Ariel Pink performing in 2017
|Birth name||Ariel Marcus Rosenberg|
June 24, 1978 |
Los Angeles, California, United States
Ariel Marcus Rosenberg (Spanish: [aˈɾjel] AR-ee-l, born June 24, 1978), also known as Ariel Pink, is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter whose music draws heavily from 1970s–1980s pop radio and cassette culture. His lo-fi aesthetic and home-recorded albums proved influential to many indie artists in the late 2000s, and he is frequently cited as "godfather" of the hypnagogic pop and chillwave movements. The majority of his recorded output stems from a prolific eight-year period in which he accumulated over 200 cassette tapes of material.
A native of Los Angeles, Rosenberg began experimenting with recording songs on an eight-track Portastudio as a teenager. His early influences were artists such as Michael Jackson, the Cure, and R. Stevie Moore. In 2004, he debuted on Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label with a string of albums he had originally self-released, beginning with The Doldrums (2000). He found wider exposure following the release of Before Today (2010), which was featured on numerous "best of 2010" lists. Until 2014, his records were usually credited to "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti", a solo project sometimes conflated with his touring band.
1970s–2000s: Early life and recordings
Ariel Marcus Rosenberg was born in Los Angeles on June 24, 1978, the son of Mario Z. Rosenberg and Linda Rosenberg-Kennett. His father, a gastroenterologist, was born in Mexico City and his family is Jewish.[nb 1] His parents divorced when he was two years old. Since he was three, Ariel's parents encouraged him to pursue a career in visual art rather than music. "[W]ith music I had no discernible skills. ... [Whereas with drawing, they] said, 'Oh my God, you’re going to be the next Picasso,' and I believed them and I got better." He characterized himself as a child as "maladjusted". When he became interested in music, he was particularly fond of Michael Jackson, and after entering junior high school, expanded his tastes to metal. Favorites included bands like Def Leppard, Metallica, Anthrax, and after that, "death rock" groups such as Bauhaus and the Cure, the last being his favorite band of all time. He was initially raised in Louisiana. During junior high school, he spent some time living with his cousins in Mexico City. Shortly afterward, he returned to live with his father in the Beverlywood area of Los Angeles.
Throughout the 1990s, Rosenberg was an avid record collector and reader of music magazines, "[and I] had a gross hunger for bootlegs and unofficial rare recordings by artists I worshiped; ate them all up and adopted certain criteria for what I longed for in music." He cited Nirvana as the last group he enjoyed before becoming uninterested in modern popular music. While attending Beverly Hills High School, he began experimenting with songwriting and composing avant-garde pieces using a portable cassette recorder. His tools were limited to one bass guitar, an amp, and kitchen utensils. In 1996, he started what he later described as an eight-year-long "recording session" in which he "was very completely single-minded. I had tunnel vision. I was just completely [recording music] like if my life depended on it." By then, he "was very into" krautrock, and in his songs, he endeavored to obfuscate his personality while using photos that bore minimal resemblance to him as album covers. He credited his tapes to a variety of names (or "logos") including "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti" and "Ariel Rosenberg's Thrash and Burn".
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In 1999, Rosenberg entered the California Institute of the Arts studying fine art. He was dissatisfied that the school focused on "the art market" rather than "color theory or anything like that". He met John Maus at CalArts, and they subsequently became best friends and roommates. One project Rosenberg submitted was a three-foot tall illustration that realistically depicted the school's faculty, staff members, and students engaging in an orgy. The piece was allowed to be displayed, and in response, an administrative member unsuccessfully sued the university for sexual harassment. According to LA Weekly, the album The Doldrums was recorded during Rosenberg's final semester at the university, in which time he was "in the throes of a drug binge". "I'm sure those were my words," he later said. "I don’t know. It was fine. I had a typical art school experience, I suppose, 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 experience." He described the album as "the saddest record I could [have made]; it was negative not only emotionally but aesthetically." The guitar parts were played with only three strings. For final examinations, he submitted a kiosk where he sold CDs of The Doldrums as a criticism against the school's marketing-oriented curriculum.
