Art by Jason S
Will Schube’s discography can be pieced together with a bit of kragle
Can the auteur theory be applied to musicians? If the term sheds its cinematic boundaries, my candidate is R. Stevie Moore. He’s a Nashville-born, New Jersey-residing pop musician with the discography of 50 Guided By Voices. That’s not to equate quality with quantity, but the sheer work ethic of such a collection is inspiring and, quite frankly, maniacal. Moore’s a one man operation who handles and oversees every aspect of the music process from recording to mailing his records.
As his notoriety has risen, Moore’s become inundated with orders, presenting a real catch-22 for his fans: Do we want to hear his old stuff or give him time to record new material? With Moore’s DIY state of affairs, “both” is not an option. The fact that we’re even able to hear Moore’s music is rather miraculous, as the idea of a sixty-something experimental pop musician working out of his bedroom isn’t the sort of headline we’re attracted to—a lot less talented people have become a lot more famous.
Moore seems to be cursed with the “wrong place wrong time” syndrome. Just take a look at Ariel Pink. Pink was etched in Stevie Moore’s image, and it’s likely because of Pink that Moore’s even a figure today—despite how slight that shadow may loom.
There aren’t too many folks insane enough (or that have enough time on their hands) to sort through Moore’s discography and find the gems. But most folks aren’t Ariel Pink. He started in 2006. This “obsessive curation,” as it’s referred to in the press release, has resulted in Ariel Pink’s Picks Vol. 1. Compilations are a tricky business but Pink and Personal Injury Records do a great job showcasing a deep crevice of Moore’s world, while hinting at the infinite songs, EPs and albums still out there. Pink’s Picks leaves you wanting more.
It’s hard not to put Moore’s music within the context of Pink—the two are stylistic a-alikes in a genre they dominate. Moore is perhaps not the provocateur Pink is, but he still displays an unrelenting energy that demands the listener yield to his musical whims and not the other way around. Pink’s Picks is a lightning ride through Moore’s brain, showcasing hair-melting psychedelia, acoustic ballads, straight up pop, and Latin-influenced guitar experiments. The album begins with “Mason Jar,” a track that finds itself somewhere between Jimi Hendrix’s guitar destruction and Pink’s spastic vocal delivery. It becomes increasingly clear as the record progresses that Pink is indebted to Moore in more ways than one.
“She’s Dead” begins with Moore’s voice, unaccompanied by instruments, taking on an affected English accent. He sings, “This morning was a tragedy / I was alright ’til she came down / Then I went into a state of frenzy / She’s dead.” Sounding weirdly like Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, Moore recounts a story about a deceased love one. It feels inappropriate to question Moore’s seriousness, but there’s a palpable deadpan wit to his delivery . A lot of Moore’s music is silly and playful, but always serves more than a novel or kitschy purpose. “My Bad Music” may be the best example. The track is 60s Beatles conversing with the Smith Westerns. Moore’s lyrics reflexively introduce what’s to come: “Here’s the most beautiful song ever written! And I’m gonna perform it for you right now!” The chorus consists of an undecorated, “You can watch me play electric guitar / electric guitar / electric guitar.” There’s nothing overtly complex about Moore’s music, but the process of his creation is remarkably involved.
Pink’s Picks has given another life to an artist seemingly placed in the wrong era. Moore’s discography is revived, thanks to Ariel Pink’s now distinct clout. But this would mean nothing without the merit of the music. Moore’s pop creations are mystical and magical, hilarious and sad. The work stands on its own, Moore just needed a little push. The compilation’s title, Pink’s Picks Vol. 1, suggests there’s more to come. If the following editions are anything like the first, the story of Stevie has only just begun again.