Ariel Pink pom pom

[4AD; 2014]

Styles: self-analysis, Hearst Castle
Others: Ariel Pink, Slavoj Zizek

1. Re: shedding the “haunted graffiti” thing — Ariel Pink is an aesthete, and Haunted Graffiti was never a band; it was an aesthetic, much like the Magic Band or paying a bunch of Playboy Bunnies to live with you. That ignores the messy fact that Ariel Pink actually had and has a band (replete with legal issues), but the fact this is credited solely to His Pinkness lays down the law that the contents therein are of Ariel, and vice-versa. pom pom, then, is Ariel Pink without caveats, without hedging, without the notion of a “project,” be it home recordings or carrying a slick-ass session-band surfboard out with you as you dip a toe into the mainstream. So, better question: who is Ariel Pink? His media personality is all ego; his music is all id. He writes songs more in the manner of hurling something out of a pram.

2. As such: tho His Pinkness has made (many) collections of songs before, this is the first one that reads like an album, a narrative, a guided tour through the dude’s psyche; something with a beginning, a middle, and an ending, where the divergences all come back in service of the whole, instead of just scanning like something sliding down the wall instead of sticking. Looking back now, Before Today and Mature Themes are easier to place where they once felt like outliers or a new phase. They appear like interstitial gestures toward an audience that had finally been created by the changes in the cultural landscape, through the world catching up with the ideas he’d pushed out five years prior, without being statements in themselves — evidenced as much by their internal inconsistency as the fact that they relied so heavily on old material. The latter album especially wasn’t much to write home about — between glimmering moments, the whole thing held up about as well as ice cream on Sunset Blvd. in the middle of June. Call ‘em stopgaps while he figured out where to go next.

3. Like, to get back to the brassest of tacks, Pink began as an artist of defamiliarization. With his early studies, he reinvigorated and reconceptualized the relationships between pop songwriting, memory, technological change, and mental disorder. Like how Cage taught us to register silence, Pink forced us to reassess the importance of media, how the layer of delivery between the music and the listener can transform entirely the possibilities for music made with that media and how that can be harnessed in terms of pop music. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” offers this notion Straight Up; not only does he begin the record with a hallucinatory procession, but the arrangement defamiliarizes that notion too — imperceptibly, the atmosphere grows more dissonant and astray, bars are truncated, and the mood sharpens, as if Peter Frampton’s pig inflated to the point where it blacks out the sky. Basically, he pulls the rug out from under one the way his disliked alpha males rip theoretical bodices. Now that his original method of defamiliarization-thru-cassette is something well and truly part of the cultural landscape, he’s gone back to the source, and pom pom is essentially Mr. Ariel Rosenberg’s id, in pink, black, and red all over. This is about destabilizing the notion of having any solid, fixed perception of who and what Ariel Pink is, by presenting as many different shades of Pink as possible, all rubbing red and raw against one another. If there’s a more searching self-examination laid to tape all year that yet admits to no factual cross-examination, call me Mark Kozelek and suck my cock (f- to that bizness btw).

4. So, this album roughly divides up into thirds. (Naturally, Pink would avoid the classic bifurcated record. This is like stepping into a pink triangle, in striped light.) The first one mainly explores Pink 2.0s “medium”; that is, deconstructed and deconstructing pop songs, stripped of the aestheticizing layer that used to intercede between him and the audience, and it’s maybe the most astonishing run of songs he’s stacked in a row since the first half of House Arrest. “One Summer Night” is like a love song by a Tralmalfadorian:

One summer night
I will call you mine
and one summer night
you will fall in love
now that you’re gone
I can’t go on living

Everything is happening at once, all tenses collapse into the same weeping surf guitar lead over synths about as widescreen as a dream you’re too ravished to write down. Coming right after “Put Your Number In My Phone” (his sweetest, most deliciously in-between love song yet), he completely erodes the possibility of the sentiments he expressed, not only in terms of showing their emotional inverse, but also: if there is anything simple about being with a beloved on a beach, it’s only through the elision of difficulty. Everything that is tumultuous and still there, existing, it’s just not present. “Not Enough Violence” forms a bridge between the two by demonstrating the terror and weirdness that happens between hello and goodbye; Pink describing the act of love as the time “when we powerclash bodies” is about as on- and off-point as you can get. There are some wedding bells buried in the final third of that one. Essentially, he’s mapping out a kind of territory defined by key boundaries; there’s lust, vulnerability, sexy weirdness (“White Freckles”), bad drugs, and a hovering, immanent darkness (“Four Shadows”).

5. From there, it’s all about drawing out the problems and horrors within that framework of the self. When Neil Young wanted to stick one up Geffen, he made a rockabilly album, and by the hairs on Dixie’s chin, it was decked out in everything from the checkerboard floor, to the skyscraper quiff, to the backing band picked up on the side of the highway. Genre exercises, whatever way you put it, are sheer bloodymindedness formed out of a mold. Think Ed Wood or David Lynch. The Big Lebowski porn remake. Performing the genre piece can be a DeLorean to the blackhearted refusenik of the id. Who could be more damaged in their persnickety obliviousness to the needs of others than Michael Bay as-director-of-Transformers? Where Ariel once undermined genre through aesthetics, here he uses genre to undermine himself and his own authority over the idea of a coherent self. And by enabling the expression of the most stubborn, rusted-on parts of the personality, the middle third of pom pom gives itself over relentlessly to schlock and dross for the purpose of exposing deeper truths on the way.

