What is “Haunted Retro”? It is hypnagogic music. It is the sound of the future as heard in the past. It is children hiding under bedsheets with AM radios, dialling through the airwaves til they find the sacred music that will sweep them far away. It is the music of your dreams, even your nightmares. just before the alarm wakes you up and your memory is wiped.
Ok, so “haunted retro” doesn’t exist. I made it up for the purposes of this article, and as an excuse to write about Ariel Pink and his pals. But hey, as a term it works! Because, while these acts I am going to write about share certain lo-fi techniques and nostalgic sensibilities, they are much more than simple pastiche merchants trying to relive an imagined past. