In the late eighties, a succession of lemon vehicles and financial problems led my family to procure from my uncle a run-down, rust orange 1975 Chevrolet Impala out of desperation. Un-affectionately referred to as Big Red, the “boat” was somewhat of an ugly embarrassment, and its exhaust production was so profuse that I don’t doubt that it could have single-handedly instigated our growing global warming crisis. Still, it got us around just fine, and I now remember it with more fondness than any other car my family had during my childhood.
Seemingly exclusive to the period of the Impala, my dad tuned in to a 70s/80s soft rock station on a constant basis. This incessant radio listening and genre choice is one that I have never witnessed my dad repeat in any other car or at any other time in his life; it is as if the Impala itself demanded its own soundtrack, reliving its faded glory days back in the summer of ’75 with songs like “Jackie Blue” and “Summer Breeze” still blowing through its speakers. Big Red has now long since met the junkyard, but my secret fondness for large American sedans, the color of rust, and, most of all, the music of Seals & Crofts, Hall & Oates, Christopher Cross, and many other fine artists still remains. Judging from his band’s first full-length effort for label 4AD, Ariel Pink must have a similar fossil fuel-consuming dinosaur in his past. Fully inhaling the carcinogenic particulate cloud of bygone pop eras, Pink has constructed a masterpiece of yacht rock, synth pop, TV show theme songs, and much, much more.
I wish I had that ‘75 Impala today, so that I could pop in a cassette of Before Today and drive around town listening to these would-have-been-on-the-Time-Life-compilation classics. Big Red would have let these tracks breeze through its speakers with nary a backfire. “Round And Round” is more than a great sing-along; it pulls out all the compositional stops with pre-choruses, bridges, and breakdowns all over the place. Meanwhile, “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is the soft grooving #1 hit that Hall & Oates forgot to write. The impeccable vintage production work is lovingly crafted just for my Impala’s speakers, while the at times cartoonish vocal parts that burst out at random times imply that Pink shares with many of us that same complex love-hate relationship with this pop detritus to which he pays homage. Some sort of ironic wink exists with every song on the album. One example is “Fright Night (Nevermore),” in which Pink sings his own line “Knock knock on the door three times! Baby, knock knock on the door!” like it’s an irritating jingle he can’t get out of his head. Most undercutting is the final track, which, while sounding like a murky, authentic reproduction of early British post-punk, proclaims somewhat cynically the anti-punk, anti-idealist declaration that “Revolution’s a lie.” Pink’s songs do bring back that pleasant summer breeze of years past, but they bring with it the embarrassing exhaust, the rust, the broken door handles, and the guilt of a pop culture environmental catastrophe.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Released: June 8, 2010