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Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - The Doldrums

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Artist: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Album: The Doldrums

Label: Paw Tracks

Review date: Sep. 27, 2004


Los Angeles is another world how much Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's The Doldrums has to do with that city is debatable, but it echoes some of L.A.'s hallmarks and minor cultural deities. For the last half century, Los Angeles displaced New York as the dominant image of America or, at least, the one place large enough to accommodate the multiplicity of images of America. The city has, in turn, produced art and music that tests the boundaries between pop culture and the subversion of it, between pleasure and pain, between our dreams and the banality of the reality that is sometimes born from those dreams. In art, David Hockney's "Splash," a flat, mundane depiction of a swimming pool atop the hills of Los Angeles with no sign of life except a splash in the pool, the mark of a diver disappeared beneath the water's surface. In music, Love created a minor masterpiece in Forever Changes, which infused psychedelic pop songs with harmonic tension and sullen vocal overtones. The perfect soundtrack for Los Angeles, or, at least, its dizzying concrete arteries and places of commerce unbound freedom with nowhere to go.

The Doldrums is actually a reissue of two tapes recorded at the Los Angeles home of Ariel Pink (one man) on an eight-track from 1999-2000 and 2001-2003, using a guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals the beats are all created by voice. It's no grand statement on the scale of Bruce Nauman or Frank Zappa, two other fundamentally disturbing children of Los Angeles, but it fits comfortably within this minor tradition. These are pop songs, but damaged ones, brimming with enough unidentifiable or unsettling sounds and experimentation to undermine the easily accessible elements that place them in that category.

The 15 songs on The Doldrums are off-kilter with fairly straightforward structures and instrumentation, reminiscent of early Beck with the slight dementia of Gary Wilson or Scott Walker. The abstracted pop sensibility is marked by vocal harmonies and primitive electronics. Child-like wails and lyrics that relate such enduring truths as "growing up isn't half as fun as growing down" immediately invoke Animal Collective, which released The Doldrums under the aegis of its Paw Tracks label. The defining characteristic of The Doldrums is the fidelity of the recording, which is very low ambience shrouds the actual songs and becomes the most prominent player. The flatness, along with constant tape hiss and warble, create a landscape that is appealing and monotonous in the same way as Hockney's hilltop poolside scene. The intentional low fidelity, which might be an example from an audio engineering title entitled "How Not to Record Your Own Music," overshadows the songwriting, which may or may not be to Ariel Pink's advantage. It creates a hauntingly beautiful aural tableau, an environment of sameness that pushes the actual songs to the periphery some of these songs lack the panache to be heard above the white noise.

While there wasn't much progression in Ariel Pink's songwriting over those four years, it actually works to the album's advantage. As songs cut out and in over one another, the record takes the shape of a collage in which each image is an artifact that has lost its grain for the greater good of the whole. On "Envelopes Another Day," Mr. Pink playfully wails something that sounds like "in the grave silence" again and again, accompanied by a thin Casio string section and a second version of his own voice. It's reminiscent of one of Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha's works, a series of aerial photographs of parking lots in Los Angeles focusing on the subtle stains that emerge like clouds from the ground. The Doldrums encapsulates the same sense of vague dread, acquiescent but unafraid.

By Alexander Provan

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