With an audacious mouthful of a name like Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, how could this band's debut record be anything but entertaining and occasionally thrilling yet also showy, confounding, and just plain weird?
Apparently, Ariel Pink is a cult favorite who's made a career out of his home-recorded oddball folk-pop. Now, he's got a full band, who has helped him flesh out some previously recorded songs.
As the title of the record might indicate, these songs don't sound like they were recorded anytime in the past 25 years. Most of them fall into two categories: the vaguely psychedelic, pre-prog feel-good shit you heard in the early '70s by bands with names like The Sunshine Brigade; and early '80s cornball easy listening (I think the kids today call it "yacht rock"), especially the kind that would show up in a montage from some terrible Reagan-era romantic comedy. Last week, after I listened to Before Today for the first time, I found myself at home singing "Cool Night," the 1982 'Lude-tastic hit by Paul Davis. I knew it was because of this Ariel Pink record.
But let it be noted that Pink's take on this style of music (I'm sure his parents were real groovy) doesn't strike me as ironic -- well, most of the time, anyway. It's too arty and lovingly produced to be kitschy. But it's also jokey in places, especially in absurd song titles like "Hot Body Rub" and "Butt-House Blondies" ("Butt-House blondies / She used to be so 16 / Now she loves that she can read"), and "Menopause Man" ("Make me menstrual, menopause man / Rape me, castrate me, make gay / Lady, I'm a lady from today").
A lot of it is kinda inane like that. Then Pink goes full-on cheese in a breathy, slinky Alan Parsons Project-meets-Hall & Oates ditty called "Can't Hear My Eyes," in which Pink breathily sings "I can't hear my eyes / They don't speak, they're just spies . . . I want a lady as beautiful as a sunset on a strip / Light auburn, and hips that don't care / Really makes me tick." Whoa.
This music will be off-putting to a lot of folks. For one, it sounds like it's being played on a worn-out cassette tape. For another, Pink as a vocalist seems distant, maybe too smart for his own good, daring the listener to like him.
So, after five complete listens, I still don't know what to think about this record. I've been thinking about it a lot, so perhaps it's done its job. Perhaps I've been sucked in because I remember the soft rock of the old days so well, and it's nothing more than a nostalgia trip.
Pink is definitely a unique talent. But I have a hunch that once the novelty of Before Today wears off, even the record's many fans in the critic community won't have much use for it. And in five years -- hell, maybe even next year -- it will essentially be unlistenable. We'll all be singing "Cool Night" a lot longer than we will "Hot Body Rub."
Best song: The closing track, "Revolution's a Lie." It's the least representative of what's happening throughout Before Today. It reminds me of early PiL or the amazing Austin band The Big Boys.
Deja vu: Listening to some obscure comp of even more obscure bands, while drinking wine from a box and watching The Love Boat reruns with the sound off.
I'd rather listen to: Sebadoh's The Freed Weed, from the gloriously unironic year of 1990.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.
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