However much of an underground icon Ariel Rosenberg is among lo-fi acolytes, it still hasn’t been that hard to ignore him. At least until now. As appealing as the idea of a bedroom savant unwinding and re-splicing the gene codes of fifty years of pop music is, his output has mostly appealed to listeners predisposed to hear what he gets up to with sympathetic ears, attuned to the inventive arrangements and unhinged songwriting, as well as the production tactics meant to drown everything in an analogue murk that makes something altogether different from the songs’ constituent elements. To understand why Before Today is and is not a departure for Ariel Pink, you have to understand that he is still doing all these interesting things, but coming up with results that are more direct, which is to say, more accessible to casual listeners.
Inventiveness has not been sacrificed, nor has endearing weirdness or textures that wash the listener down reclusive tunnels of memory and imagination. “Can’t Hear My Eyes,” which was previously released as a limited single on Mexican Summer, is indicative of the off-kilter blend of musical styles and ages (`70s sunshine funk, `80s synth-pop, `90s lo-fi barbarism) that is pulled off throughout Before Today, as well as the irresistible charm of the emotionally suggestive and wonderfully trippy lyrical content. “Round and Round,” already one of the fringe hits of the year, is even more wacked-out, moving from a hip-swirling, subliminal disco bassline, through some playful antics, and into a huge, joyous chorus. That it holds together as well as it does is a testament to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s sheer will to rearrange and compose unto serendipitous happening.
Rik Pekkonen, the engineer who worked on Before Today, has previously recorded acts like Bill Withers, Seals & Crofts and Bread. And while the sound of this record fits in very well with, and in many ways exceeds the current glowing and chilling and waving, the source of its particular psychedelic powers are the mild but uncanny veneers of ’70s and ’80s soft rock. “Fright Night (Forevermore)” is a song floating behind a clouded window of synths, the action taking place at a distance while the atmosphere slips into and circulates through the listener’s brain and body. There is something minorly magical about the way it seems to both topple forward and radiate stillness. The cover of the Rocking Ramrods’ 1966 tune, “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” is, on the other hand, two and a half minutes of pure, joy-inducing summertime mania.
Even the most out there moments on Before Today—the butt-metal guitar thrash of “Butt-house Blondies,” the wig-flipped Ray Davies meanderings of “Little Wig,” and the transsexual ruminations of the slinking “Menopause Man”—are jammed full of moments of invention, beauty, and pop ecstasy. To some the record’s juxtaposition of old and new may initially seem slightly gimmicky, but repeated listens testify to the strength of the songs and the way that the production touches provide them with an impenetrable mysteriousness the best of them an air of timelessness.
MP3: “Round and Round”