Recreational transmissions

Pub date March 11, 2009
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

› a&

Ariel Pink’s music has never existed above or apart from the scrambling music critics do to make sense of it. Not that the busted transmissions making up his Haunted Graffiti series could ever be accused of careerism or provocation. The multiyear lapse between the initial release of his tapes and their reissue under Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks imprint is a requirement for so-called outsider cred, though using the term for an art-schooled kid from Los Angeles is dubious. But even viewed cynically, it’s a serious lacuna, one that doesn’t cotton to Internet imperatives of irony, fidelity, or decipherability.

The received wisdom holds that Pink’s hiss-scored no-fi home recordings are a ghostly take on 1970s MOR/AM radio pap. He does spend serious time anchored in Yacht Rock Cove, particularly on HG entry Scared Famous (self-released, 2002; Human Ear Music, 2007). The cramped verses of Scared‘s exemplary "Gopacapulco" open onto a jingle-chorus, a glimpse of cruise ship Thanatos. The album’s other memorable tracks find him slipping through more schizo territory, with Pink mainlining Deniece Williams over the irrepressible pharyngeal keyboards of "Are You Gonna Look After My Boys?" and huffing Scotchgard on the Kinks’ village green via "Beefbud."

This is music that does more than point to other music, though. If there’s a lasting appeal to Pink’s music, it doesn’t have to do with name-dropping or referentiality — it has everything to do with making these connections problematic, suggesting an outside to the music only to bounce the listener back on the artist’s hermetic world. That’s another way of saying that Pink’s deliberately shoddy craftsmanship is the point of his music: his verses, choruses, and bridges can be so nonlinear they make track divisions seem like an arbitrary nicety.

There’s a tossed-off bit of cruise-ship pondering in Vita Sackville-West’s 1961 novel No Signposts in the Sea that can partly clarify the way in which Ariel Pink is not ironic. Narrator Edmund caps a brief description of harbor cranes by imagining one picking up and flinging an automobile, thinking that the car would appear "as foolish as any object deprived of its rightful means of progression." There’s no way Ariel Pink’s music could be unironical, but the kind of built-in irony isn’t automatic or mocking — the traces of pop moments past that make up the uneven surface of his music aren’t floating there to show how ridiculous and impotent the feelings of our parents’ generation were. Like his patrons in Animal Collective, Pink’s music deals in, to paraphrase critic Mike Powell, the terror and murk of firsts.

Not to say there isn’t humor to spare — just that I won’t waste time trying to explain what’s satisfying about misanthropic bursts like "mankind is a Nazi" on the 10-minute prog epic "Trepanated Earth" off Worn Copy (Paw Tracks, 2005). Pink’s inability to recreate his ad hoc recordings live has earned him a special place in the annals of "you get what you pay for" online vitriol. But how can one expect him to be faithful to his recordings when the recordings aren’t even faithful to themselves? *


With Duchess Says and Cryptacize

Tues/17, 9 p.m., $10–$12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455