Ariel Pink records in relative seclusion in the hills of Los Angeles, and his label debut is a confusing and off-kilter reminder of why its outskirts and seedy places have inspired many an idiosyncratic artist. Like Charles Bukowski’s elegies to piss-drunk one-night stands, David Lynch’s bizzare Americana, and Kenneth Anger’s revolutionary (and magical) film work, The Doldrums blends the accessible and the stylistically perverse.
Like a mystical relic, an early CD-R copy of The Doldrums floated around outsider circles. It landed eventually in the hands of stunned Animal Collective members, who signed him to their Paw Tracks imprint upon becoming addicted to his freakish pop sensibility. Pink’s forte is reviving relaxed FM ditties from bygone eras, but he buries their syrupy melodies in Duct tape and dangles them from the back of a jeep, accruing road rash like a grating tape hiss.
Unlike other lo-fi noisemakers, his is not a fashion-conscious decision, but one borne of necessity and limited means. Pink’s composing template is limited to an eight-track, a guitar, a keyboard and a bass (the percussion sounds were created, incredibly, by just his mouth). But this does no disservice to his creativity. Pink manages to force retro synth-pop, commercial advertising jingles and cheese-heavy ’80s-movie jams down the same malfunctioning blender.
Pink’s location and disheveled appearance (behold the record cover) suggest these hills could be teeming with other outsider artists, each honing their craft, perhaps ignorant or gleefully unaware of the commercial product being churning out in the valleys below. But Pink knows exactly what is going on; he insists, in his own charmingly aloof way, upon willfully flaunting convention. You can almost picture him staring down at those Hollywood movie lots and recording studios, snickering mildly.
Still, Pink infuses adventurous sound choices with catchy sing-along bits that seem to come from nowhere, much like his patrons in Animal Collective. His rewarding moments, however, come less consistently, due to often-stagnant instrumental variety and a tired rehashing of boring song structures. This doesn’t come close to the innovation of Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs. But the best points of The Doldrums possess a harsh beauty like the luster of highway glare through a dirty windshield, forcing an appreciative and bewildering squint.