There’s a definite vogue for “outsider” music in the underground these days, and it’s not hard to see why. In a world where our lives are ever-increasingly colonised by market values, it’s a blessed relief to hear music created without mercenary motives. Now, while Ariel Pink isn’t insane or mentally handicapped, he’s still as “outside” as you might want him to be. Until Animal Collective happened upon him during a West Coast tour, this Los Angeles native was recording in relative seclusion, and had been releasing his music on home-burned CD-R’s for years. Thankfully, some of his material from the last few years is finally getting a proper release on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label–the first of the label’s releases to not feature any Animal Collective members–and it’s gorgeous.
It’s interesting to note that graffiti was the preferred aesthetic inspiration for the French Art Brut movement–some of the earliest proponents of so-called outsider art–and the day-glo scrawls of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti would do the Brutists proud, sublime and untutored as they are. The songs on The Doldrums were recorded in Ariel Pink’s home with guitar, bass, and keyboards (the drums sounds are, unbelievably, created entirely with his mouth), and the sound is damaged, lo-fi dream-pop, nearly muffled by effervescent blankets of reverb.
Ariel appears on his website with Aladdin Sane-style face paint (seemingly drawn over a photograph with magic marker) and Bowie might not be a bad reference point for the weirdly unique vocal melodies and otherworldly range of croons, whispers, and howls that come drifting out of this album in multi-tracked layers. The naked, unselfconscious quality of the vocal delivery calls to mind intense avant-pop acts like Xiu Xiu or Frog Eyes, just as the cough-syrup haze of guitar and keyboard noise bears comparison with Avey Tare and Panda Bear’s first album, or even the more pastoral psychedelia of the Jewelled Antler Collective’s circle of bands.
All this wouldn’t be worth much if the songs weren’t good, but the melodies here are undeniable: naive, wistful, melancholy, genuinely personal and, yeah, haunted for sure. This album is, admittedly, not for those who prefer their music polished or precise (it actually sounds like it may have been recorded inside a sock), but for lovers of four-track recluses and contemporary psych-pop, this is a must-have.