Ariel Pink has been a cult leader in search of a following.
From his humble beginnings as a DIY bedroom artist, recording hundreds of songs directly onto cassette tape, Pink’s warped warblings have gradually earned him an array of dedicated fans embracing his charmingly shambolic approach to pop music.
Now, between being the centerpiece of a New Yorker feature and early critical acclaim for his forthcoming new LP "pom pom," Pink appears poised to finally break through into the mainstream.
However, the prospect of commercial success hasn’t softened his rough edges; if anything, the recent attention has given him the fuel to be even weirder. Recently Pink has ignited controversy by rambling disjointedly to the New Yorker about Rwanda and relationships, engaging in a bizarre Twitter feud with Madonna, and planning an extravagant album release party with donuts, limos, and nail painting booths.
With the release of "pom pom" next week, let’s take an album-by-album look back at the path that led Pink from industry outsider to insider:
"The Doldrums" (2000)
Released in 2000 but then reissued by Paw Tracks in 2004, Pink’s first album is easily his most “lo-fi,” sounding as though the songs are played through a cheap AM radio that’s gradually losing reception.
Beneath the soft, gauzy soundscapes lurks a genuine knack for song construction, and though his later albums would eventually become more polished, "The Doldrums" marked the blueprint from which Pink’s other efforts would be constructed.
"House Arrest" (2002)
Another early album recorded entirely on an 8-track by Pink himself, "House Arrest" finds Pink experimenting with techniques and sound effects, evidenced on the fuzzy freak-out “Gettin’ High In The Morning” and the soft-rock tinged gem “Every Night I Die at Miyagi’s”
"Worn Copy" (2003)
A step up in production from "The Doldrums" and "House Arrest," a CD-R of "Worn Copy" eventually caught the ear of David Portner and Noah Lennox - Avey Tare and Panda Bear of Animal Collective - who promptly signed him to their Paw Tracks imprint, propelling his music to a wider audience.
"Before Today" (2010)
His first real brush with mainstream success. Pink ditched his 8-track for a full band and a real studio for this 4AD debut. Pink’s pop sensibilities, normally muddied, come into the forefront with its glossy production. Pitchfork later named “Round and Round” as the best song of 2010 in its annual countdown.
"Mature Themes" (2012)
Continuing the (relatively) hi-fi production values heard on "Before Today," Pink bounces from ‘60s era sunshine pop (“Only In My Dreams”) to cryptic odes about actor Klaus Kinski (“Kinski Assassin”). He also pays homage to fellow bedroom musicians Donnie and Joe Emerson with a cover of their private-press ballad “Baby.”
"pom pom" (2014)
His third album for 4AD, "pom pom" is perhaps the best marriage of Pink’s bizarro DIY and pop tendencies.
A scattershot double album, the wildly diverse tracks are somehow greater than the some of their parts, including a frenzied gelatin jingle (“Jell-O”), a dreamy jangle-rock single (“Put Your Number In My Phone”), and the truly bizarre “Black Ballerina,” perhaps the only song in existence to feature a spoken-word interlude of a grandfather taking his nervous grandson to “the number one strip club in L.A.”
It’s been a long, strange trip for Ariel Pink, and if this new album is any indication, things are only getting weirder.