By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
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By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
No matter how bright the pop star, such illumed objects always cast shadows. Perhaps not always in Hollywood Babylon proportions, but you can hear dark shades on bootlegs of the '60s favorite sons: the Beatles ragged and peevish on the Get Back sessions; a drunk and debauched exchange between Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison on Wake Up This Morning & Find Myself Dead. And then there's Adult Child, a lurid recording of Brian Wilson at his pharmaceutically induced nadir in the mid-'70s, crooning about putting makeup on young girls and teaching them to shave their legs, and insisting that "Life Is for Living" while in the clutches of agoraphobia.
Just as Wilson was briefly deluded into thinking that he was Frank Sinatra (or the babysitter), Ariel Pink believes he's channeling Wilson. Or perhaps the Raspberries, maybe even Hall & Oates, or a corroded tape of a vintage AM broadcast. Stumbling onto the music of Ariel Pink leads most dumbfounded listeners to mention radio stations from a parallel universe, where studio-buffed singles and "focus tracks" are aired at 3:00 a.m. and stoned outtakes were in heavy rotation.
Ariel Pink, with or without his "band" the Haunted Graffiti (all of which is in fact Beverly Hills native Ariel Rosenberg), could be a dimpled child actor, familiar yet forgotten and since gone to seed in Hollywood. Pink's sound world takes its cues from shadowy, shoddy bootleg recordings; 10th-generation tape dubs of a K-Tel comp; the inept song-poems once advertised in the back of pulp magazines; infomercial soundbeds; the lo-fi DIY aesthetic as practiced by R. Stevie Moore, Jandek, Lou Barlow, and Robert Pollard. In the murk of such vagaries and lost pop songs, Ariel Pink thrives like some sort of black mold.
House Arrest is the fifth in a series of eight homemade CDs he dubbed onto an old 8-track between 2001 and 2003 and the third to see legitimate release. House tempers the ADD prog-operas of last year's Worn Copy but has a similar insouciance. It's pop, but the kind you might have heard on the jukebox in an alcoholic blackout.
Listening through an entire Ariel Pink album can be arduous work, disorienting and affecting to the point where the music itself becomes the drug. "Gettin' High in the Morning" is as dim, intoxicated, and incoherent as its title suggests, all flanged to where the song distends like strands of spittle. Midway, it tightens up just long enough to make you think that it might sound good blaring out of a convertible, alternately supine and snappy. But is it all a put-on?
Case in point is "Interesting Results," a song about making up a song. You can almost hear Pink roll out of bed to wake and bake as he mumbles: "Will I write a song you love today?/There's no way to tell and who cares? Well I don't." Is it a casual or causal process, you wonder as the tune repeats lines like "I'm not gonna try anymore" and switches "interesting results" with "extraterrestrial results." As the idea peters out, he grumbles a challenge at us: "It may not be much but let's see you try."
Elsewhere, snippets of Davy Jones from the Monkees, a lick from the Byrds, and an answering machine message from Ariel's father's bubble up. The catchy "West Coast Calamities" chunters about natural disasters and a motel dalliance, with Pink expectorating a choice line: "I want a chick who puts up with my shit and puts out/Like a little girl scout." He too wishes they all could be California girls.