17 December 2010

2010 Albums: Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti, Backyard Tire Fire

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Before Today
Released June 8, 2010 (4AD)

Short Notes: Scenester, Animal Collective bud washes off the taint of association, gets hi-fi.

Hot off the heels of yesterday's anointment of "Round and Round" (this album's "single") as the track of the year by the folks over at Pitchfork, this record now comes with the endorsement of (at least) half the writers here at She's Making Whoopee in Hell. Like the Beach House record we'll be reviewing in a few days, Before Today represents not only the "mainstream" debut of one of indie rock's recent touchstones, but the mainstreaming of a major indie sub-genre, so-called "chillwave," or what I like to call, simply, "cheap synthesizer pop." But none of the backstory really matters, thankfully, for your listening enjoyment. As a pop fan, there's a ton to like about this record. Ariel Pink's a hell of a songwriter, and it sounds like (in Pollardesque fashion--not that this sounds like GBV), he's learned to keep the lo-fi affect from getting in the way of the hooks. Unlike a lot of the major indie releases we've got on tap for this project, this record succeeds entirely as a pop record first, which is rare enough. And do have a listen to "Round and Round," which I really wish I'd had for those long summer afternoons of driving. It's outstanding. Highly recommended.

Feel free to chalk this one up to me just not getting it -- because I just don't get it. Somehow, the album doesn't hit (or hit close enough to) my musical touchstones. Maybe I'm just too uncool and old-fogeyish and lack the will to discover (or put up with) the new trends. Much of the album sounds like half-baked ideas resurrected from demo cassettes recorded in 1983. I can't say the production reflects that metaphor, but it [the production] is a big reason I do not like the album: it's hard for me to stomach the "washed out" sound -- akin to turning the contrast way up on your monitor -- that's been perpetuated recently by bands like Animal Collective. Pink may have some songwriting chops ("Butt-House Blondies" and "Little Wig" are alright) but it's not immediately obvious, buried under everything else.

Backyard Tire Fire
Good To Be
Released February 16, 2010 (Kelsey Street Records)

This should be right up my alley (and actually, I did enjoy their last record). Lead singer Ed Anderson has a nasal yelp that reminds me, occasionally, of Jim Heath (the good Reverend Horton Heat), and the band has a style that recalls the Bottle Rockets, but this record just doesn't bring the quality songs. There's a lot of decent pieces here (and an appealing southern gothic vibe), but the whole just isn't the sum of the parts. The funny songs aren't really funny ("Brady"), and the serious songs aren't tugging my heartstrings ("Food For Though," "Once Upon a Time"). Definitely sounds like a band not entirely able to translate the energy of the live show onto wax. Too bad.

Backyard Tire Fire's 2007 LP Vagabonds and Hooligans was one of the more pleasant albums I've discovered by randomly picking it up. This album sounds much the same; Anderson's fairly distinctive voice and the production are the two closest connections. The songs, too, sound familiar. There'd be some points off for that even if retreads of brilliance are still brilliant. Unfortunately, the songwriting isn't at the same level -- which only enhances the been-here-done-that feeling. The second half improves things a bit, highlighted by "Hell and Back," which reminds me of a poppier Jay Farrar, followed by the title track and "A Thousand Gigs Ago," which would be a much better song if it didn't trade on so many clich├ęs. Still, a couple of mix-worthy tracks don't make an album.

1 comment:

man with no name said...

I'm really warming up to Ariel Pink (or at least to their music -- I might be getting a little too old for the in-your-face collateral weirdness).

I shut off that Backyard Tire Fire song 0:50 in.