Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
A consortium of scientists somewhere in the bowels of California has been performing research into the mapping and subsequent actualization of self-image as fostered and filtered by popular music. They have wired their subject's tennis racket with sensors so that it will register not the precise configuration of the fingering, but the intention of each windmill arm spin and two-hand-on-the-neck/handle blistering run executed on the subject as he engages in high powered air guitar. The hairbrush substituting as microphone has been wired as well, the hair encrusted bristles picking not only the utterances but the manic subtext and unuttered subconscious buried in the input and rendered them audible.
To fill out the sound, they used the subjects alpha waves as a triggering protocol for an outmoded casio synthesizer and worn drum machine, seeing that these instruments are tuned to an eerily similar frequency to the cerebrum of the subject . The scientists, having blown their meager budget on software and office overhead, were strapped to find a way to present the final results, a last minute requirement of their financiers, so they cooked up some LSD in the lab and traded it for a boombox from one of the skateboarders that wreaks havoc in the bleak industrial park in which they are housed.
I'm not positive that these are the precise circumstances that led to Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's weirdly fabulous tour-de-force Worn Copy, but it is one of the more plausible explanations. The mothership descends upon your ass easily enough with epic 10 minute "Trepanated Earth" a delicious sandwich of infectious 70's AM radio rock in cased in warm synthetic Tangerine Dream waves. Things are still relatively recognizable on "Immune to Emotion" a brilliant piece of up-beat new-wave pop-rock, the likes that was fostered by The Beat and Jo Boxers et al back in the day, handclaps and all. This tour through the record rack of the soul continues with the refracted glam rocker "Jules lost his Jewels" dissolving from an into a histrionic infectious chant of "ce'st la vie, ce'st la vie, ce'st la vie, comme ci comme sa" He channels the philosopher kings of the Alternative era with the appropriately named "Artifact" and then things start to really go joyously haywire.
"Bloody! (Bagonia's)" plays out like a Kenneth Anger movie being projected through the safety glass of a rehab clinic, while "Credit" visits the slice-of-life hokum common in the goofier moments of Madness or the Clash, as do "Cable Access Follies" and "Creepshow". The most lucid and revealing moment on the album comes with "Life in L.A. " where Pink details the reality of living with a downtrodden yet optimistic delivery similar to the dear departed Ian Dury.
Life in L.A
Come out if you're gay.
Make your babies and money
Move in together
Take out that loan, honey, its now or never
The weather is your boyfriend on a Saturday
Stay in bed, and you could be so lonely
Life in L. A is so lonely
So lonely that way.
Its moments like this that separate this from other style smorgasbords like The Residents' Third Reich n Roll (with with it bears some resemblance) where you see that this is not just an art project of some kind but an album of great and lovingly crafted songs. Whether Pink succeeds in each stab is in the ear of the beholder, but even its more "throwaway" moments (I use this term trepidaciously, in that they seem to be intended to be intentional mortar between the bricks, like the skits on Hip Hop albums or the junk tape interludes utilized by The Fall) are completely engaging.
The mini-pastiche "Folly Foibles/GOLD" (like a microcosm of the album itself)starts with what reminds me of the batchamber psychedelics of German group Goblin, that soundtracked many a great movie by Italian horror auteur Dario Argento and the original "Dawn of the Dead" which gives way into a Haircut One Hundred swinging number about affluence. Another great collage moment is the exuberant "Somewhere in Europe/Hotpink!" that comes off as the mutant lovechild of Loverboy, a shortwave radio and Heaven 17.
Closure to the beautiful madness comes in the form of the Ziggy-like "Thespian City" where Pink questions the artists around him and himself about their integrity and supposed originality, which is really the thesis statement of this record. For all it stylistic apings and quotations, this album comes off as an immediate and engaging bolt from the mind of the modern condition, a busted radio sputtering out bursts of streaming collective consciousness. As I listen to this album more and more, it seems less like a joke and more brilliant, while still retaining the patina of the joke. And it manages to rock that whole time while doing it. Now that Guided By Voices has called it quits, I hope Ariel Pink keeps the lo-fi surrealist genius flag flying.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com