Ariel Pink calls Before Today his first album. Technically, that’s far from the truth -- he has more than a few collections of songs under his belt, but many of those albums, such as House Arrest, Lover Boy, and Scared Famous, came from a creative burst Pink had in the early 2000s and were issued and reissued well into the decade. During that time, he became the father of chillwave, an entire genre inspired by his mix of ‘70s and ‘80s AM pop touchstones and woozily nostalgic lo-fi production. However, Before Today does feel like a debut, or at least a fresh start; it's Pink's most cohesive work yet -- relatively speaking, that is. While this is the first of his albums to sound like it was recorded in a proper studio, there’s still a film coating his music; Pink's surroundings are just polished enough to make Before Today's lush harmonies and synths sound like they’re on a cassette that’s been dubbed over only a few times and left in a glove box for a couple of years instead of a couple of decades. If anything, this higher fidelity just underscores how weird Pink's music is. He sings about getting a disease in a hot tub in the clammy, sleazy album opener, “Hot Body Rub,” grunting like a bad James Brown impersonator while saxophones drone. It’s also hard to imagine many others who would open a blue-eyed soul song with a car chase (“Beverly Kills”) or mix lysergic verses with pop-metal choruses and call it “Butt House Blondies”; the way Pink mixes and matches sounds with abandon and tops them with goofy, surreal lyrics suggests Ween as an influence, or hints that they’ve been under the same influences. Elsewhere, Pink works from a wider palette of genres to mash: the frothy instrumental “Reminiscences” is the world’s coolest and campiest elevator music, while “Revolution’s a Lie” closes the album with driving post-punk. And while songs like “L’Estat” are almost too dense and busy to keep up with, Pink’s pop finesse shines on his cover of the Rockin' Ramrods' “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” the equally breezy and creepy “Fright Night,” and the album’s single, “Round and Round,” which suggests Synchronicity-era Police. But even when the music calms down, he can’t resist some head-scratching wordplay, as on “Can’t Hear My Eyes”' just-off-the-yacht soft rock, where Pink sighs, “I want a lady as beautiful as the sunset on a strip,” or on the gender-blurring “Menopause Man,” where he sings, “You’re trying too hard to be yourself.” He doesn’t have that problem on Before Today -- even with some of the smoke and mirrors removed, Ariel Pink is still a singular talent.
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Review by Heather Phares