After dropping out of CalArts, Rosenberg lived in a Hindu ashram in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, where he "brought in heroin, smoked so much pot, blasted music, lived in filth, brought all these fucking weirdos in, played and recorded music all night, and never had a problem with those people." He also attended a music school and worked as a clerk at a record store. During this period, he recorded Scared Famous (2001), Fast Forward (2001), House Arrest (2002), Lover Boy (2002), and portions of Worn Copy (2003). He envisioned working at a record store "for the rest of my life" before the Strokes "came out and all the sudden guitars came back [on the charts]. And then the White Stripes came out and I was like, 'Oh, shit.' I wasn't into any of that stuff, but I was like, 'Holy shit...Like in this lifetime...this is happening.'" By the mid-2000s, he had accumulated between 200 and 300 cassette tapes of material.
2003–2010: Reissues and Haunted Graffiti band
In the summer of 2003, Rosenberg gave a CD-R of Worn Copy to the band Animal Collective after being introduced at one of their shows by a mutual friend, Beachwood Sparks drummer Jimi Hey. Unbeknownst to Rosenberg, Animal Collective had recently started their own record label, Paw Tracks. The band says in the reissued album's liner notes that it "sat on the floor of the van for a week or so ... One day, we noticed it and randomly threw it on and were immediately blown away. It was just like 'Woah, what is this!? We knew it could have only been made by this individual, and so made it our goal to officially release his records on our new label." Several weeks later they contacted him to sign him on Paw Tracks. Rather than Worn Copy, Rosenberg submitted what he believed to be his album with the least commercial potential, The Doldrums. The group initially rejected the album, but eventually warmed to it, and accepted it for release. Only a small circle of his friends and family had heard his music before this point.
October 2004's Paw Tracks release of The Doldrums was the first non-Animal Collective record the label issued and the first time his limited-edition home recordings were widely distributed. As a result, Pink's profile increased substantially. In a review for Uncut, David Stubbs awarded the album a perfect score and wrote: "Tracks like 'Among Dreams', on which Ariel sounds like he's swimming in his own brain, shouldn't work––so rambling, so amateurish. Yet somehow they have a way of lapsing perfectly into misshape so that you can't take your ears off them." Pitchfork's Nick Sylvester was less impressed: "The songs are secondary to Pink's burgeoning cult of personality— the album turns its imperfections into selling points, its pigheadedness into firm resolve. After opener 'Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups', we understand the supposed appeal of The Doldrums: These are normal songs, except a 'crazy' guy is singing them, and he has 'crazy' lo-fi production."
Pink's original live performances (which amounted to local gigs in Los Angeles) consisted of himself singing over prerecorded tracks karaoke-style. When he became the opening act for Animal Collective in 2004, he decided to form a band. His performances were not well-received ("People boo me everywhere. They don't even hide their contempt"). He attributed that to his "not being [a] very good" musician and to his recordings' not being meant to be performed live. "The dudes in my band don't get paid, so I can't really crack the whip and make them learn the songs. They just came along so they could travel." In 2005 and 2006, Paw Tracks reissued two of his previous recordings, Worn Copy and House Arrest, respectively.
Virtually everything Pink released in the 2000s was written and recorded before 2004. Instead of releasing new music, he spent the latter half of the decade touring and searching for another record label ("I didn't want to make any new music until I got paid for it"). Between 2006 and 2008, lesser-known labels issued four more albums, Underground (1999), Lover Boy, and the compilations Scared Famous (2007) and Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1 (2008). In 2006, he embarked on a few supporting tours and assembled a group backed with Jimi Hey, John Maus, Gary War, and girlfriend Geneva Jacuzzi. Musician and collaborator Cole M. Greif-Neill characterized Pink's reputation "on the L.A. scene" around this time as "the lame drug guy". In 2007, Pink and Maus backed Animal Collective's Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) for his solo tour of Europe. In 2008, Pink established a more consistent touring band with keyboardist/guitarist/backing vocalist Kenny Gilmore, drummer/vocalist/guitarist Jimi Hey (later replaced by Aaron Sperske), and guitarist Cole M. Greif-Neill. Bassist Tim Koh found it "the most difficult music I've ever tried to play. Even something that sounds simple, like 'For Kate I Wait', took me months. I still don’t have it exactly."
