A catchy beat, a simple progression, and a clear transition from chorus to verse all help to make the mainstream accessible, and Rosenberg doesn't seem to care. Songs found on Before Today
often take dramatic turns, building and squandering momentum by whim, shifting from mellow to utterly frantic, as on "L'estat", while a vast array of samples range from theatrical to pornographic. If pop staples offer solid ground to lead us through the artist's world, Rosenberg expects us to plunge headlong.
None of this should come as surprising from an artist once signed by Animal Collective, and not much has changed since the move to 4AD. Before Today
has shed the cassette recorder graininess that characterized his earlier work, but the overall sound remains lo-fi, not necessarily to the detriment of the album. Atmosphere plays a crucial role; a unique blend of reggae, jazz and new wave elements, combined with the murkiness of the recording, gives the album an otherworldly vibe.
Rosenberg's lyrics remain as strange as ever, but within the context of the music, they also make a lot of sense. The James Brown impression on the opening track, urging the listener to "get into my hot tub", when placed against a backdrop distant brass and engine noises, establishes Before Today
as a record that follows its own rules, with its own form of seriousness and its own form of play. Juxtaposition of vocals against various sounds gives rise to nuanced moods throughout the album, as on "Butt-House Blondies", where samples of a woman's moans add tension and depth to the otherwise sympathetic, "she used to be a square at sixteen, now all she knows is that she can breed."
Amid all the complexity of Before Today
, a few familiar elements provide some necessary grounding. Guitar and bass riffs often come through loud and clear against the noise, and are usually catchy enough to provide enough momentum, particularly on "Round & Round" and "Butt-House Blondies". On "Menopause Man", about a transsexual striving to become more like a woman, the chorus proclaims in vocal harmony, "You're trying too hard to be what you already are," which could easily resonate with anyone.
Compared to older Ariel Pink recordings, Before Today
sounds cleaner and somewhat more engaging, but never quite becomes accessible. The album takes its share of risks, and provides a unique experience for adventurous listeners.-derrick wiest
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MP3: "Bright Lit Blue Skies" (Before Today)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti on Myspace