Past, Present, And (Maybe) Future Collide In New York City

Up until very lately, I was only dimly aware of Ariel Pink. But increasingly, the prolific L.A.-based veteran lo-fi oddball, whose woozy music generally sounds like psych-rock as heard through a wind tunnel, or maybe played at the wrong turntable speed, or put in a blender (you get the idea) has been heralded as the godfather of the recently sprouted genre of chillwave, whose practitioners (Neon Indian, Washed Out) add a wistful '80s synthpop gloss to Pink's intriguingly meandering sound. It's funny how these things work: a musician can go from being an obscurity to an inspiration in a matter of months.

At Pink's show on Tuesday night at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan, there was a celebratory feel that, I think, came from a sense that the 31-year-old musician was finally getting his due. Funny then, that the man's upcoming album, Before Today (4AD), finds him reveling in a newfound sonic and songwriting clarity. Both on record and live, new songs like "Beverly Kills" and "Menopause Man" slink by in sweet swaths of laidback rhythm and jazzy chords, like a melting Steely Dan. It's all still pretty weird sounding--Pink's warbling vocals make sure of that--but it's a more focused and accessible weirdness. Who knows? Maybe he's sowing the seeds of another new genre.

I had a far hairier listening experience further uptown on the same night. The timing worked out so that I was able to catch Sleigh Bells' set opening for Yeasayer at Webster Hall before hustling over to the Ariel Pink show. I've written in this space before about the jarringly attractive way that Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss mix brutal distortion and melodic prettiness. That juxtaposition was diminished in concert, as Krauss adopted a less playful, more strident vocal tone. That factor, coupled with Miller's punishingly loud sonic malevolence and a strobe-heavy light show that had me looking at my feet for fear of passing out, tipped the sweet-sour balance far towards the latter. Needless to say, I loved it.

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