In later years, Rosenberg said the name "Ariel Pink" was not meant as a persona or pseudonym. The "common misconception," he said, started when promoters billed his early 2000s live shows as "Ariel Pink" fronting a band called the "Haunted Graffiti". He said: "There's no Ariel Pink ... My name's Ariel Rosenberg and I have a solo project that I called Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. ... automatically people assumed that [the band] must be the 'Haunted Graffiti'." The original liner notes to these early albums, while credited to "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti", also distinctly credit "Ariel Pink" with performing, recording, or writing the music.[nb 2]
2010–2012: Before Today and Mature Themes
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After securing a deal with 4AD Records, Rosenberg and his band recorded Before Today, his first album created in a professional studio and with a producer. At the time, he called it the first official album of his discography and the first "made with any kind of thought or consciousness that I have an audience." Some of its songs were written years earlier, such as "Beverly Kills", which originally appeared on Scared Famous. Its making was fraught with personal difficulties, with some band members briefly quitting, including Rosenberg himself. Koh called the album "a nightmare to record" and said sessions "got so bad, I quit, and Cole quit. So we ended up recording most of it again at my house just to fix all the shit that producer Sunny Levine did wrong." Released in June 2010, the album reached number 163 on the Billboard 200 and received critical acclaim. Pitchfork highlighted the album as "Best New Music"; reviewer Mark Richardson wrote that many of the lo-fi idiosyncrasies that characterized his early recordings were eliminated and that careful attention was given to the arrangements: "It turns out that these details make a big difference, even while the album adheres to the hazy overriding aesthetic of Pink's earlier records." The album was soon featured on numerous "best of 2010" lists, and at the end of the year, Pitchfork crowned its lead single "Round and Round" the year's best track.
In 2011, Pink released a 16-minute standalone single, "Witchhunt Suite for WWIII", to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It was a newly recorded version of a track, begun in 2001, that he had sold on CD-Rs during his 2007 tour. His eight-year relationship with Geneva Jacuzzi ended around this time. He assumed responsibility for "fuck[ing] it up", and according to an interviewer, "[explained with] a tirade about gender politics and how everybody under 27 considers themselves bi- or transsexual." In April, he sabotaged his performance at the Coachella music festival by causing feedback with his microphone and refusing to sing; he then left the stage and apologized to the crowd. He later explained that the group had "set up in a new configuration" without consulting him first and that the "whole point of that action was not that I was unstable or anything ... I was hammering the point that I could embarrass the fuck out of them if they didn’t listen to me and that this was not a democracy, this was a police state." In 2012, drummer Aaron Sperske sued Rosenberg and the band for $1 million after claiming to be "squeezed out" of an established "oral partnership". Pink responded with an announcement on Facebook that the Haunted Graffiti band was over. Afterward, he said, "I could dissolve the band in a second, and I'd do it before I’d let him do that to the [other members of the band.] I put that Facebook post up to see if it would resonate with Aaron." They reached a court settlement in 2013.
Mature Themes, the follow-up to Before Today, came in August 2012. Unlike Before Today, the material on the album was newly written especially for the LP. Some critics suggested that its more flamboyant and satirical tone was "an alienating move meant to prune Pink's flock back down to the diehards." PopMatters reviewer Zachary Houle commented that "there are elements of pure pop bliss to be had here, and there's certainly nods to soul or pop music from previous decades (see 'Baby'), but these aspects play second fiddle to Pink’s desire to engage in the more outré nature of his sound." It nonetheless had a slightly higher chart peak than Before Today, at number 136. Pink referred to it as a "breakup album" in some interviews and denied that it was one in others. Jacuzzi made a cameo appearance in the video for "Only in My Dreams", where she is shown evicting Pink from their apartment.
2013–present: Pom Pom and Bobby Jameson
In November 2014, Pink released Pom Pom, which rose to number 150 on the Billboard 200. It was his first album to drop "Haunted Graffiti" from its credit, and his last issued through 4AD. Most of the tracks were written with collaborators like Kim Fowley, who dictated from his hospital bed (he died of cancer in January 2015). Other songs were reworked from his earlier self-released CD-R era. The A.V. Club's John Everhart wrote that Pom Pom "feels at times more like a singles collection than a cohesive album, which isn’t to its detriment." Paste critic Philip Cosores described the album as "probably the most accessible, easy-on-the-ear and enjoyable music of his career, without any asterisks."
The press attention Pink received upon the album's release largely focused on recent comments he had made in various interviews. Earlier that October, he told the online journal Faster Louder that Interscope Records contacted him about working with Madonna, and that they needed "something edgy. ... She can’t just have her Avicii, her producers or whatever, come up with a new techno jam for her to gyrate to and pretend that she’s 20 years old." The article embroiled him into a minor controversy, with Grimes calling his comments "delusional misogyny". In response, he said that he had only repeated what he was told by an Interscope agent, and denied that he was a misogynist. For the next few years, he collaborated on a variety of projects by other musicians, including Weyes Blood, Dâm-Funk, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX, Miley Cyrus, Theophilus London, the Avalanches, Puro Instinct, Lushlife, Mild High Club and MGMT.
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, released in September 2017, marked Pink's first solo LP on the Brooklyn-based label Mexican Summer. In deliberate contrast to Pom Pom, it was recorded with a relatively small group of people at his home. The album was released to a number 193 chart peak amid generally favorable reviews. In a review for the website AllMusic, Heather Phares concluded that the album "is a weird, catchy, thought-provoking celebration of individuality that offers one Pink's most appealing balances of sugary accessibility and irreverent indulgence." Tiny Mix Tapes' Sam Goldner said the album was "the closest Pink has come to the smeared quality of his earliest albums". In promotional interviews, Pink intimated that his desire for attention and willingness to release albums has declined, and instead talked mostly about the musician Bobby Jameson.
Style and impact
In 2017, Pink called the sum of his work "a weird art experiment" aimed at investigating "what would happen if I decided to plant myself in Cure-land ... [and do] the same thing over and over again forever, forever?" He said that while his own music is heavily indebted to 1960s pop, it is not classifiable in any genre. His early recordings were amateurishly recorded on an eight-track cassette Portastudio, and since he was not a proficient instrumentalist, he usually tracked his parts in short increments, "press[ing] 'stop' and then 'record' again once I've mastered the next 10 seconds." Lyrically, he said that "he's not a poet," and that he approaches his work as "musical pieces" rather than songs, with the words usually written as an afterthought. The use of cassettes lent a conspicuously "lo-fi" sound, which later became a deliberate aesthetic choice; he experimented with recording in professional studios and with digital audio workstations, but was dissatisfied with the results. He is a devout fan of R. Stevie Moore, credited with pioneering lo-fi music, and shared many of his musical approaches, although Moore denied stylistic similarities. In the 2000s, Pink frequently praised Moore in interviews in an attempt to bring him more critical recognition, In turn, Moore said: "I think he has great ideas and great musical talents, but he shouldn’t always have to sound like the Bee Gees on Mars. We’ve talked about it at length."
