If you too have been waiting for the band that can capture the sound of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog kickin’ it to a Rick James slow jam at Studio 54 circa 1979 after several hits on a buddy’s bong, well, friend, you’ve just found the right record. Ballsy, utterly unafraid to challenge as it thrills, and storming with ideas and the influences that made them possible, Before Today is a sonic melting pot that stirs together nearly every great thing that’s happened in music over the past several decades. That may sound like a lot to ask of a record, but that’s exactly the aim these songs set their sights on. And they come so close to nailing their target that you can hardly believe your ears.
Before Today is like just about any other Ariel Pink record: It is an uneven album that devastates at its best moments—“Fright Night,” “Hot Body Rub,” “Beverly Kills”—and merely amuses at others. But it never wastes your time and always leaves you with the impression that you’ve had the rare experience of hearing a sound you’ve never heard before. If you’re enough of a badass, though, you actually have heard these sounds before, in their rawer incarnations on previous LPs like House Arrest, Worn Copy or The Dolrums from the Paw Tracks label that once served exclusively as a vehicle for the work of Animal Collective.
Or maybe “rawer” doesn’t quite do it (Hint: It doesn’t). Anthony Fantano over at The Needle Drop says that Ariel’s earlier stuff reminds him of “a cassette tape covered in filth, soaked in urine, and thrown in the microwave for five minutes just for good measure before you place it into the tape player.” Um, yeah—that definitely does it. If you still don’t get it, then tracks like “Life in L.A.” or “Every Night I Die at Miyagi’s” ought to clue you in. Speaking of the era of cassettes, filth and urine, the album’s cover art brings to mind the cover of the Beastie Boys’ urban epic of 1988, Paul’s Boutique, and conveys the sense that you’re about to enter a glitteringly decorated but overlooked nightclub somewhere out in a part of L.A. where you’re as likely to get shot as you are to get lit.
Ariel Pink is not a band but a single man working out of Southern Cali by the name of Ariel Marcus Rosenberg. Haunted Graffiti is the backing band that taps the drums to his jokes. Pink is a very strange man, yes, but if strange sounds this good here’s hoping that he gets much, much stranger in the years ahead.