Ariel Pink Ariel PinkBefore Today
Subterranean and misshapen, Ariel Marcus Rosenberg’s career has met all sorts of difficulties since the end of the 90s. Solo recordings, and with Haunted Graffiti (his official group), compilations we could live without, albums lost and later recovered... His discography until now has been a patch of quicksand you could sink into if you weren’t careful. But it’s also been a fertile land of extraterrestrial pop flair where he has learned, and taught others, to record in a unique manner. But it was clear that his career deserved a culminating landmark, an album on a more serious artistic level to put everything in order and in concert, to anchor his discography. Well, here it is. “Before Today” is the best of his career, not only for its less oblique lines, but also because it is by far the most enjoyable. Domestic and child-like, but also macabre and ugly, it’s an album that manages to extract the luminous virtues from all of the group’s defects better than ever, and it straightens out his career by offering a group of great songs. It is also a paradigmatic work that sees the group escape from the arms of Paw Tracks (they were the first recruited by Animal Collective for its label) to take shelter in the arms of the holy 4AD.
Like a cassette rescued from a trunk of souvenirs, “Before Today” sounds from its very title like turning over a whole new leaf, settling accounts with the whole journey travelled so far. Still the straying sheep of the flock, here Ariel Pink resets himself, concentrates, and comes up with the definitive response to far-off pieces like “House Arrest” (2002), “The Doldrums” (2004) and “Worn Copy” (2003); all of which were works with substance that tried to cover millions of ideas and ended up making a mess of themselves. “Before Today” also proposes an unclassifiable blend of genres and styles, but it condenses them like never before. And the thing is that, until now, the group’s stars had never aligned themselves in these conditions. Dilapidated and schizo from the outset, it has other incentives too, and in particular shows two key aspects of the Rosenberg file. Firstly, it makes it clear who is really the behind-the-scenes originator of the brand-new chill-wave; that is to say, who has been leaking it out like nobody else since well before the hypnagogic fever broke loose. And secondly, it certifies who the award should go to for the most genuinely indie launch of the season. That one went to his travelling buddy Christopher Owens’ band Girls in 2009. Incidentally, their “Stranded At Two Harbors” collaboration from 2006 under the name Holy Shit should also be recovered.
The first warning sign of the effect that this new album might have was the supernatural and amorphous “Round and Round”, which, in robbing the graves of Imagination and Microdisney has become the group’s most interesting anti-hit so far. And, it turns out, the single wasn’t a mirage: defending a questionable good taste and extracting the gold from everything rough and dispensable, the rest of the album sounds equally immortal, eclectic, and unorthodox. The upheaval that it proposes (there’s some of everything here: glam, soft rock, psychedelic, power-pop, soul, funk, surf, grunge, new wave, indie and garage) is everything but incongruent, and it never strays from its path. Even so, the patchwork of references is crazy and allows us to speak of Deviants with sleep in their eyes, up to their naughty tricks, of a would-be Roxy Music working hard in the pre-technology workshop, or even of Hall & Oates smoking crack with Mark-Almond ( “Can’t Hear my Eyes”). Explained this way, it sounds rancid and aberrant, even more so if I tell you that it leaves a sort of an achy hangover aftertaste of Madrid’s “ movida”, but the result is really fabulous.
There is also a lot to be chalked up to Ariel Pink going semi-professional: this is the first time he has recorded in a studio, with a band and a producer. Partly recorded in the studio of Tito Jackson along with Quincy Jones’ grandson Sunny Levine and the engineer Rik Pekkonen (both with a lot of experience), the final finish is absurdly adorable. It’s all cleaner than in the past, and it sounds a little better, without ever sacrificing the maxims of its amateur nature. Sarcastic ( “L’Estat”), funny ( “Menopause Man”, a faithful reflection of his sexual ambiguity) and rife with hair-raising finds (the outstanding intro and outro of “Little Wig”, with their black hole atmospheres), the best in the repertoire is saved for last: a Gothic close called “Revolution’s A Lie” in which the group plays at cross-dressing as... Judas Priest! That is how this blessed craziness ends, and it’s a really major work in terms of recycling: slipping in like a little snake into the sound thicket of 2010, proudly proclaiming their low-fidelity and endorsing the talent of Ariel, who we can now stop referring to as a cult icon and start treating like the first-class artist he is.