Fittingly, the entry and exit points are both drenched in sex — the adult BDSM nightmare of “Not Enough Violence” and the unreality of the adult strip club as viewed by a lad guided by a Scottish pirate (“Black Ballerina”). Situated between the fear and horror of adult-on-adult sexuality, the genre exercises explore the motivations that link the two in Pink’s psyche. There’s a garage-rock facemelter (“Goth Bomb”) that’s mainly preoccupied with the inability to write anything down (“WHY CAN’T I WRITE” is the lyric, something that echoes “Why Can’t I Be Me” from House Arrest and his spiritual godfather R. Stevie Moore’s “Why Can’t I Write A Hit” — the three laments are almost inseparable, even if the results are different). The bluesy garage rock tropes being employed — imagine a Sonics song where the attitude was “I don’t care,” but “I don’t know” — make it ring with undirected fury, which gels disquietly with the fact that he seems to be singin’ about actual naked children hanging on the beach on the neighboring “Nude Beach a-Go Go,” which despite making a play at being relaxed fun-in-the-sun nonsense has, like, nine different hooks, which make it the Adolf Wolfli of surf-rock songs. That’s not to mention that it’s a collaboration with Azealia Banks, whose version is equally and appositely bent out of shape. “Sexual Athletics” uses old-fashioned choogle choogle and a music-box lullaby to juxtapose absolute sexual bravado and a terminal fear of sex. Paging Dr. Freud, sure, but also about as astute as possible in a world where Men’s Health shares magazine rack space with Hustler. Stripped away and lying underneath — literally, by a clip of distortion — the act of sexual posturing lies the vulnerable desire for a girlfriend, though “but she’s too sexual” echoes the fear of an equal relationship, where there’s no domination but an equality of desire. He’s the sexual athlete, promising “sexual athletics for the lucky one,” but it has to be on his own terms.

6. “Dayzed in Daydreams” is like Pink’s “I’m Not There.” Adapted from the version on Oddities Sodomies (from which Before Today’s “L’Estat” and “Butthouse Blondies” first saw light), the take here is like gloriously hi-res Steely Dan, with sweeping, panicked choruses that render Ariel’s old mode of faux-psychological torment into something genuinely fearful, direct, and real. “No more daydreams!” he implores to everyone and no one in particular. And then we roll back to the daylight nightmare of “Plastic Raincoats.” The dream is forsworn, the dream rolls on. You put down your phone at 3 AM and pretend you’ll turn back to the real world when you wake up, but you greet the morning by checking Facebook. C’est la vie. Ariel doesn’t have any answers. It’s better to ask what questions he raises, and Ariel asks hard things about plastic palace America. What’s it done to the body? What’s it done to the mind? What’s it doing to the men who do awful things to women? Not what’s beneath this shiny surface, but what is this grim visage reflected in it? Ariel Pink is to Umberto Eco what Donald Rumsfeld is to Machiavelli; you get the sense they were born knowing instinctively what others had to spend their lives thinking and writing about. In a song like “Sexual Athletics,” the deliberate, awkward performance of Big Male Sexuality creates and feeds the view of the female Other as inert object; “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” makes the notion of absolute freedom and innocence uncomfortable and strange; “Picture Me Gone” suggests the digital now as a future never; and”Put Your Number” posits that same technology as the only key and path toward Everlasting Loving Happiness. If America eats its youth (and it does), this is Pink describing how.

The thing about his craft here is that now he makes his contradictions as explicit as he once made his tensions implicit, sensual, and broad enough to include all of us; he can now craft something that hits in the way he used to submerge the listener in a sensibility, waterboard style. With others like Jamie Stewart, he’s turned the personal neurosis into a language he can teach; another Great American Outsider Songbook that proves such a thing isn’t a contradiction in terms. Is all of this Morrissey’s fault? Maybe. Like Morrissey, with all of his dubious public utterances, Pink has virtually ensured that his value for being homologous with the zeitgeist and the mainstream is well and truly impossible, and it’s better that way. He’s too L.A., too sexist, too untrammeled, too awful. But that leads to a more important point; if Pink makes himself a soft target by saying Outrageous stuff in interviews, he’s articulating vanilla versions of much darker thoughts gathering like cloudbursts over the digital and suburban hinterlands, and even though the dude says inherently gross and whack stuff that we’d all be better off for not saying, pom pom destabilizes the grounds for those utterances and instead provides grounds for exploring how thwarted masculinity remains an incontrovertibly complex ground for good and ill, and how our relationship with our twisted postmodernity isn’t something we can just sit on and sail out with. We have to get deep into our own, raw, twisted bits to find out what we’re made of if we’re going to do any better at it. pom pom means being the cheerleader and the athlete at the same time, and everyone else in the damn stadium.

Links: Ariel Pink - 4AD

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