Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Worn Copy”

In a word, bizarre. It’s just plain bizarre.There’s been more than a fair share of participants in what we’ll call, for lack of a more casual or passing term, indie-rock’s lo-fi tradition. The garage band looking for the most accessible and visceral way of capturing the raw surge of its sound. The introvert who only crafts and captures their sad, aching musical treasures on four-track tape, all of it laid down in silence on a cluttered bedroom floor. The avant-aspiring experimentalist. The tabletop architect. The low-key sound-terrorist turned somber singer/songwriter. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Bill Callahan.)

Ariel Pink is all and none of these, and his Worn Copy is evidence of both. It’s a strange 17-track outing, plain and simple, a document that both heralds the immediacy and free-form open-endedness of lo-fi home recording while injecting it with a sense of hi-fi composition and commercial charm that’s largely unparalleled in these circles.

What does that mean? Well, pretty much that Pink spends a lot of time and energy crafting well-structured pop-rock gems out of both indelible hooks and almost incidental noises and sonic flotsam and jetsam. And the whole thing, for all its sense of craft and purpose and scope, can feel downright amateurish, odd as that may seem.

The recording, initially released on Rhystop Records after being captured on eight-track cassette between September 2002 and February 2003, sounds like a fifth- or sixth-generation dub of something off a late-night AM radio station, and that may be the point. Pink’s songs are incredible nuggets of pop-rock — a little swatch of Yardbirds folksiness or 80s balladry here, a dab of swaying doo-wop or choppy 70’s funk there — that feel almost too memorable to have been crafted in such circumstances. But, there they are.

Sure, there’s the fair share of noisy departures (the cheesy Atari-inspired “Cable Access Follies,” the cluttered “Thespian City,” the electronica of “Jagged Carnival Tours”), but there are songs here that are surprisingly good. “Jules Lost His Jewels” is a lo-fi gem of an 80’s pop song, complete with Cars guitars, multiple vocal lines and all. “Artifact,” driven by moaning verses and glassy acoustic guitars, is genuinely moving. “Immune to Emotion” and “Credit” are bouncy and infectious little pieces of pop. The shape-shifting, 11-minute album-opener “Trepanated Earth” includes enveloping synth washes and soulful refrains, jagged fuzz-rock breakdowns, and even what sounds like pseudo-imitations of Paul McCartney. It’s ambitious even if the balance is out of whack and the drums are little more than trebly clicks and clacks.

But, if you don’t buy into the messages that Pink may be pedaling with this eclectic combination of lo-fi noise and careful, layered songwriting, you probably won’t be able to sift through some of the record’s less formed moments, of which there are a few. “Foilly Foibles/GOLD” may have some interesting lyrical twists (“The price we paid for our mistakes today / was more mistakes / The price we paid for stealing gold from they / we paid with gold,” delivered in a sullen monotone), but you have to wade through some meandering keyboard tinkering to find it.

“Bloody! (Bagonia’s)” has its hooks, but shards of misplaced found sounds and barked, reverb-soaked vocals keep it from finding its groove. “Somewhere in Europe/Hotpink!” suffers from a similar fate, a sequence of engaging moments that are broken or bogged down by the equivalent of musical non-sequiturs. (The unusually muted surf-punk riffs that close the song are the ideal example of great material that fades into the ether.)

Ariel Pink seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to the preparation and presentation of his noisy experiments, and he pays debts, rather explicitly, to free-minded outfits like Red Crayola. (The group’s name-dropped in the liner notes.)

Those with commercial-leaning ears may hear Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti as just that, a wall covered with interesting but ultimately disposable trash-sentiments, an act of musical vandalism. But those who keep their ears closer to the ground for trends in lo-fi circles might find Pink’s musings more than just interesting. They make a surprising argument for the fact that the sounds some may discard as noise or junk can be patched together into something bizarre but bizarrely good. – Delusions of Adequacy, Aug. 16, 2005

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