Legend has it that on a summer’s night in 2003, Ariel Pink attended an Animal Collective concert and managed to get one of his CDs to the headlining group. They then decided to release the album – The Doldrums – on their own label. For this first album, recorded alone in 1999 in his LA flat with only a guitar, a synth, and an eight-track mixer, Ariel beatboxed the percussion and pushed the saturation levels to their absolute limit, all without playing too loudly for fear of disturbing the neighbours. The sound is pretty ropey but it doesn’t spoil the magic – quite the contrary. One is reminded of the Velvet Underground who, for quite different reasons, pushed all the settings to their limit to record their second masterpiece: White Light/White Heat.
Let’s leave the legend behind for now and step back in time to discover the teenager that Pink has never quite left behind. Ariel Marcus Rosenberg was born on 24th June 1978 in Los Angeles. His parents told him he was an artist and he took them at their word. Rather like an adolescent acne flare-up, his creativity began to bloom at the age of ten. By 1996 an inventory of his recordings counted more than 500 songs spread over a bunch of tapes, piled up in his small flat. ‘I live in Charlotte Sometimes’ he remarked.
Pink’s aesthetic originated with the advent of the compact disc. At the time, record companies were republishing old stuff all over the place under the pretext of optimising the sound. Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Zappa, The Germs, Can...Ariel Pink tore through each aesthetic shock like someone obsessively flipping through TV channels. ‘I am a victim of pathological consumption…’
But he was also listening to the current music of his own generation and watching MTV. He gorged himself on rock; everything from Michael Jackson to Morbid Angel, fixing itself in his mind like some sort of sublime vision, and resulting in a sickly nostalgia that has never left him. When he recorded The Doldrums at the age of 21, all of his creative efforts were dedicated to a golden age that was never coming back. ‘The pop dimension in my music is sad because it’s nostalgic – it’s the sound of a joy that’s gone forever.’
Ariel Pink is fact fascinated by what the philosopher Jankélévtich called the ‘pastness of the past’: the fact that the past will never be the same again, which gives it such a singular charm. ‘I’m jealous of my five-year-old self who was completely ecstatic because I didn’t understand anything about music. In that sense, I am retro. I’m nostalgic for the innocent child I was, not for the music of the time.’
Back in the day he recorded at home with some rough equipment; now Ariel Pink works in real recording studios. Yet he still manages to recreate that same distinctive sheen, that distant effect that is characteristic of his lo-fi style. It’s as if Bowie had returned to us as some sort of seductive ghost. Ariel Pink is the master at composing hits that never existed.