Ariel Pink distorts genres — and his voice, and lyrics, and instruments, and so on


L.A.-based psychedelic pop band Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)
September 14, 2012

Certain indie-rock tastemakers have determined that Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti has crossed over from lo-fi to proper pop. Pink rejected that validation — indirectly but noisily — Thursday night at the 9:30 Club, where he and his backing musicians played nearly 90 minutes of heavily distorted, murkily mixed glam-rock.

The L.A. singer — who wore a pink robe and blue leggings, with a black headband to partially control his blond hair — owes plenty to David Bowie. But “glam” doesn’t fully inventory Pink’s music, which also encompasses mainstream pop, psychedelic rock, disco funk and passages of sheer freakout. The performer and his four-piece band opened, for example, with a droning version of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do.” Or maybe it was a medley of that short, rudimentary song and one of Pink’s own elementary ditties. It was hard to tell, since the vocals were heavily reverbed and often at roughly the same pitch as the blaring keyboards.

Pink does have a knack for melody, which can yield material as accessible as “Round and Round” and “Only in My Dreams.” Those tunes were among the evening’s successes, and the latter was a pleasant respite, since it relied on sunny guitars rather than smoggy keyboards. (Haunted Graffiti features, in addition to its rhythm section, two musicians who both switch between keys and guitars.) Pink is known for his quirky, free-associative lyrics, but those were mostly inaudible. Only such occasional phrases as “I wanted to be good” (from “Mature Themes”) were discernible.

The show also included such long, formless numbers as “Witchhunt Suite for WW3,” which consisted of sampled voices, a weak groove and some shrieking. For all his flamboyance, Pink didn’t demonstrate the force of personality necessary to hold the weirder pieces together. Although he did gingerly attempt a bit of crowd-surfing across the smallish but enthusiastic audience, the singer didn’t really command the stage. Indeed, he was never spotlighted, and often vanished into the red light that bathed the band for most of the performance. That lighting was the visual of equivalent of the sonic grime that made even Pink’s crispest new songs sound adamantly lo-fi.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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