Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today

by Rich Morris Rating:4 Release Date:2010-06-07

Beginning with the ominous whirr of helicopter propellers, crowd chatter and a bloody big gong crash, before a ripe funk beat starts up accompanied by some echoing sax straight off Bowie's Station to Station, Before Today promises to be a singularly interesting listen. The space-rock sound effects and gurning Furry Freak Brother vocals that round off opening track 'Hot Body Rub' only seem to confirm this prospect.

So it's a total disappointment that the next two tracks, 'Bright Lit Blue Skies' and 'L'estat (acc. To the widow's maid)' are so completely, boringly in thrall to jangly 60s pop and MOR 70s rock. The former sounds like something The Coral might dash off if they were in a contest with The Magic Numbers to see who could be more tediously retro. The latter, despite its swirling vintage synth sounds, is just hopelessly twee and naff, mainman Ariel Marcus Rosenberg lacking the singing chops to convincingly carry off its twists, turns and tempo changes which, frankly, are annoyingly superfluous anyway. The track wears out its welcome long before its four-and-a-half-minutes are up.

After this duo of duds, things pick up a little, as Rosenberg leaves the 60s behind, increasingly looking towards the pop of the late-70s to mid-80s. It'll all be a little over-familiar to anyone who's been paying attention to the sounds coming out of America this year. Like Gayngs, Toro Y Moi and others, Rosenberg seems to have a thing for the gloopily processed AOR of 10cc. However, where Gayngs and Toro Y Moi manage to transform this less-than-cool reference point into something special thanks to liberal doses of psychedelia or hip hop, in Rosenberg's hands it all becomes so much musical mulch, as on 'Friday Night (Nevermore)' and the horribly titled 'Beverly Kills', which weirdly sounds like something Britpop-era Blur might have produced if their primary influence had been Hall & Oates rather than The Kinks. It's followed by 'Butt-House Blondes', which perfectly captures the bluster of late-80s Bowie, just on the cusp of his Tin Machine folly. The shit Bowie-era continues to be referenced in 'Little Wig' which, with its high-pitched vocal asides and cod-trippy atmosphere, could be off the Labyrinth soundtrack. It is a truly hideous recording.

Elsewhere, things are better. First single 'Round Round' has a great pop melody to back it up, as does 'Can't Hear My Eyes'. Both of these prove Rosenberg knows his way round a winning pop song, while the skewed reggae of 'Reminiscences' and the taunt post-punk of closing track 'Revolution's a Lie' show he can make disparate influences work in the right way. Before Today is the first album Rosenberg has recorded in a proper studio as opposed to his bedroom, so perhaps he just went a little overboard with the production. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt here. But then you get 'Menopause Man', a very silly song which includes lyrics like "Fertile woman/ make me menstrual/ menopause man/ rape me/ castrate me/ make me gay," and you have to conclude the problem is most likely Rosenberg's shaky grasp of quality control.

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