The following never got finished…properly…probably?

I have a wonderful way of obsessing over music for far longer than it merits before actually making a purchase. The thrill may lie in this part of the process as the music seems far less interesting once it has been purchased and also then belongs to a narrower feed. Lists and post-its in front of me detail about 200 albums and a clutch of eps that I will happily buy but they are obviously not all going to make the cut. I could always start downloading for free but this opens up the risk of slowing down this turgid laptop even further as well as it not being actually possibly to ‘get into’ 200 albums per month or so. iTunes limits me by charging money. It limited me more when hooked up to the UK version at £7.99/$175 an album, but now I use the gift tokens in Mexico where it’s a more reasonable $120/£5.50 or even a ludicrous $90/£4.10 in some cases. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood album is really one of the great surprises of the year and I downloaded it new for about £2.75. Surely that’s not too much to pay but just enough to keep me thinking?

So, how about actually obsessing over some actual music? Too easy? In that case I’ll obsess over things I’m waiting to buy but have yet to actually buy the tokens for. First up would have to be the new Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti album Mature Themes. It took me a while to warm to this artist as, when he first appeared on my radar some 7 years ago, it seemed like a cult already formed, another private club that a few people in the know already belonged to but which might be wary of welcoming outsiders in. Also, the reviews didn’t help as they tended to suggest Prince meets Hall & Oates when, in reality, they sounded more like The Pastels in a playground. Don’t get me wrong, I like the earlier lo-fi stuff now, but at the time it didn’t sound quite so earth moving as had been claimed. Only with the 2010 album, Before Today did things finally click for me as they worked with an actual producer for a while and, more importantly, an actual studio. Thus fuzzy, half-realised and poorly edited ideas from earlier albums got the sheen that they needed to realise their ambitions more fully. It still sounds pretty odd in places but the hiss had gone along with the unrealistic key changes and impossibly long pop songs. Essentially it is that sound which indie kids and music journalists will attempt to assure the world is perfect pop and would be number one everywhere if it weren’t for fascists or something, but it isn’t that at all. Has anyone tried forcing a tweenie to listen to any of Ariel Pink’s albums all the way through? Would it not be a good idea so that we can get over this crucial first hurdle: THIS IS NOT MAINSTREAM MUSIC NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU MAY CLAIM IT IS. This is quirky guitar music that references pop in a similar way to Talking Heads. It seems to be verging on aggressively anti-intellectual unlike T’eads, and yet the appeal lies in the echoes and hints of various 80s pop luminaries or even some of the more disposable pop of the 70s and, going back even further, it leads to crate-digging Rubble from the 60s. This is probably where I come in with my interest as I love discovering yet more obscure mid to late 60s failed pop/psyche/prog tunes of a slightly ridiculous bent. Basically, go away and listen to The Attack’s Neville Thumbcatch and we might be on the same page. A rambling paragraph reflects a rambling introduction into Ariel Pink and this surely serves as a sign of an artist I can really care about despite his seemingly disposable facade.

So, is this just more 21st century ironic pop-referencing bullshit? Shouldn’t we all be listening to Pussy Riot instead and keeping it real? Well, no, the facade is merely a surface to be scratched away like the masks on Pussy Riot, Adam Ant’s pirate gear, whatever Haysi Fantayzee were supposed to be, calling yourself Rotten instead of Lydon because it sounds better or calling yourself Sting because you are a cock. But those are just costumes and names and don’t refer to the actual music…except maybe Adam Ant and that’s surely not a method for lasting success and artistic merit that we should follow….certainly not as far as Puss in Boots. Is it acceptable for the music itself to use a semi-ironic masking in order to work on any kind of serious level? Well, it doesn’t help and yet it only restricts viewpoints rather than the artists themselves. Let’s see which names spring to mind when thinking of artists locked into their themes: Funkadelic, Hank Williams, Jim Morrison, The Clash, Morrissey and The Eagles represent a rather wide appeal. Throw in a few groups who have taken a scattergun approach to this and tried many weird themes and perhaps we are in Ariel Pink territory: Adam Ant again, Duran Duran and Kate Bush. I thought I claimed this wasn’t mainstream music?

Perhaps some reviews offer some context to the album or perhaps I could just get on with downloading the darned thing as there’s a lot of great sounding new stuff to get through this week. “Get through” – I should never write that again, it’s a pleasure to do this and not a trial so I should avoid phrases like that along with the lame opinion that something is ‘boring’ or even lame – am I still quoting? So, to the reviews…

I have stopped reading when we got to the phrase ‘deconstructionist free-for-all’ as it seems far too contradictory to be even remotely true – does it just mean random destruction? ‘1970s AM pop’ etc. Well, I’ve only managed a few paragraphs and can quite categorically state that if anyone has a problem with Ariel Pink, then it is one created by music journalism. In a an attempt to describe music that takes in many ideas seemingly simultaneously whilst also trying to lock into accessible melodies, music journalists seem to have created a monster who sounds utterly insincere and wacky for the sake of it. It’s as if one man’s artistic vision has become ‘Rentaghost’ – which it did on some level but surely that’s not Ariel Pink’s aim. I think the impurity of rounding up all the reviews to form an impression is never going to succeed and it is time to turn to the actual album itself…or maybe the one before.

Comments on one of the reviews seem to reveal a bigger picture. Either Mr. Pink is a hipster douchebag or he mocks hipster douchebags. He also inspires contempt but that might be okay. One comment linked him in with Love and barouque (sic) music from the 60s. That seems to make more sense as he seems to have come from the same L.A-centric background that spat out Arthur Lee and the music is not afraid to go in many different directions within the space of an album or even just a couple of tracks from the earlier stuff.

Well, plans to continue on this theme have really taken a diversion as I’m now obsessing over Yabby U’s King Tubby’s Prophesy of Dub after it provided some inspirational sounds for walking the dog and now I’m back with it again after listening to the excellent Harmonic 313 album from a good 3 or so years ago. Some dub just washes over you where as other material is primal and gets you in the groin and spine. – You can tell I really lost it at this point.

Back to Pink. After a few listens it is apparent that the album seems a slightly self-conscious step away from the more polished sounds of Before Today – something that is clearly announced in opening track, Kinski Assassin with its frankly ludicrous lyrical content and limited production values. However, plenty of songs do point towards a more mainstream sensibility lurking beneath the surface and this is something that the earlier lo-fi albums also managed to do. Perhaps Mr. Pink feels more comfortable with this album than what he produced on his first ‘proper’ album for 4AD.

Well, it could have been worse but could have been considerably better. The obsessing over music without getting to the point is ably demonstrated by what follows. Sorry if you’ve read this far…why did you do it?