Warped pop provocateur Ariel Pink began his one-of-a-kind musical journey in an inauspicious way similar to most lo-fi experimenters. While half-heartedly attending art school in Southern California in the late '90s, Pink was spending a lot of time capturing his damaged take on pop on a cassette multi-track recorder and releasing the results on handmade CD-Rs. The Doldrums was the second of his stardusted and druggy early albums and the first released under the banner of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. Its hazy production obscures inklings of '70s AM radio-styled songwriting, and Pink's gift for melody is almost as strong as his tendency towards weirdness. Marked as much by manic sharp turns and wobbly key changes as they are by Pink's double-tracked falsetto vocals, tunes like "Among Dreams" or the melodramatically hooky "For Kate I Wait" meander through multiple different segments. Most tracks are near a four-minute run time, but pack so many ideas and changes in they end up feeling almost like turning the dial to scan different channels on a demonic radio. "Gray Sunset" aims for Bowie, with alien vocal harmonies that resolve in pop chord changes and the constant clatter of a distant drum machine and organ. This phase of Ariel Pink's ongoing wrestling match with catchy songwriting and freaked-out impulses is one of his most feral. The buried pop genius of The Doldrums would surface more clearly on future albums, but here it resides happily (and deeply) below the surface of coherent production standards. Glowing guitar jangle, parodic '80s machismo, and snaking melodies all stay deep beneath a murk that fits him more in the category of cult weirdos like R. Stevie Moore and the Cleaners from Venus. Those artists also delivered sublime pop songs in a form a little too fractured for mainstream tastes, and at the time of Ariel Pink's unpolished form on The Doldrums, his ratio also skewed closer to arty weirdness than pop brilliance. This wasn't for nothing. Pink presented The Doldrums as a final project for a class he was taking at Cal Arts before dropping out to work on music full-time. A CD-R copy made it into the hands of Animal Collective, who re-released the record in 2004 with Pink becoming the first artist on their Paw Tracks label not directly connected to their band. For all its would-be touchstones of classic rock and radio pop, The Doldrums' colorless textures and drowned production don't really sound too much like anything else. Ultimately, that becomes the album's most lasting accomplishment.
The Doldrums Review
by Fred Thomas