The only thing Haunted Graffiti got Douglas Martin is a ticket for public vandalism.
People I know have been talking a lot about some guy named Ariel Pink; his name has been rumbling around campus for quite some time. When I first heard his name, he was taken in by Animal Collective, that clique of kinda-weird band kids who wear masks and play hacky sack out in the courtyard during lunch. Soon enough, he started passing this tape around called The Doldrums, which sounded pretty much like a cross between Beat Happening and a bunch of obscure groups from AM radio, which unfortunately didn’t turn out as cool as it sounds. There’s just something about him that I can’t figure out: I can’t tell if his whole shtick is hyper-ironic appreciation or if it’s some sort of weird reverence to styles that are totally uncool.
I remember hearing something about him being on house arrest or something, but the person who told me that also started a rumor about Davy Berman and Billy Oldham starting a band or something, so I don’t really trust his word. Anyway, there was another tape from that period, and we just called it House Arrest because of the rumors. It wasn’t as meandering, but it was still pretty weird. Ariel started playing shows at teen centers and stuff and people really weren’t into it. I thought he would be one of those guys in the far corner of the lunchroom playing D&D until he graduated, but something happened the summer between junior and senior year: He became… cool.
You see, last year, all of the popular kids started being really friendly with those Animal Collective hacky sack dudes and they eventually became the coolest crew in town. A whole bunch of zines wrote about this CD they made and titled after some amphitheater in Maryland or whatever; to me it was okay, but it just sounded like this band from down the street called High Places, only without the cute girl singing. When the Animal Collective guys got popular, more people started talking about Ariel Pink, too.
I just saw Ariel Pink hanging out with Vivian Girls! You know, those cute punk girls with the leather jackets with the name of their clique on the back? And the new kid, the Neon Indian? He seems to be really influenced by Ariel. Why does everybody like the weird kids all of a sudden? Not only that, but I heard Ariel just got hired by 4AD. The Pixies used to work there! The Pixies! What is happening? It’s like the whole world is turning upside down.
You’ll never guess what happened to me. I actually met Ariel. We didn’t talk for a very long time; I just told him that I heard a lot about him around school and he passed me this 7”. He’s got a single! On vinyl! I didn’t even look at the cover when I put it in my backpack, because I was so excited to play it on the record player my parents got me for my birthday. When I got home, I looked at the cover, and it was a drawing of a boy tongue-kissing a dog. Like, passionately tongue-kissing. Looks like being cool sure hasn’t pared down his weirdness. Anyway, the single had a song called “Round and Round” on it, and I put the needle on it, and it wasn’t even recorded like crap or anything! It’s probably the best song I’ve heard from him yet; it sounded like Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear covering Donna Summer or one of my mom’s other old disco records. I heard he recorded it with Quincy Jones’ grandson or something, which would be kind of hard to believe if it didn’t sound like it. I have to try to hang out with this guy or something.
I got home really late last night. I was hanging out with Ariel. I was on my way home from baseball practice, and this red Fiat slows down beside me. Ariel was in the driver’s seat. The passenger seat was empty, and he told me to get in. I declined because my parents were going out of town and I wanted to watch the Spice Channel in the living room. He didn’t give me a choice. I shrugged my shoulders and hopped in. We zoomed off and he popped a tape into the cassette deck as I closed my eyes. There was a shuffling beat and some schmaltzy saxophones, with some dude shouting “Hot tub! Get into my hot tub!” Was this some weird James Brown cover I was listening to? “This song coming up is called ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’,” Ariel told me. It was a really upbeat number, something they would play on a cruise ship commercial or something. It was incredible.
Ariel decided to take me to his dad’s place, because he and his band practices in the garage. They took a few minutes to set up, and then they played me some more songs, each sounding like the AM radio tunes he’s always been doing, only far more focused. Like, they actually sound like a mixtape of songs on AM radio instead of just some weird dude singing over a radio with a bad signal. The musicianship was stellar, with Ariel and his band going from doing the Animal Collective-like drumming on “L’estat (according to the widow’s maid)” and switching right back to a lounge lizard number in the same song. A lot of the numbers had a sort of shuffle that you don’t really hear in contemporary music anymore, and songs like “Beverly Kills” and “Can’t Hear My Eyes” are bolstered by these cheesy DeBarge-like synths that I would think were corny if the songwriting wasn’t so strong.
They played a little instrumental called “Reminiscences” that had more of those synths, but it was tangled up with a bassline that was really, really infectious. The song after that, “Menopause Man”, was the one that shocked me a little, with its slap-bass and lyrics glossing over transsexual themes, all tied together by a big chorus and a super complex rhythmic shift in the pre-chorus. It was one of those moments where I was simultaneously amazed and totally freaked out.
On the way home, Ariel played the last song I heard, “Revolution’s a Lie”, which sounded like some weird, dark new-wave track with a bunch of weird found-sounds and machine gun sound effects. It was a weird, jarring way to end the night, but it made me want to relive the entirety of it again.
As Ariel pulled into my driveway, I realized that no amount of popularity was going to change who he was. Weird. But with the songs I heard, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
MP3: Ariel Pink – “Round and Round”