Deep Inside Val Verde
Ariel Pink writes soundtracks to old porn movies whose sex scenes have all been removed by a particularly brutal censor. Even "brutal" does but poor justice to this particular censor's touch, who is so dependably savage that he must be motivated either by love much stronger than death, or by the sort of bored reliability known only to civil servants at work during the weary waning years of totalitarian regimes like ours. Whichever the case, the end result is the same: dialogue delivered by people whose faces clearly indicate that they have some inside knowledge about the future. This future, though, about whose nature these naked or near-naked people feel so casually assured, won't actually come to pass in the versions of these films that we shall now be forced to watch. At gunpoint, and pumped full of sedatives. And so the music, this music, breezily ushers in moments that evaporate before they come to pass.
I know: "What the fuck are you talking about?" I mean it, though: there's a quality to the magnificent songs on Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti 2: The Doldrums that's distinctly porn-flick-for-eunuchs. And I do mean "porn flick," too, not "video," or "porn store," or "stag movie." Listening, I remember the Pussycat theater in Los Angeles, which I never visited but whose marquee scorched my childhood retinas when we'd drive past it on the way home from dinner after a long day at the racetrack. Bright dirty white backlight! Big letters! Filthy promises whose vocabulary was a few years beyond my reach! I'd turn my head as our car drove past, wondering: who's going to see those movies? When I grow up, will I go see them along with all the other normal grown-ups? Is it abnormal not to go see them? Will all theaters someday look as huge and magnetic as the Pussycat does? What the hell is going on in there, anyhow?
The movie showing, for several years if I recall correctly, was "The Devil in Miss Jones," whose title, if it were an Ariel Pink song, would be "Certainly Miss Jones." In Ariel Pink's sex-filtered version of the title of a film which he didn't see & neither did I, there's no devil any more, and one kind of overstatement has been traded for another, and broader melodrama has given way to the muted hush of a melodrama described rather than enacted. How can I put this, what is there to say? There are the dry technical terms that I'm sort of obligated to deploy before we go much further — "shitty recording," "muffled vocals," "mastered by some San Pedro rummy with a toe infection" — but they'll all obscure the purpose toward which the album floats almost effortlessly, which purpose is "to make a beautiful thing in a very ugly world."
But here. The album's press kit gets pretty excited about how Ariel Pink made most of the percussion sounds on this album with his mouth. While there is something good about this (specifically: it makes me think of "Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz," which means that it's fucking party time), it's a dead issue for the most part, because you can't really tell. (Admittedly there are a number of points we could score here, what with the porn-flick thesis and the guy doing percussion with his mouth, but we are not so base as all that. We would rather just raise the possibility, drop it immediately, then feign innocence.) What's key, of course, is what he did with the sounds after he'd gotten spit all over the mic. And this, as it turns out, is the whole ball game.
Because I have a feeling that the shitty sound quality I mentioned earlier is a tactic, and that the point of this record is to take genuinely memorable new melodies ,deliver them in a medium-high wistful voice practically dripping with emotion, and then pervert them utterly; I think Ariel Pink's goal is to re-encrust the diamond with coal. Toward this end, he: 1) muffles the hell out of everything that can in any way be muffled; 2) records the whole thing in a crawlspace; 3) does overdubs in a cave, and 4) invents a time machine. You might compare some of what he's doing to Beck back when Beck's '70s fetish was more about taking shelter in memories than reinterpreting the present, but only if you feel like wrecking your mood. Better, for me, to compare Ariel Pink to George Shearing after an irreversible personal loss, or to Percy Faith scoring Bob Crane's private collection.
Truly weird records almost never come around; everybody tries too hard and we have to pretend we've been weirded out, because if we admit that everything looks normal, we're just gonna get depressed. Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti 2: The Doldrums, though, is the real thing; the sweet late vintage; the truly hard core. I hope everyone on the planet buys it and gets real sweaty. Bottoms up!
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