Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s second widely distributed album, the wonderfully schizoid Worn Copy (also on Paw Tracks), announced the arrival of a visionary new talent in the art pop/lo-fi world in summer 2005. This album, House Arrest, was recorded back in 2001-02, but didn’t drop on a larger scale until early ‘06.
First off, let’s just say that Ariel Pink is an acquired taste. This one man jukebox revels in the gaffs and tinny production that comes with recording at home on a borrowed 8-track. And, yes, almost all of Ariel Pink’s percussion emanates entirely from his mouth. On thirteen of these fourteen tracks, Pink mouths everything from snare “chticks” to high-hat “shwoops” and low end “shumps”.
So, sure, there’s the novelty factor, but that doesn’t necessarily make this a joke. Very little of what Ariel Pink has to say could be considered ironic or hokey. Yet, on first listens, that’s exactly how his music sounds: like a goofy piss-take on almost every sacred rock convention of the last 30 years. But things get truly interesting once the listener realizes that Pink actually means every word; his world weary perspective is infused with a West Coast slacker wisdom that’s both middle class and defiantly trashed out. Among other things, Pink likes to sing about living in L.A., the joys of smoking too much pot, and the never ending struggle to find the perfect chill out companion.
On my first pass through, House Arrest didn’t really grab me, but then I remembered every Ariel Pink album works this way. They burrow under the skin unsuspectingly and leave their mark with long lost pop hooks that are so muddy they could have been piped in from some alternate universe where the Super ‘80s morning mix is always on the verge of dropping out of broadcast range, complete with encroaching fuzz and crackle. Pink regularly amazes with his economical arrangements, slipshod and clumsy on first listen, but eventually revealing themselves as meticulously crafted weird pop gems.
Opener “Hardcore Pops Are Fun”, an upbeat blast of strutting percussion, infectious guitars, and enthused helium vocals, extols the virtues of pure pop transcendence with glee. The narcoleptic vibe of “West Coast Calamities” opens with a sample of Davy Jones—“I’m Davy Jones…enjoy the music.”—and the Byrds before setting off on a lazy rumination about dreaming and loving. Pink juxtaposes Beach Boys indebted harmonies with some of his most whimsical lyrical puns—“Stay at home feeling sick with my palm in my pants, choking on gas, and I’m breaking windows of pain…”—over a dreamy mid-‘70s melody that takes a page from 10cc’s book of art pop. And “Getting High in the Morning” combines bad synth with the Who, cheap effects, and a knockout of a chorus to make the whole wasted mess go down smooth.
Sometimes Pink’s melodies are engulfed in so much third generation tape hiss that his ideas are almost lost in the murk. Thankfully, he’ll inject a smoking guitar solo, as he does in the title track, or an unforgettable chorus to remind the listener that this really is pop music and not just another failed art rock experiment. The degraded quality that comes with virtually all of Ariel Pink’s music is an essential ingredient in his success, but House Arrest suggests that he still had one or two kinks to iron out before achieving the blow-by-blow intensity of Worn Copy.