Culturespill » Ariel pink’s Haunted graffiti

Best Albums of 2011 Series: “Elephants at the Door,” Dumbo Gets Mad

9th December

Read nearly anything about Elephants at the Door by Dumbo Gets Mad—the nom de plume adopted by a twenty-something kid out of Northern Italy whose dreamy eyes and killer ‘stache bring to mind some younger, hipper understudy of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood—and you almost certainly will come across the following descriptive: psychedelic. Let’s be clear, Elephants at the Door is a terrific record deserving of much of the praise lavished upon it since “Plumy Tale” blew the fuse box of the music blogosphere last year. But to slap it with the “psychedelic” tag both undermines and mischaracterizes its achievement.

The term “psychedelic” is tossed around so frequently these days it’s become about as helpful a way of describing a band’s sound as “indie.” Anyone who has listened to After Bathing at Baxter’s, Skip Spence’s brilliant Oar, or even “Jugband Blues”—the lone Syd Barrett track on Pink Floyd’s 1968 sophomore effort, A Saucerful of Secrets—knows that genuine psychedelia is not something you bob your head to in your Prius on the way to the wheat grass bar. It’s something you hear before shouting “what the #@*% was that?” and looking funny at the friend who played it for you after lighting another roach.


Even some of the most deliberate stabs at psychedelia that emerged from the era in which the sound was invented—records likePet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers—still indulge the abandon, whimsy and discord that comprise the fundament of true psychedelia. What we have in Elephants at the Door, on the other hand, is far more calculated than all that. That it nonetheless keeps the listener dazzled for the span of at least eight of its ten tight tracks is an accomplishment that cannot be overstated. Simply put, this is a pop record, and a damned good one. Albeit with elephant noises and a band name taken from the hallucination sequence in the Disney classic Dumbo.

Elephants wastes no time winning you over with its peculiar and warm-hearted charm. Sure, you swear you heard the opening track’s burst of birds and bubbles somewhere on the first MGMT record (Hint: you did). And OK, maybe “Plumy Tale’s” gorgeous organ riff sounds an awful lot like somebody slipped some Ambien into the cocktail that once brought The Caesars’ “Jerk it Out” to an iPod commercial near you. But so what? No record that boasts its influences as abundantly as this one is aiming for originality—and thank God for that, since most records that do are pretty much bound to suck.

Dumbo is not the guy who breaks the ground; he’s the guy who shows up after the ground’s been broken and plants the most amazing daffodils in the cracks left behind. “Ecclectic Prawn” channels Odelay-era Beck while “Why Try” plays like a Portishead track filtered through a Tindersticks song. The ghost of John Bonham haunts several tracks with throbbing drums straight out of “When the Levee Breaks,” and some distinctly Bowie-esque vocals erupt out of the frothing, intergalactic stew that is “Harmony.” With its dueling synthesizers laid over a low-fi feast of jangling guitars and cymbal-heavy drum machine beats, “Harmony” sounds as much at home on a record as it might be in the Labyrinthe Zone of Sonic the Hedgehog.

This is a record for those who stumbled late to the altar of The Flaming Lips upon hearing The Soft Bulletin, music for people who stuck with last year’s Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti record for long enough to recognize its brilliance. Elephants never comes quite as unhinged as either of those records; these songs are composed, tightly packed things that never stray far from their creator’s guiding hand. But Dumbo’s stated affection for Captain Beefheart and his ardent embrace of the “psychedelic” label—however imprecise it may be—suggests that more daring experiments may be on the way. If Elephants is any indication, whatever he comes up with next will be well worth the wait.

Oh, yeah, and you can download the whole thing for free–as long as you promise to Tweet about it first. Check it out here. And if you’re yet to hear the sick “mix tape” Dumbo Gets Mad put out, you owe it to yourself. Check it out over at Anthony Fantano’s blog, The Needle Drop.

Gianmarc Manzione

Follow Culturespill on Twitter
Follow Culturespill on Facebook

Best Albums of 2010 Series: “Before Today,” Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

13th December

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.


Ariel Pink playing Echoplex in L.A.

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.

Gianmarc Manzione