Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
by Benjamin Adams (Business), published July 22nd 2010
Before Today isn’t the first release from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, but its the first that many (including myself) have heard of from the band. After years of low-fi recordings, this album represents a huge a step into the more mainstream indie-pop universe. Before Today is a poppy-as-hell summer treat: Ariel Pink (real name Ariel Marcus Rosenberg) has a great knack for melodies, and even after only a few listens, you’ll find yourself humming along. ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’ in particular is a first-listen standout, and ‘Round and Round’ has possibly my favorite chorus of the year thus far.
This isn’t to say the songs don’t have their weird edges, and a common thread is the across-the-board range of sounds. Diverse tempo and tone changes are stitched together in schizophrenic pieces like ‘L’estat,’ which switches suddenly between barroom swing and a frantic, pulsing break down, and many of the tracks have the prog-pop feel of early David Bowie records. In fact, a lot can be said about the similarities to early Bowie, with catchy, non-linear songwriting, strange and ambiguous lyrics, vocal reaches at both the high and low ends of Ariel’s range (see ‘Round and Round’), and cover art that bears a striking resemblance to Ziggy Stardust. The disjointedness of the songwriting is contrasted and tied together by the stellar rhythm section, with the funky bass lines and rock-steady drums adding a sense of cohesion that gives the rest of the band room to move.
Before Today’s production is one of its most immediately noticeable aspects. The sound of the album has the general feel of watching early 80′s television, with over-compressed drum and bass sounds and a strong midrange. ‘Beverly Kills’ especially sounds like the soundtrack to an early 80′s cop show, complete with car-chase sound effects and a driving intro riff. The album overall has a cool, cassette-tape feel to it, and a general pastel coloring throughout. A few tracks suffer from the production however, with the overabundance of reverb muddying up what would otherwise be excellent songwriting. But overall, the production gives Before Today an unique new-wave atmosphere that would not sound out of place on early MTV (save for the occasionally too-weird-for-broadcast lyrics), adding to the feel of the album as a whole.
Overall, this album is a strong standout in what is quickly proving to be a great summer for indie music. The production and song writing are unique and original, with a feel that appeals to a lot of low-fi fans without alienating the more mainstream-leaning crowd either. Although the album starts with a mess of an opening track and ends with a fade out (a personal pet peeve), and sometimes suffers from muddy production, the catchiness and overall replay value of Before Today will have you humming along straight through fall.
Recommended Songs: Round and Round, Bright Lit Blue Skies and Can’t Hear My Eyes