15.06.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

Before Today

With June’s sunshine has come a whirlwind of fresh humidity – an incredibly fertile moment in Pop music – ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI’S first proper studio album, ‘Before Today’. Rolling together a host of immediately identifiable musical styles – Jazz, Funk, Blues, sun-soaked loved-up 70s Pop through to Glam, Prog Rock, Yacht Rock through to 80s Soul – the album’s distinction comes from Pink’s crazed touch. Beginning as a rapturous explosion of 70s street Jazz, it cascades over a familiar landscape of Pop influences. There are hints of Bowie, The Beatles, Orange Juice, Talking Heads, The Style Council, Traffic, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, The Byrds… name a seminal Pop band making music during the last 40 years and it is probably here somewhere. Round and Round is a perfect example. A distilled and polished version of a 70s Soul ballad that you can’t help but sense you have heard before. Pink’s smooth vocals guide the listener into a glorious chorus and it becomes a righteous testament to Pop music. Stirring and complete, it is probably too clinical for those expecting to hear something gritty, avant garde or scuzzy (qualities we have come to expect from 4AD, the imprinted home of Atlas Sound and once of Bauhaus – a band Pink cites as a major influence).

Difficult to escape on this album is its sense of parody through its engagement with Cult. Following the sound of a finger popping a cheek in the jaggedly timed L’estat (According to The Window’s Maid) comes a spiralling breakdown that opens into a synth-laden and hallucinogenic freefall through a drug-induced world of 70s colour. Pink’s sense of humour becomes clear. While his unerring dedication to creation is serious, his homage and tribute to all things “heavy” is cheeky, smile-inducing but tinged with nostalgia.

Does the fact that this album can be heard as a cheesy, era-nodding romp through Pop music take away from its brilliance? It depends on your viewpoint: if you only like music to be po-faced, esoteric and self-important, then maybe. However, what this album does communicate – or celebrate – is that the history of Pop music is magical, colourful and fabulous. At times daft, always vibrant, Pink’s creative genius is undeniable and he executes it well. The production is tight, at times clinical but always sounds free. It might be completely derivative but Pink’s perfectionism is where originality lies. My only criticism is that maybe he tries to do too much on one album. The collected styles often feel slightly jumbled – but you get the feeling there is a fountain of creativity exploding here. It can barely be controlled.


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