Published May 25, 2010Before Today is the product of many firsts for L.A.-based outsider pop genius Ariel Pink: recording in a studio, working with a band, using a producer, releasing music on 4AD and, according to the man himself, making a legitimate album. For an artist who has built a career on producing singular leftfield music using the most insufficient means imaginable, this must have been an extraordinary adjustment. However, Pink and his crew of Graffiti artists sound like true professionals, flaunting their studio prowess on Before Today. Although it was co-produced by Rik Pekkonen (Bread, T-Rex, Sly Stone) and Quincy Jones's grandson, Sunny Levine, the studio upgrade only heightens the fidelity of the music. With this clarity, Pink's hypnagogic state becomes intensified. A re-recorded version of 2008's yacht rock classic "Can't Hear My Eyes" benefits from some polish, new single "Round and Round" struts like an aborted 10cc demo and "Beverly Kills" brings the boogie with some interspatial funk. But these newfound riches have hardly made him find the plot. Despite the coherency, Before Today is still far more bonkers than any other pop album in 2010 (see the gender confusion of "Menopause Man" for evidence). Purists may cry "sell-out" in disgust over ditching his shambolic, lo-fi trademark, but anyone interested in hearing this inimitable virtuoso fulfil his potential and produce the classic he was born to make look no further.
How was making this album different for you?
Working with a producer was a whole new thing. Working with a producer with the band was a totally new thing that opened up all these new issues. Ultimately, I think it worked out. I'm pretty happy with the record. We kind of rekindled the spark of musicality I didn't know if I had after a long period of time. Basically, I feel like it's the first record that I've ever made. Everything's so new about it; I feel like a new person, a new artist. In the past, it's almost like I was trickling out things about my past. I feel like there was a weird difference between me and even the way I felt about the music I was authorizing for release.
Would you agree that Before Today is easily your most polished record?
Yeah. I definitely put more time into those songs than I would have given them in any other light. We really tried to play the songs right and with precision ― those are things I never try to do. All of my previous records were recorded so hot on tape, hitting the metres in the red, that it's just a giant mess.
How are you finding operating as a band compared to doing it alone?
It's been a challenge since we started playing. Since I made the decision to put together the band, it's been a total test. I'm kind of against things as they come and they shock me out of my system. Then I deal with them and hopefully I don't repeat the same mistakes. It's taken me a while to do this with people and I don't like to do it alone anymore. I know the kind of results I get when I do it alone. I see [Before Today] as a product of these five people trying to be my dream band. That's kind of what I tell them when they want to know what to do. They look to me for the direction and what I'm going after and I've gotten better at what to tell people what to do [laughs]. (4AD)