If the gradual polishing of Ariel Pink’s sound — and it’s not all that much more polished — puts his loyalists at odds with his albums, I count that as good news. Pink is at his best when he’s using his powers to unsettle, and I can think of no worse fate than to inure myself to his dazzling weirdness. He’s no slouch in his endless catalogue of exhumed pop tropes, and here he treats radio pop’s past with the all-encompassing vagueness of its title.
From the banjee (sur)realness of the sax-and-drums opener, “Hot Body Rub,” to the no-wave-with-a-side-of-kraut finale, “Revolution’s a Lie,” Before Today is a dizzying trip down an AM dial that the young Pink likely experienced only through the walls of the womb. The central synæsthetic non-sequitur of “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is lovingly tucked into folds of Steely Dan and twinkling vistas of lobby rock. “Fright Night” is classic Pink: warm like an ugly sweater, coasting forever down a freeway of 8mm sonics. And the wandering instrumental of “Reminiscences” is a little like being on hold with the cosmos.
Some may hear these hammy transmissions only as overwrought pop simulacra — but let down your guard a little and it’s hard to resist the charm in their affect.