CLASSIC REVIEW: Ariel Pink- The Doldrums
BEST TRACKS: Let’s Build a Campfire, For Kate I Wait, Among Dreams, Don’t Think Twice (Love)
When first listening to The Doldrums, you might find yourself asking, “is this a joke”. And to answer your question, dearest reader, yeah. Or maybe not. But how could it not be? If it is a joke it’s a really good one in the sense that it’s really funny, but an absolutely moronic one when taking into account how much Ariel Pink put into its setup. So as of now, we’ll look at it as something in the middle, a comment, if you will on, say, society. Even then I’m probably giving it more of a serious analysis than it deserves, but at the end of the day, it’s an album. A really fucking good album, one that makes you question why you even like music.
So it’s 1999 at CalArts. One Mr. Ariel Pink is disillusioned with the entire concept of art school, is heavily in the midst of a drug binge, and has his Senior Project coming up. So what does he turn in? Well, his debut album of course. Well, we should call it what it really is: an anti-album. Concocted deep within the infamous, denatured Pink brain, The Doldrums sounds like an assortment of samples taken from daytime television that Ariel recorded him singing on a whim after returning home shitfaced. But the instrumentation is his. Placed far behind his vocals, Ariel reverbs and generally distorts his self-made backing tracks to shellac over them an air of dissociation and lethargy akin to when you watch too much TV in the middle of the day. But at the end of the day, the compositions sound good and are written well. So when Ariel cries over them in a mocking falsetto it’s confusing: who is he making fun of if not himself and music itself? In all honesty, it’s probably both. And in case you were wondering, Ariel set up a booth that he sold his CD out of for his senior project. There’s no word on well he did academically, but the CD eventually made its way to Animal Collective, who subsequently signed him.
It’s really difficult to actually analyze the songs on this album. First of all, the “mixing” melts together synths, guitars, knee-drums, random chirps, TV samples all into a honey-lacquered stew that doesn’t quite sit still within the belly. Secondly, The Doldrums goads you to take a deeper look into it, only to eventually point and laugh at you once you’ve already spent hours dazed in its taunting sweetness. That’s the most infuriating part of this album. It’s really clear that Ariel is making fun of saccharine stock music, cheesy love songs, and just popular music as a whole. But he does it with really amazing melodies. “Among Dreams” and “For Kate I Wait” strike me as the easiest examples of this, though not the best. I mean this in that they benefit from a mix which favors Ariel’s vocals so my point is most readily available. Both live in a rounded synth line that blankets everything but Ariel’s falsetto delivering some of the catchiest melodies I’ve ever heard. Occasionally, the listener may get confused into thinking they were just listening to a lo-fi pop song, but then there’s something up there in the corner of your ear. What is it? Well, it’s a three-stringed guitar of course, or maybe some knee slap drums. Ariel Pink does not give a fuck about this music, it just springs forth effortlessly. Songs such as “The Ballad of Bobby Pyn” only suffer in that Ariel draws them out too much, stringing along a drowsy atmosphere for over ten minutes while occasionally delivering some half-sung half-line. And just as you go to get mad that you’ve been listening too long, you realize that that’s the point. You’ve been duped.
– Cliff Jenkins