Francesco de Figueiredo

from NERO n.05 may/june 2005

“I am a zombie. Mummified and pruned by years of deafh-rock causing friction between my chafe and loins emitting swirling toxic gas clouds of noxiously malignant fibromialsia…”

Ariel Marcus Rosenberg Pink, class of 1978, native of the Los Angeles hills.
A student at the California Institute of the Arts, as an artist he has already collaborated with names such as Ed Ruscha and Jim Shaw. It is through music, however, that Ariel finds a more intimate way of processing his art: since 1996 he has recorded about 500 songs, independently and using only analogue equipment. In his home this young autarchy has defined an individual and fairly atypical expressive universe.

A Yamaha 8-track cassette recorder, a guitar, some toy keyboards, and a voice, which also serves as a very credible drum kit.

The Light.
“We rocked your album on tour, we wanna release it on our own label…”
The guys from Animal Collective find one of his CD-Rs and are endeared by the crooked artwork and bizarre, nervous pop sound. They decide to release the album in its entirety, without edits or alterations, on their Paw Tracks label, which, until now, had been accessible to Animal Collective members only.

So the spotlight shines on Ariel Pink.
And the dim indie floodlights light up...

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 2: The Doldrums/Vital Pink (Paw Tracks, 2004)
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 8: Worn Copy (Paw Tracks, 2005)

Translation. Act one.
The two albums put out by Animal Collective offer little representation of Ariel’s world. To understand his music, one needs to avoid the sickly sweet parable of the talented, introspective artist who’s revealed to the public by some noble-spirited enthusiastic patron. Instead, you need to imagine what it would be like to casually come across one of Ariel’s CD-Rs, still dirty with fingerprints and smelling like his bedroom; to create an intimate rapport with a product that exists outside of any marketing praxis (mainstream or indie, for what it’s worth), and which you probably bought at one of Ariel’s basement gigs.

Robert Stevie Moore, the predecessor.
The most direct predecessor is R. Stevie Moore, an ingenious American musician and advocate of the most radical DIY home recording. Since 1976 he has composed, executed, produced and printed an impressive amount of tapes, dodging the discographic market by voluntarily remaining in the shadows. Ariel’s universe bears many traces of Stevie Moore’s influence, from his hand-drawn cover art to the practice of one-off mongrel-pop CD-Rs, miles away from the serialization standards of the record industry.

Nothing New.
From a purely aesthetic/compositional point of view, Ariel Pink can easily be compared to a lot of pop/new wave/neo-psychedelic acts that came out during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Nothing new here: the vocal and compositional styles are brilliant but far from innovative. Comparisons can be drawn: David Bowie, The Flaming Lips, The Human League, Suicide, Phil Spector, Tiny Tim, to name a few.

Obscure Matter.
But there’s something else that sets Ariel Pink apart from the rest, in his own unique, disquieting corner: the mode of production. It’s goofy, primitive, infantile, crooked. Ariel seems to disregard every conventional production rule: the volume levels jump, the falsetto vocals overlap with the echoes, the strange rhythms seldom interlock with the improbable bass line. This oblique, torn pop music becomes a vehicle for an insane, antisocial, alienated urge.

Nervous, Lo-Fi Crust Pop.
I’m going to move past the trends for a moment, far away from the fake lo-fi productions designed to fit gaps in the market. Instead, I’m going to stay close to “low” punk and garage, where the real essence resides: bringing everything out, especially the rotten dark stuff.
Filtered through his cheap equipment, Ariel’s pop songs turn into mutant beasts; they recreate a claustrophobic and horrific ambience. Pop music iconography becomes ill, thus generating strange paradoxes. All forms of popular music get mangled inside the Yamaha tape recorder, usurped by the infantile and destructive production of Ariel Marcus Rosenberg Pink.

“Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups”.
Listening to the first track from Doldrums makes it clear how Ariel (like a lot of other creative-minded individuals) seems to have barely passed adolescence. The falsettos, lyrics, toy keyboards, naive song titles all hint at some kind of regression, at the expressive immediacy of children, their recklessness and nervous tantrums.

All of this enraptured me, carrying me into a dimension in which emotional responses deviate from the familiar path: leading towards the confines of the most violent and hostile music, closer than one would at first expect.

I can’t, however, describe how difficult it was to define my closeness to Ariel’s sounds. If you decide to go beyond the surface to understand a body of art, you need to create a dialogue within yourself; in order to comprehend my fascination towards this music, I had to dig quite deep.

Translation. Act two.
There was probably a false start. This must be due to the circumstances in which I first encountered these disconcerting sounds. Indeed, the Paw Tracks releases are merely artefacts, intended for diffusion purposes.
Although it has given me access to the music, this translation has deprived me of the intimate experience of the CD-R fetish, of the real context in which the music actually exists.

Therefore, I can’t be grateful to the Animal Collective people: I’m deprived of some key element. Yet it’s the same enthusiasm I feel which encouraged Panda Bear and Co. to trespass into Ariel Pink’s musical territory and give everyone (including me) the chance to listen to him.

Now this would mean opening a dam of words and disquisitions on the reproducibility of art, and on how Ariel, unlike his idol Stevie Moore, might seem like a “sell-out”; and on how a colonial spirit stubbornly pervades Western culture.

Maybe another time...
But this is not the place for discussing such intellectual amenities. I’d rather celebrate this goofy and bizarre Californian kid, indulge in his mockery...focused on substance.