Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti House Arrest

[Paw Tracks; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: deconstructionist pop, low key space funk, psych rock, schizophrenia rock
Others: R. Stevie Moore, Ween, All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, Animal Collective

As more and more of prolific home-recorder Ariel Pink's daunting catalogue becomes available for mass consumption, it seems that his genius begins where most bedroom popsters' ends. Not quite a fledgling work, not as confidant of having formed a viable artistic identity as 2005's Worn Copy, and nowhere near indicative of a career that could potentially unleash mid-grade tripe (sort of like how prime GBV records don't foreshadow From a Compound Eye in the least bit), this reissue theoretically should be an afterthought to anyone who has anything less than an intense interest in the scads of other records Ariel has released. It's ostensibly a typical second-tier album in an artist's career: a solid song cycle (with a couple of flubs) whose revelations largely work to illuminate corners of more definitive works.

But House Arrest shouldn't be an afterthought, and it isn't second-tier, even if it is less wildly individual than the albums that would follow it. That's because in Ariel Pink's world — which is a decidedly pop-centric world — only our pleasure matters; hedonism usurps auteurism and questions of authenticity. The song itself, the moment, the hook, the melody, the Lou Reed-esque vocal intonation — these things truly matter here. Opener "Hardcore Pops Are Fun" declares as much in its chorus, in which Ariel asserts that pop music is "fun," "your wife," "good," "wine," and most importantly "for you." Ariel gives pop equal footing with the bedrock of human civilization and asks that we not only appreciate it but indulge in it, giving ourselves over to every incessant chorus; even if there is a little irony in these lyrics, Ariel's prod for us to let his pop music burrow into our very marrow seems irrefutably sincere.

In fact, Ariel counters every ounce of wit in the album by asking us to buy into his persona without reservations. As with classic albums from '90s bedroom pop luminaries Lou Barlow and Robert Pollard, a pair of ironic conceits drives this set of songs: effervescent melody pries its way through seemingly insurmountable levels of tape hiss and red level distortion, and sophisticated songs arise from humble means. Unlike legions of artists who've floundered in the wake of Bee Thousand by failing to develop their craft beyond emphasizing these pretty/ugly, complex/simple polarities, though, Ariel allows his songs to implode and reassess what it means to be an 8-tracker in a world in which it's chic. In "Interesting Results," he parodies the callous, self-important home recording artist who continually foists his every thought upon audiences: "Will I write a song you'll love today/ Who cares, well I don't, thank the Lord." Along with this indifference towards his audience, the song's speaker also boasts that his craft is effortless, bellowing, "This is not trying!"; when a guitar lead harmonizes with each syllable in that declaration, though, it becomes apparent that the song is a meticulous contrivance through and through, diffusing the aloof speaker's assertions and suggesting that pop music can never transcend the project of connecting with its audience.

As "Interesting Results" deflates its speaker's purblind pretensions, it continues to argue that pop music is indeed for us. Its jabs at elitist pop subtexts don't attempt to lead us away from pop music or even from pop music that subsists on modulating ironies — instead, it reminds us that there are no invalid aesthetics, only pedantic aesthetes. Ariel Pink acknowledges and exalts pop's mission of turning the craft of playing to listeners' desires into a viable art form, and does in this song and elsewhere on the album. From Ziggy Stardust rev-up "Flying Circles" to the Zombies-ish bubblegum of "Helen," House Arrest is first and foremost a personable, charismatic album ultimately concerns itself with little more than having a good time. As a result, it doesn't break any boundaries, barriers, preconceptions, or skulls, but it never fails to thrive in its dramatic show of give and take.

1. Hardcore Pops Are Fun
2. Interesting Results
3. West Coast Calamities
4. Flying Circles
5. Gettin' High in the Morning
6. Helen
7. Every night I Die at Miyagis
8. House Arrest
9. Alisa
10. The People I'm Not
11. Almost Waiting
12. Oceans of Weep
13. Netherlands
14. Higher and Higher