Should We Take Ariel Pink Seriously?

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Taking a page out of the Sky Ferreira handbook on how to generate buzz, Ariel Pink’s latest press photos feature the Los-Angeles based purveyor of bizarro bedroom recordings lounging on some grass in a flowing white onesie. One hand softly touches his chest in a coy “Who, me?” sort of gesture, the gauzy folds of his Oregon Trail loungewear revealing… why, yes, that’s his nipple.

Now, part of Pink’s charm has always been subverting ideas of normalcy; that’s been the one tenet he’s stuck to since his early forays into the kitschy lo-fi that populated The Doldrums, House Arrest, and Worn Copy (and would later get him noticed by Animal Collective, who signed him to their label Paw Tracks and invited him to tour with them). And I’m a firm believer that anyone may show their nipples at any time they would like – particularly breast-feeding mothers – though I get the feeling that this isn’t exactly a #FreeTheNipple protest piece so much as a cheap sort of laugh for someone whose attitude can be seen as increasingly juvenile.

With the release of 2010’s Before Today and its lead single “Round and Round,” it seemed like Ariel Pink was about to grow up a little, and a lot of people took notice. He appeared on magazine covers too numerous to name. Pitchfork recently named “Round and Round” the second best track best of the decade so far (albeit a somewhat arbitrary distinction considering we’re only three and half years in), second only to Grimes’ “Oblivion.” And after the release of Mature Themes in 2012, Simon Reynolds of The Guardian called him “one of decade’s most influential indie musicians.” That record, though, was a bit ironically named, considering it saw Pink return to his typically terse, goofy lyrics and squirm-worthy vocal percussion techniques on tracks like “Schnitzel Boogie” and “Pink Slime.” At the same time, though, there were gems like “Only In My Dreams” and the dazzling cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson’s “Baby,” which featured Dam Funk.

On November 18th, Pink plans to release a seventeen-track double LP entitled pom pom (you can pre-order it today). The first single, “Put Your Number in My Phone,” straddles that line between earnest and outré as well as any quintessential Pink track will; over softly strummed guitar, his wistfully reverbed vocals implore potential partners to provide him with the digits necessary to make his dreams come true. He wants “time alone,” he wants to “get to know you more,” he wants you to, uhhh, tame his gypsy heart and call him a butterfly. He includes a voicemail from “Jessica” who met him at a taco truck in Silver Lake, according to her message. He hasn’t called her back, and she’s just wondering, you know, when that might happen. Apparently she is unaware he’s been busy penning songs about Jell-O, nude beaches, and something called “Carebear Dinosaurs.”

There’s no way to know, of course, if the message is real. But it does seem Pink’s having some trouble in the dating department, which could account for the OKCupid-profile-esque nature of “Put Your Number In My Phone.” Not long ago, he tweeted that he’d been maced, and in Alexi Wasser’s brilliant series Alexi In Bed, she asked him more specifically what had happened. While Wasser provides some much-needed eye-rolling, Pink goes on to describe being maced by a “feminist” who had “daddy issues” after he listened to her problems all night but refused to buy her a smoothie in the morning. Apparently the woman, whom he dated primarily because she had no idea who Pink was, also damaged his car. He also refers to himself as a genius in the clip.

So while the nip slip in his promo photos might be a goofy little joke from someone clearly unafraid to look like a buffoon, Wasser’s interview shows someone who actually is just kind of out of touch with reality, and might not even know how off the mark he is – a sort of self-absorbed blockhead who can’t really relate to people around him. The boundaries he pushes musically still feel revolutionary, but when it comes to interacting with other human beings, boundaries are there for a reason. It’s fine to make art that is strange, must be pondered, even makes people uncomfortable, but it feels inauthentic when there’s no reason behind it, when it’s just a kid doing it for shits and giggles. And Pink isn’t a kid anymore. He’s very much an adult, though it often feels like he’s clinging to some mischievous adolescent tendencies he’d be better off to leave behind.

Somehow, there’s always potential for Pink to wow no matter how many missteps he makes. His artistic quirks can be brilliant, and he fearlessly takes them all to their limits. Also, it should be noted that Pink has enlisted a few collaborators for the record, like Kim Fowley, who co-wrote songs with Pink while battling cancer. One thing Pink’s always seemed to sense is his place in the oddball cannon, repping artists like R. Stevie Moore and transforming John Maus from philosopher and classical pianist to avant-garde synthpop wunderkind. Pink says this is the “least solo” record he’s ever recorded, so here’s hoping there were folks around to temper his eccentricities – not so much that they aren’t present on record, but hopefully enough so that listeners don’t have to enjoy it with any caveats or postscripts.

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