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

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
4AD: 2010

For a fair amount of music fans out there, myself included in that bunch, we only knew of Ariel Pink as an influence on some of the indie scenes bigger current lo-fi acts, such as Toro y Moi and Neon Indian. The reason for that is the fact that most of his music was difficult to self-made and released. As such, the experimental musician’s records were difficult to track down, which left even some of his fans in the dark. But after a continuously building buzz developed in the late 2000s, Pink found his music reaching new listeners and avenues, perhaps thanks in part to his band’s touring stints with buzz groups such as Cryptacize and Vivian Girls.

Everything came to a head in 2009, when Ariel Pink and his band, Haunted Graffiti, were signed to indie label 4AD Records. He then announced the aptly titled Before Today, his latest album and his first to feature a more studio-based sound. I’m only guessing here, but it’s likely his previous work was recorded in some makeshift bedroom studio rather than the real thing. I’m also guessing that Pink didn’t necessarily master his earlier albums like a label would require. But don’t let that fool you. This LP remains a fuzzy, lo-fi, distorted clusterfuck of sounds and styles. It’s also his most fully realized and focused effort to date.

Before Today bursts out of the gate sprinting as it opens with jolting “Hot Body Rub”, a surprisingly on-point choice for the track title as it feels somewhat like an actual hot body rub. The wavering horns and synth grooves wash over you and are almost soothing, until all hell breaks loose toward the end with the off-the-wall vocals. And slightly comforting tone is picked right back up for surfer romp “Bright Lit Blue Skies”.

And from there onward, Pink and his cronies rarely slow their pace or even stumble. Sure, “Beverly Kills” sounds like a parody of itself and, as such, becomes nearly borderline inaccessible. Out of context, yes, it’s a jarring, albeit fun, listen. But in the midst of the insanity heard on here, the track works. Just before it you hear the record’s lead single, “Round and Round”, which seems to play off the famous bass line from “Billie Jean”. The track also breaks into a huge hook, something not commonplace on Before Today, as the frontman yelps: “Hold on! I’m calling, calling back to the ball/And we’ll dazzle them all, hold on!”. It’s like a bizarre sing-along disco jam that got unearthed by Pink and Haunted Graffiti.

The group succeeds elsewhere, too, whether they decide to move from straightforward rock to jazz on “L’estat (Acc. To The Widow’s Maid)” or they bounce around with cheesy ’80s synths and goofy vocals on “Fright Night (Nevermore)”. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti might not make music that caters to everyone, but there is certainly something for everyone on Before Today. It might be slightly scary at first, especially to those of you not familiar with more experimental music. But dive in, take a chance, and get ready for some whacked-out pop from a guy whose clearly out of his brain but fully aware of what he’s doing.

4 out of 5
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