Key Albums: The Doldrums (2004), Worn Copy (2005), Before Today (2010)
Ariel Pink is a one-man-band project from Los Angeles whose music is signified by an incredibly-murky, lo-fi sound. Pink was first 'unearthed' by Animal Collective, who began releasing the vast volmes of Ariel Pink home recordings on their Paw Tracks label. By the end of the 2000s, it was clear that the 'Ariel Pink sound' had had an unexpected influence over indie music.
Ariel Pink was born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg in Los Angeles, and raised in the Pico-Robertson/Beverlywood area. He started writing songs at 10, and, as a 16-year-old stoner attending Beverly Hills High School —"I had this voracious appetite, at the time, for the history of music," Rosenberg remembers, "and I just wanted to join the club"— began assembling home-made recordings on a rudimentary analogue multi-track. Lacking any musical 'chops,' Rosenberg would painstakingly assemble recordings almost note-by-note; he finding it "hard to play any instrument for more than a couple bars" even after years of recording.
From his very beginnings, Rosenberg was disinterested in making 'indie music,' drawing influence from the pop of his childhood —Hall & Oates, Michael Jackson, 10CC, Fleetwood Mac— and running it through a bizarro, outsider art-fetishizing filter.
"From the first time I picked up a tape-recorder," Rosenberg would tell me, in 2005, "I certainly had an appreciation for the esoteric; the things that wouldn't make me popular in school. I was pretty happy playing the iconoclast at the time, so of course I anticipated being totally shunned."
After a stint studying visual art at the California Institute of the Arts ("I had a typical art school experience," he'd tell Identity Theory, "if you consider getting drunk at openings, partying with your 'teachers,' and shrugging off scholastic duties as often as possible as something typical of college"), Rosenberg poured himself into his music. Working part-time at record stores and living with his parents, Rosenberg would home-record over 500 songs before ever performing them in public.
His layer-cake approach meant that his constantly 'bounced' tracks would grow murkier with each overdub. Though he wasn't pursuing this sound as an ideology —"I was aware that there was an 'underground' or 'lo-fi' movement, but it never dazzled me as such in those terms"— he soon adopted this warped sound as his own. Especially given resistance proved futile.
"I've spent a lot of energy and thought trying to sabotage the Ariel sound on many, many occasions," Rosenberg says. "I've tried to do note-for-note covers, exact replications of original recordings that I want to sound like nothing more than what I'm copying, and I just can't do it. In fact, doing that, it just sounds more like me; perhaps because I don't have the talent to recreate things convincingly."
In 2003, fate dealt Rosenberg a good hand. Attending an Animal Collective show, he passed a disc of his recordings onto the band via "mutual acquaintance" Jimi Hey (of Beachwood Sparks and All Night Radio). Rosenberg "didn't expect anything" of doing so ("I didn't even know they had a label," he'd later admit to Junkmedia), but, once they got around to listening to the disc, Animal Collective instantly wanted to put something out by Ariel Pink on their Paw Tracks imprint.
The first fruits of this union were 2004's The Doldrums, which introduced 'the Ariel Sound' —effectively like a warped Hall & Oats cassette left to gather dust for 20 years— to listeners. The positive critical reception soon begat two more artifacts in the Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti series: 2005's Worn Copy, and 2006's House Arrest.
Ariel Pink live shows were far less well-received. At first, Rosenberg just sung, karaoke-style, over backing tracks; later he'd recruit a brand new band every single night on tour. Either way, it went down badly. "People boo me everywhere," he'd lament, to LA Weekly. "They don't even hide their contempt."
After the initial rush of Paw Tracks releases, Rosenberg worked to empty much of his backlog of recordings on various limited-edition/low-profile releases: Lover Boy in 2006; Scared Famous and Underground in 2007; and the compilation Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1 in 2008.
As the lo-fi movement undertook a significant, sizable, fashionable rebirth late in the '00s, and one-man home-recorders drew increasingly from the commercial pop of the '80s, the unexpected influence of Ariel Pink on popular culture was plain to see. Thus, when he signed with mega indie 4AD late in 2009, it was hardly a shock.
In 2010, Rosenberg released his first record for 4AD, Before Today, an album on which Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti was a four-piece band. Easily the highest fidelity recording Rosenberg had ever been in charge of, the record —the first-ever Ariel Pink album that wasn't assembled from old home recording— took him to a whole new audience.
"We need to be huge right now," Rosenberg exclaimed, on Before Today's release. "We're going for broke on it." Sure enough, it swiftly became the most-praised LP of his career, earning lots of album-of-the-year acclaim and marking Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti as one of the biggest breakout acts of 2010.