At the time of his Paw Tracks reissues, Pink was perceived as both an outsider and as a novelty act, as there were virtually no other contemporary indie acts with a similar retro lo-fi sound. Music critic Simon Reynolds noted that before Pink, lo-fi acts were generally "vehemently opposed to the slick, big-budget AOR and '80s rock 'n' soul that he's so inspired by." During the late 2000s, he was referenced in early discussions of hauntology in music. In an August 2009 piece for The Wire, journalist David Keenan coined "hypnagogic pop" to describe a developing trend of 2000s lo-fi and post-noise music in which artists began to engage with elements of cultural nostalgia, childhood memory, and outdated recording technology. Pink was among his examples. Reynolds soon adopted the term and cited Pink, along with Spencer Clark and James Ferraro, as the "godparents of hypnagogic". He also singled out Pink as the central figure in what he called the "Altered Zones Generation", an umbrella term for lo-fi, retro-inspired indie artists who were commonly featured on Altered Zones, a sister site for Pitchfork. In 2010, Uncut's Sam Richard profiled Pink as "a lo-fi legend" whose "ghostly pop sound" proved influential to chillwave-dubbed acts such as Ducktails and Toro y Moi. Jeff Weiss of Pitchfork said The Doldrums "inspired chillwave and a lo-fi revival, as well as alter[ed] the perception of L.A. as an indie-rock backwater."
Pink said that he never claimed to be the "godfather" of "lo-fi", "hypnagogic pop", or "chillwave", and that he thought "people are just having fun with ideas they get in their head. They find a way to frame artists in a certain way that makes them interesting." In 2011, he acknowledged: "I know I’ve left my mark already. I know when somebody’s heard my music. I can hear it in their music." Music writer Adam Harper contested that "the pop-art pastiche of hypnagogic pop" or the "mirror-shades-cool synth groove of chillwave" could be attributed to Pink's "largely rock-based" music. He argued that instead of "the progenitor or the AZ Generation, Pink can easily be understood as the youngest member of this mid-80s Cassette Culture Generation." Among predecessors, Harper lists R. Stevie Moore and the Cleaners from Venus' Martin Newell as the most notable. He referenced a 1990s observation by music critic Richie Unterberger that compared Moore to Newell's "lo-fi, murkily recorded affairs that couldn't hide the power of the melodies, or a wit that could be both tender and savage". Harper added: "The similarities [between Pink and Newell] don't end there – both in his dress and in his music, Martin Newell adopted the (even then) retro, androgynous, psychedelic image that would mark Ariel Pink out in the 00s".[nb 3]
- Underground (1999) (self-released)
- The Doldrums (2000) (self-released; officially issued in 2004)
- Scared Famous (2001) (self-released)
- Fast Forward (2001) (self-released)
- House Arrest (2002) (self-released; officially issued in 2006)
- Lover Boy (2002) (self-released; officially issued in 2006)
- Worn Copy (2003)
- Before Today (2010)
- Mature Themes (2012)
- Ku Klux Glam (2012) (with R. Stevie Moore)
- Pom Pom (2014)
- Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (2017)
- Thrash and Burn (2006)
- Scared Famous (2007) (truncated version of Scared Famous and Fast Forward)
- Odditties Sodomies Vol. 1 (2008)
- Stranded at Two Harbors (2006) (collaboration with Matt Fishbeck)
- Ariel Pink's Picks Vol. 1 (2011) (R. Stevie Moore mixtape)
- In 2012, he stated that he was always "reluctant to be religious, to fully embrace the tenets of Christianity or Judaism or whatever, but I also don’t fully fall in with the science crew either," and in 2014, when asked if he celebrated Hanukkah, he explained that he did not except when his parents invite him to the holiday.
- The liner notes for Before Today also refer to "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti" as a band.
- Matthew Ingram of The Wire additionally recognized Moore as "unwittingly provid[ing] the [genre's] template" through his influence on Pink's music. Tiny Mix Tapes' Jordan Redmond wrote that John Maus was also placed "at the nexus of a number of recent popular movements" including hypnagogic pop and chillwave, and that Maus was as "much of a progenitor of this sound as Pink, even though Pink has tended to be the headline-grabber."
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written, recorded and played by ariel pink
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All songs written, played and recorded by Ariel Pink
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Selections on this release were chosen by Ariel Pink and Jason Grier.
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