tue 20/02/2018

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, The Garage | reviews, news & interviews

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, The Garage

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, The Garage

LA's wiggiest art rocker doesn't quite pull it off live

Ariel Pink and Haunted Graffiti: 'Ariel Pink is shoehorning his art into a more traditional, less fluid setting'

Bounding on stage in a purple version of the man dress pioneered by Mick Jagger at The Stones’s 1969 Hyde Park concert, Ariel Pink looks like a mistranslated version of what a late-Sixties rock star should be. His long hair is dyed blonde. The roots show. His make-up is already smudged, as if applied with mittens. It’s a wonky look, in keeping with his music; a music that sounds like a badly tuned radio playing the hits of the early Eighties, the smooth soul of the Seventies and Sixties bubblegum garage pop all at once. Los Angeles’s most peculiar art rocker doesn’t seem to be playing it straight.

After initially lumping him in with the freak folk brigade – Devendra Banhardt, Joanna Newsom, Espers – critics invented new categories for Ariel Pink’s muffled, lo-fi, distant-sounding oeuvre. In America he’s the scion of chillwave. Over here, he deals in “hypnagogic pop”. Scrunching together Sixties harmony pop, Philly soul and new wave, he’s added unique touches like mouth percussion (with no drums, he made the noises with his mouth). With lower than lo-fi recording techniques, he’s buried his songs in tape hiss. Imagine a ham-fisted Cure tackling The Association’s “Windy” with guest vocals by a downer-dosed Earth, Wind and Fire. Then imagine hearing it through two pillows.

He’s been at it since his teens – the former Ariel Marcus Rosenberg’s first self-compiled collection was collated at 18 in 1996 (at least 24 cassettes appeared between 1996 and 1999). The debut CD arrived in 2002. One reached Brooklyn’s Animal Collective, who then reissued it on their Paw Tracks label. The patronage led to live shows as unconventional as the career trajectory. In 2006 he toured the US backed by bands he’d not previously met: each show had a different band, with each band chosen beforehand by e-mail. He’d pop cassettes in and out of a player, stab at a keyboard, sing out of tune and empty venues. The musical logorrhoea and bizarre live outings aren’t art brut though. Ariel Pink studied at Cal Arts, the US equivalent of the Slade or the Royal College of Art. This is deliberate and, with his current band Haunted Grafitti and a contract with well-regarded British indie label 4AD, Ariel Pink is shoehorning his art into a more traditional, less fluid setting. No room for mouth percussion now. And the mainstream potential is there: during its one week on America’s Billboard chart this past June, recent album Before Today hit Number 163.

Watch Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti romp through "Bright Lit Blue Skies":

Any expectation that Ariel Pink would have normalised his approach last night was blown out of the water. Haunted Graffiti are a tight band, and Aaron Sperske an incredibly precise drummer. But Kenny Gilmore (keyboards, guitar), Cole M Greif-Neil (keyboards, guitar) and Tim Koh (bass) are adept with the twists, turns and sudden stops and starts of Ariel Pink’s songs. There’s little that’s linear here. Before Today’s “Little Wig”, performed during the encore, is double-speed prog rock in capsule form. Time changes, noodley bits, keyboard flourishes are all present, but in shorthand. It’s ADHD pop for the nerdiest of music nerds. Ariel Pink himself seems a bit worried about being seen as the nerd his music might imply that he is, so he constantly bobs about, jogs from side to side, while making twisty hand movements and nodding his head like one of those dogs in the back of a car.

When the music takes over, it can be magnificent. The tick-tock Michael Jackson “Thriller” rhythms of “Round and Round” are mesmerising, infectious and generate a singalong with the Hall and Oates-style chorus. The opening cover of The Rockin’ Ramrods’ psyche-pop classic “Bright Lit Blue Skies” is enchanting. The kaleidoscopically fragmented bubblegum pop of “L’Estat” could be at home on Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties. But the constant nervous movement distracts. Todd Rundgren took a similar musical path with A Wizard a True Star, and so has Bobby Conn. Both were more at ease and more commanding on stage. Ariel Pink and his band are close to seamless, almost spontaneous, but there’s still a whiff of the art-house experiment. Time to loosen up.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

He bobs about, jogs from side to side, while making twisty hand movements and nodding his head like one of those dogs in the back of a car

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