Ariel Pink

    Ku Klux Glam


    Forty minutes into Ku Klux Glam, Ariel Pink and R. Stevie Moore’s sprawling 61-track double LP, is “Fadermasturbater.” Consisting of little more than audio taken from a Fader TV interview segment, the four-minute track manages to capture the spirit of the entire album: Speaking over the din of a city street the two collaborators tell a disjointed account of how they met, all the while cracking silly jokes, making random noises, and basically showing off what a great, weird friendship they have. Like the record as a whole, it’s all kinda charming if you’re a fan, but if you’re not sympathetic to the duo’s quirks and conceits there’s no way it can hold your attention for a full two-and-a-half hours.

    The relationship between Pink and Moore, that strange little world they occupy together, is the center around which the entire albums orbits. The two have something of a mentor-mentee arrangement: Moore, who’s decades-long stream of outsider pop albums earned him the title Godfather of Home Recording, is one of Pink’s major influences—a fact the younger musician readily acknowledges. Ku Klux Glam essentially shows what sort of creative chemical reaction occurs when you mix a cult favorite with one of his most successful followers—and it shows everything: The majority of the record is given over to what feel like b-sides, outtakes, and goofy little home studio experiments. It’s the type of things that usually end up on the cutting room floor. By keeping these oddities, the record becomes about the process of two hyper-creative individuals working together, no so much the product.

    Unfortunately, this means the fully formed weirdo-pop gems both musicians are capable of crafting are few and far between. However, when they do appear, they’re fantastic. “Dutch Me” finds the two in a karaoke lounge duet set to cheap drum machines and cheesy synth strings, while the guitar jangle and vocal harmonies of “Come My Way” recall pre-Help! Beatles singles. Even more exciting is when the album strays from pop further into the tape-warped territory of Pink and Moore’s solo releases. On “Steviepink Javascript” the duo sing/speak compliments to each other through heavy layers of reverb and fuzzy bass. It’s an utterly bizarre setup for a song, but it works by balancing the dreamy atmosphere with just enough melody and focus. The problem for a lot of listeners will be digging through the rough to find the diamonds. For every sublime lo-fi sound collage like “Bedroom Rock and Roll” there are multiple tracks of spoken non sequiturs or aimless synth meanderings.

    Many will hear these efforts as mere sonic ellipses between fleshed-out songs, or worse, intentional weirdness. However, it’s more helpful to view them as glimpses into the personalities and production techniques behind the one of the most unique and influential aesthetics in indie music. Hearing song fragments and sonic motifs appear multiple times in endless variation showcases the duo’s mastery of manipulating recordings. After all, it was the attention to sound texture and quality that made Pink’s early albums the foundation of the chillwave phenomena. The first time you hear the twangy guitar line from “Desperation Passion” it may be forgettable, but by the fifth time it crops up you may notice how subtle changes in its speed or grain effect how you receive it. In this sense, these parts aren’t just throw-away tracks—though unless you have a keen interest in studio minutiae, the charm might be lost.