured work, which is absolutely fine. It definitely warrants a high-five or two for pop’s sake, but there’s something raw and near-beautiful about songs like “Foilly Foibles Gold,” an eight-minute dream that sails through New Order and cracks its skull on a cheerleader breakdown only to bleed syrupy, limp-wristed jazz-pop—it provokes the imagination in shadowed, inconclusive, and exciting ways.
It seems misguided to talk about Ariel Pink as a songwriter, though his blueprints are nothing if not pop songs, and some really decent ones at that. It’s atmosphere over narrative, it’s a sum of fledgling blue-eyed soul/zombie-Zappa nuggets that seep through the sidewalk cracks, get trampled, recycled, and repackaged as a rotting diorama of city life, a blasé celebration of ad-saturated monotony. At times, the mood is thrilling, rare, and utterly bewitching, which make the jagged edges of booger-flicking juvenilia that pop up on Worn Copy all the more distracting. If nothing else, it’s another piece in Ariel’s garbled blackbox picture; two reissues have come out on Paw Tracks in the past six months, and he’s got at least four other CD-Rs strewn around his room waiting to see light other than the television’s test pattern (Lover Boy, House Arrest, Scared Famous and FF>>), a fairly daunting pile of music from one of the more unusual and divisive projects of the past couple of years.