By Patrick Foster
Many will call "Before Today" Ariel Pink's first "real" album. Indeed, after making countless piles of homemade, lo-fi tracks -- reference 2004's "The Doldrums" or last year's "Grandes Exitos" for prime examples -- the L.A. songwriter/multi-instrumentalist made use of a professional recording studio and signed up with a relatively well-known label, (4AD). The results don't abandon Pink's singular squirts of '70s AM soft rock, late-night mewlings and self-absorbed garage rock, but whisk them into a shiny melodic goop that leaks pleasantly into your brainpan.
Producers Rik Pekkonen (press materials proudly note his work with Bread and Seals & Crofts) and Sunny Levine (grandson of Quincy Jones, son of soul/funk producer Stewart) throw a Californian/gold chain/hairy chest sort of sheen on the proceedings. Which makes tracks like "Round and Round" and "Beverly Kills" sound a lot like, well . . . Seals and Crofts trying to be soulful.
The work of Pink's backing band, Haunted Graffiti, stands out on "Today" (partly because you can actually hear them) with adept handling of burrowing sludge rock ("Butt-House Blondies"), greasy synth squiggle ("Reminiscences") and garage pop (a cover of the circa-1966 "Bright Lit Blue Skies," by the suitably obscure Rockin' Ramrods).
The result of this cleaned-up genre hopping is a heap of eccentricities that often recalls equally off-center pop recyclers Of Montreal. That comparison alone signals a fundamental shift in Pink's sonic approach. "Before Today" is charming enough, however, to gain Pink a new fan for every die-hard the cleaner sound will alienate. You could even call that progress.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti performs at Rock & Roll Hotel July 28.
Recommended tracks: "Can't Hear My Eyes," "Round and Round," "Beverly Kills"