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Even in His Youth

On Waiting For Ariel Pink's Warped Pop Songs to Catch Up to The Now Adult Artist

REFLECTIVE: Despite his low profile, Ariel "Pink" Rosenberg is busy.

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 7/30/2008

During the confessional intro to "Don't Talk to Strangers"--from 2006's Lover Boy--Ariel "Pink" Rosenberg candidly laid out what was already becoming his compositional calling card: "I recorded this song from memory, I heard it a long time ago/ I don't know who wrote it, I don't know who sang it, I don't know where it came from, I don't know why/ But I just know that I heard it, somewhere, sometime, and I just need to put it back out there, you know?"

Indeed, the scores of mold-coated tunes this prolific Californian has written suggest late 20th century pop fare--albeit filtered through Pink's mouth-breathing, warped, no-fi home-recording techniques and outfitted with vocally generated, hyper-hiccuped percussion. One of the more startling examples of this can be found on last year's Scared Famous, where the Jolt-wired "Are You Gonna Look After My Boys?" comes this close to stealing the hook from Deniece Williams' 1984 Footloose-featured hit "Let's Hear It for the Boy." Guitar lines waver like an unbalanced turntable and slanted, psychedelically enchanted synth runs through the surrounding sonic smog as Pink--who is as likely to pull out a burnout's hateful mumble as he is to veer into a manic, nuts-in-a-vise falsetto--eagerly regurgitates (but doesn't cover) everything from the Fall to skull-crushing prog to Motown to sun-kissed Fleetwood Mac to hapless Herman's Hermits to prime Michael Jackson, even as Pink reps for Ethiopia's Roha Band and 15th-century Flemish composer Josquin Des Prés in interviews.

After a wowed Animal Collective willed him out of obscurity in 2003, Pink, who had mostly been self-releasing tapes, signed to the AC-affiliated label Paw Tracks. Between 2004 and '06, the imprint reissued and promoted the bejesus out of the despondent, love-sick The Doldrums, the misanthropic tour de force Worn Copy, and the contagiously ebullient House Arrest. Immediately thereafter, the full-court media press stopped dead. Pink's frequent tours roared on, but information about his activities became much harder to come by, and recordings--now tougher to track down--began flowing through no-name labels such as Tiny Creatures, Melted Mailbox, Manimal Vinyl, Mistletone, and Human Ear Music.

In an e-mail interview, Pink addressed the fact of his recent evasiveness thusly: "That's good. You've been staying abreast. Write me on MySpace. No need to feel out of touch. I'm here for you. Busy working with the band; had recorded a lot solo. Come to the shows and you will find the full array of recorded musical products." This implies a protectiveness characteristic of DIY antecedents such as R. Stevie Moore and Syd Barrett, prodigious-if-sensitive talents who spurned the media spotlight, and Pink contemporaries such as Mount Eerie/Microphones auteur Phil Elverum, who abandoned K Records at the height of his indie-level fame to launch a boutique label and diversify his output. Pink, Moore, and Elverum also appear determined to control and cultivate a mystique, an admittedly foreign concept in the Internet Age.

The relative pastness of Pink's disseminated output isn't limited to his cornucopia of influences; the lion's share of his material was committed to tape between 1998 and 2003, before anybody knew who he was, and represents the gradual clearing out of a several hundred songs-deep war chest. The effect, aurally, is much like sorting through a time capsule of someone else's that was unearthed way too early.

"Since I've achieved popularity, I've written very little--since around 2003," Pink admits in the same e-mail. "I write all the time--in a sense--but I've yet to fully express myself as someone who is aware he has an audience. I want to address my life today; I'm biding my time, staying active, ever hopeful that one day I will have a less overwhelming workload."

The Pink of "House Arrest"--about crashing his dad's car and subsequently being stuck at home--is likely pretty far removed from the married, globetrotting Pink of today. And while there's no resisting the crushing, blared ambition behind the "Trepanted Earth" trilogy, the skipping-stone bounce of "For Kate I Wait," the post-Guided by Voices gem "Oblivious Peninsula," or the willful sci-fi spackle-crackle of "Blue Straws," their creator has doubtless grown as a songwriter in recent years. Surely he has much to say about present circumstances, about his brush with Pitchfork fame, about the rigors and stresses of life on the road, about his recent illustration and painting work. ("I have good rendering abilities," he writes. "But not much to say, basically." Let's call bullshit on that right now--this is the dude who spun a rumination about the hit-or-miss nature of his own songwriting into a melodic home run titled "Interesting Results.")

It'd be a gas to watch him break free of his comfort zone, take some actual chances, and forge some daring alliances à la Bonnie "Prince" Billie (Superwolf), Islands' Nick Thorburn (Human Highway), or Elverum, who recently made an album with Julie Doiron. The recording Pink conceived with pal Matt Fishbeck under the name Holy Shit, 2006's Stranded at Two Harbors, wasn't a huge deviation from Pink's other releases in terms of songwriting style, but it may offer a glimpse of what's to come, eventually: cleaner lines and less fuzz and mud.

Pink claims he has been logging studio time lately; hopefully he's serious, and hopefully we'll hear the evidence sooner than later. As fun as it's been and as fun as it remains to pore over four-track documentation of his devil-may-care youth, a slightly more polished portrait of the artist as a thirtysomething--or maybe, in Pink's case, a bent envelope full of Polaroids--would beat the tar out of another slapped-together oldies CD-R. His audience expects nothing less, and we won't wait forever.

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