Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Worn Copy (2003)
Recorded in 2002/2003, and originally released in 2003 on Rhystop, this album reached a larger audience when Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint re-released it in 2005.
Start with: "Artifact", "Credit", or "The Drummer"
Why it’s worth revisiting: Clever and compelling Ariel Pink compositions effectively presented in the thought-provoking context of lo-fi soundscapes.
The rather epic “Trepanated Earth” starts the album with a groovy off- kilter instrumental section that plays with time signatures as it increases in intensity. It employs characteristic AP spoken sound-collage before launching into an episodic series of twists and turns as it takes on new tempos, stylings, and vocals, only to shed those before long and shift in another direction. It becomes clear through repetition that there is a method to the madness though, and –rather brilliantly– a form after all. Clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, it’s a bold first track. Hooky verses and choruses swiftly move the considerably shorter “Immune to Emotion” along, while “Jules Lost His Jewels” charms with its affable chord changes and melody that emerge from the opaquely “lo-fi”* sonic palette used throughout this song collection.
The unsettling and beautiful “Artifact” succeeds in striking a particular tone and feeling that warrants special attention and repeated listenings. Like many AP songs on this and albums around this period, accurately hearing every lyric is a nigh impossible challenge, and perhaps that too is with intention. On a song like this standout, the listener is immersed in a microcosm that may lie in the past, present, future, or all the above simultaneously. The album’s title, Worn Copy, this song’s title and lyrics (“Don’t you hear that this song is forever/Never forget the Golden Age/A Quarter Century from Now/Never Forget the Golden age), and the apparent distance between music and listener created through Pink’s recording choices (echoing the thought of a worn copy), all effectively contribute to chronological confusion.
“Bloody! (Bagonia’s)” verges on abstraction while it clings to a slowly disintegrating groove, standing in stark contrast to the irresistible disco of “Credit”. The dance floor sensibilities of the gem conceal its darker side, found in lyrics like “when you’re old your kids will trade your brains for credit”, providing a characteristic AP tension between that which is immediately apparent and significance lying beneath the surface.
“Life in L.A.” is classic AP with a casual vocal delivery, laid-back groove, lyrical references to weather, hanging out with girls, and loneliness, which eventually dissolves into disarray before a fade with an abrupt cut. The machine-like urgency of “The Drummer” strikes a promising tone, and the song delivers everything the listener hopes it will with its hypnotic lyrical phrases, unrelenting groove, pleasing chord changes, and uplifting choruses.
“Cable Access Follies” is essentially one hectic rhythmic motif with several iterations, paving the way for the laid back, hypnotic groove of “Creepshow”, which hints at taking the listener somewhere else, but instead remains steadfastly – if pleasantly – where it is throughout the majority of its duration. “One On One” exhibits AP’s proclivity for odd-time signatures, as does the track that follows, “Oblivious Peninsula”. Songs like these reinforce the feeling of uncertainty throughout the record, defying the listener to ever settle in and passively accept the content, but rather challenging the listener to actively engage with this album that perhaps sounds like a worn, skipping copy, or at the very least toys with traditional notions of form and time.
“Somewhere in Europe/Hotpink!” is an assault on traditional pop norms. Backward samples of what sounds like a Northern European language yield to what might be a reimagined surf song, which in turn takes unexpected detours into new territory. “Hotpink!” feels adequately distinct to have been its own track, but instead acts as a sort of appendix or outro, culminating in a hemiolic name check of former Beachwood Sparks and Haunted Graffiti drummer/guitarist Jimi Hey (“Gimme Jimi Hey/Gimme Jimi Hey”).
Clocking in at just over three minutes, “Thespian City” stays true to the album’s character with its barely-decipherable lyrics and overall lo-fi fuzz encapsulating a nonetheless inviting song, while “Crybaby”'s slow groove and falsetto vocal contributions invoke the feeling of hearing a lost R&B/soul gem that never was. When considering AP’s earlier work, surely every AP fan has either held or heard the sentiment, “If only this were recorded differently, this would have been a big hit!” but this is – of course – part of what makes these tracks so compelling. Once again, we find ourselves contemplating the pseudo-artifact s like this track and others on the "worn copy" Pink presents, and just how this type of statement affects our own relationship with time, technology, and art.
The complete abstraction of the first half of “Foily Foibles/Gold”(presumably, “Foily Foibles”), yields to a disjointed-but-likeable second half as “Gold”. “Jagged Carnival Tours” rounds out the rewarding, seventeen-song, seventy-six minute album.
Happy listening, weirdos!
*We’ve written earlier of our reluctance to use this term, since fidelity only means “loyalty” to something. So if the sound quality of a recording is loyal to the music or intent of an artist, it surely is of high fidelity - regardless of traditional recording arts norms. Nevertheless, we resort to the description on occasion to note recording methods that – most often with some degree of intention – do not adhere to traditional standards.