Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
The new dawn of 2008 abruptly yanked away the covers leaving me shivering in the chill of car trouble, the IRS, going back to work - all the dead vermin the stray cat of a new year leaves on your doorstep, just to say I love you. My mechanic is a mile's walk from the house, so I carefully saw my jalopy carefully there and decided that this was fate's way of enforcing my weak resolution to get out and get some exercise in 2008. Fortunately, I have Ariel Pink at my side.
This is the third scoop through his cache of tapes on the past 12 months, but the first I've heard since House Arrest. I like to come into the new year on the good foot and review something pop, something with rays that will illuminate the path ahead, but I spent spare parts of the holidays reading Christopher Hitchens preach to the heathen choir and have vowed to no longer suffer fools, to remove any traces of "because you should" from my work and speak on the music that moves me. Ariel Pink wedges nicely between the rock and the hard place. This album has the characteristic hiss, the wild turns, and the spin-the-AM-dial lunacy that has bolstered/burdened all his records, depending on your viewpoint. The thing that separates Pink from the stink is his killer sense of song. Scared Famous is track after track of fractured, convulsive pop bliss, building up to something big.
Begin with the yuckster-strut lukewarm exoticism of "Gopacapulco" - a sample platter of Tijuana horns and highlife guitar and wiggly Day-Glo amusement. Maybe I missed this on the earlier records, but for as busy as his songs are, they are decidedly spare. "Howling at the Moon" opens with a perfect I been thinking bout days gone by... monologue leading into a straight-up disco roller-skating jam - love is on the way home, on the way home. That is what you want to hear padding back from the mechanic.
I saunter into my driveway to the boho folk stumping of "Beefbud" feeling like I'm a minor character in Rushmore, seeing through a quaintly defiant scheme. I dig it. His songs are a mess, really, but a glorious mess, like a teenage boy's room. The clutter is but the artifact of someone focused on things greater than order and culpability, a soldier of fun dispatched to the front. "Baby Comes Around" is all tambourine and wide smiles, while "Talking all the Time" is a hundred knucklehead riffs and solos occurring at the speed of OCD all at once, but somehow it all makes enough sense to be brilliant.
Carless, but duty-bound, Pink escorts me on my hike to the coffee shop. "Politely Declined" lies at the corner of Human League and El Debarge and is yet, somehow, completely charming. I was around the first time with vacuous electro-pop, and was a true believer in it then, but gave the stuff up when maturity introduced me to Richard Hell and overtime and drinking, so revisionism of this music usually strikes me as insincere. But Ariel Pink is a true believer. I was one of the sole fans to witness his performance in the dark edge of a park in Bogalusa, LA and saw his songs delivered free of the four-track's blurring agents, and they glow and sway like a choir robe.
There are seventeen songs on this thing, and all have their merits, but here are a few more highlights. "Girl in a Tree" opens like a lost track by JoBoxers, all the bluest-eyed soul and banging piano, while "Passing the Petal 2 You" serves as one of the few directly psychedelic tracks in his catalog, bearing more than a little resemblance to Skip Spence's arch-hippie gem Oar. "Inmates of Heartache" follows in heavy boots - a stern, spooky folk ballad, spectral and autumnal, leading into a sketchy soft rock masterpiece "In a Tomb of Your Own." I'm lost on my walk like Ariel Pink is lost in song, with an analogous compulsion to keep on going, that there is no point in stopping.
I spy the coffee shop, Ariel Pink stops me dead in my tracks with something pure and brilliant. "The List (My favorite Song)" issues forth in indie-rock shuffle splendor, talking about how a favorite songs pushes all others down the list, but that you never get to the bottom of the list, and then a month later, the same thing occurs:
For years, I put my faith in print,
as if the truth could be discovered there,
that my list could hold my soul in tact
Suddenly I have a new favorite song, cheese sliced thin by Occam's Razor which dictates entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity, and in the same way old Hitchens uses it to dismiss idiots and their god, I can see this very meta-song eliminating all other immediate favorites described by it, before and after it, it describes it perfectly but exposes the flaw with every new favorite song - why did that song lie to me? - how can one perpetually have a new favorite song. I know is this an elementary philosophical paradox but pop songs deal in the Big and the Most Relevant. And as the lullaby of the final track, appropriately titled "An Appeal from Heaven" against my new agnostic resolve, I settle down at my usual table, crack open the laptop to do the first work of the year.
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
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