A singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose music is equally poignant and outlandish, sugary and abrasive, and as well-versed in the catchiest pop music from the '60s, '70s, and '80s as avant-garde and outsider music, Ariel Pink is an art school dropout who became one of the most influential indie musicians of the 2000s and 2010s.
Recorded on an eight-track recorder that gave his music a murkily otherworldly quality, his initial albums as Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti spanned the post-punk and Krautrock hybrids of 1999's Underground, the hazy quarter-life crisis meditations of 2000's The Doldrums, and the relatively light-hearted but just as mercurial territory of 2002's Lover Boy and 2003's Worn Copy. When Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label reissued some of these early albums, Pink's acclaim and influence reached a peak, inspiring the chillwave movement as well as a lo-fi revival. However, few of his followers could approach his audacious strangeness, which remained in his later, widely released work for labels including 4AD and Mexican Summer. The slightly higher fidelity of albums such as 2010's Before Today -- the first album Pink recorded in a professional studio -- only made it easier to hear how singular his mutations of pop music were. After retiring the Haunted Graffiti project, Pink's solo albums, which included 2014's Kim Fowley collaboration pom pom and 2017's homage to the cult L.A. musician Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, continued to connect and recombine pop's history in his one-of-a-kind way.
Ariel Pink was born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg in Los Angeles on June 24, 1978. As a young child, he was interested in visual art and music, and was writing his own songs by age 10. Along with pop acts such as Hall & Oates, Michael Jackson, 10cc, Fleetwood Mac, and David Bowie, Pink was also interested in avant-garde music. During his time at Beverly Hills High School, he wrote pieces for bass guitar and kitchen utensils that he committed to tape with a portable recorder. By 1996, he was immersed in recording and issued a steady stream of cassette releases attributed to monikers including Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti and Ariel Rosenberg's Thrash and Burn.
After attending U.C. Santa Cruz for a year, Pink transferred to the California Institute of the Arts as a fine art student. It was there that he met John Maus, a like-minded artist/musician who became Pink's close friend and roommate after seeing a gig by his band the Appleasians. Pink borrowed Maus' Tascam eight-track to record these songs, which were more melodic than his earlier material. His creative process was amateurish, yet inventive: he often mimicked drum sounds with his mouth, and his use of cassettes added a distinctively gritty yet atmospheric patina to his music. In 1999, he self-released the first Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti album, Underground, as a cassette that he shared with friends. During this time, Pink worked on his second album on his own eight-track recorder, a Yamaha MT8X-8 that gave an even tinnier, hazier sound to his songs about twenty-something ennui. He presented the album, The Doldrums, in 2000 as his senior thesis project before leaving CalArts without a degree.
Pink then moved to a local ashram and worked at a record store while continuing to record prolifically. In 2001, he released the double album Scared Famous/FF>>, which brought synths to the forefront of his music and featured collaborations with R. Stevie Moore, a pioneering lo-fi artist that Pink regarded as a mentor as well as a friend. The following year, he issued House Arrest and Lover Boy, an album that included contributions by Maus and another friend, Holy Shit's Matt Fishbeck. Like Scared Famous/FF>>, these albums were released as a set. Rhystop released Pink's next album, 2003's slightly more refined Worn Copy.
In 2003, while attending an Animal Collective show, Pink passed a disc of his recordings on to the band via future Graffiti drummer Jimi Hey. Soon after, the band's label Paw Tracks reissued The Doldrums with the collection of bonus material Vital Pink in 2004 to critical acclaim that earned Pink a cult following. Over the next few years, his early albums were given wider releases. Along with the Paw Tracks editions of Worn Copy (2005) and House Arrest (2006), smaller-scale reissues of Lover Boy and Underground appeared. In addition, Human Ear Music issued Scared Famous, a 2007 collection of songs from Scared Famous/FF>>, while Pink offered the 2008 compilation Odditties Sodomies, Vol. 1 on vinyl and as a limited-edition tour release.
While his older music was being re-released, Pink concentrated on touring. By 2008, he had solidified his backing band to multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kenny Gilmore, drummer/vocalist/guitarist Hey (who was later replaced by Aaron Sperske), and guitarist Cole M. Greif-Neill. That year, Pink also released Unusual Animals, Vol. 3 with Half-Handed Cloud, a collaboration that was part of Asthmatic Kitty's limited-edition series. Late in 2009, he signed with 4AD to make his first album with a producer in a professional studio. Arriving in June 2010, Before Today built on Pink's critical acclaim and peaked at 163 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. In 2011, Pink released a new recording of the 16-minute "Witchhunt Suite for WWIII," a song previously featured on 2007's tour-only album YAS DuDette, as a single to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11. He also reunited with R. Stevie Moore on the double album Ku Klux Glam, which appeared early in 2012. In August of that year, Pink's second 4AD album -- and final Haunted Graffiti release -- Mature Themes appeared. Boasting a more eclectic approach that spanned '60s bubblegum homages and a cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's 1979 soul-pop song "Baby," the album reached 136 on the Billboard 200. In May 2013, Human Ear Music reissued Thrash & Burn, a collection of musique concrète pieces Pink recorded in 1998 (the label had issued the set as a cassette-only release in 2006). Early Live Recordings appeared on the label late that year.
Pink returned to his solo moniker for 2014's double album pom pom, a mix of songs co-written with Kim Fowley and reworked older material. Upon its release that November, the album reached 150 on the Billboard Hot 200. Pink followed the album by collaborating with artists including Miley Cyrus, the Avalanches, and Theophilus London. Myths 002, an EP with Weyes Blood, was released by Mexican Summer in early 2017. That September, he returned with his first full-length for the label, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson. Inspired by the '60s cult musician and L.A. counterculture figure, it peaked at 193 on the Billboard Hot 200. In October 2019, Pink remixed several songs from Royal Trux's album White Stuff on the EP Pink Stuff. Later that month, Mexican Summer embarked on the Ariel Archives retrospective series, beginning with remastered editions of Underground and Lover Boy as well as the compilation Odditties Sodomies, Vol. 2. The Ariel Archives series continued into 2020 with deluxe reissues of The Doldrums, Worn Copy, and House Arrest. These archival releases were expanded to include material left off of earlier reissues. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi