"Before Today." Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. Los Angeles-based artist Ariel Pink has been making music for more than a decade, mostly in his bedroom on old stereos and four-tracks.
The results, when properly waded through, are some of the greatest pop songs around -- gems that seem to touch on various musical sources but feel completely wired to Pink's eccentric persona.
His latest batch of tunes, cooked up with his Haunted Graffiti collaborators, is the recently released "Before Today," which is already being heralded as one of the year's best releases.
Meshing smarmy disco, '70s one-hit-wonder pop, candy-flavored Goth and doped-up psych-rock, "Before Today" sounds like an AM radio station playing pop songs from a parallel dimension. Or something like that. It's a strange, strange record that embraces its inherent weirdness with both arms. But unlike some niche projects, "Before Today" is incessantly and freakishly listenable.
Starting with the space-age stag-film soundtrack of the aptly titled "Hot Body Rub," the listener is invited into the fractured mind-set of its creator. The room has completely changed by the next track, "Bright Lit Blue Skies," an obscure surf-rock cover that at first comes on as nervy downtown proto-punk, until the chorus hits with honey-dipped harmonies that bring to mind ELO.
A couple of tunes later, a vintage Casio keyboard provides the accompaniment for a spaced-out ode to an '80s vampire flick on "Fright Night (Nevermore)." "Can't Hear My Eyes" is a blue-eyed soul slow-jam for the chill-wave set, while "Beverly Kills" continues the early-'80s obsession with an analog-funk falsetto strut.
Not all tracks work, like the murky drone of "Menopause Man," but when it taps into the esoteric glam of "Little Wig" or the fuzzed-out psychedelia of "Butthouse Blondes," "Before Today" works perplexingly well.
Ariel Pink and his co-conspirators, for all their odd qualities, have created a solid outsider pop record that maintains a broad appeal while not sacrificing its eccentricities -- proving these former lo-fi pranksters to be savvy craftsmen at heart.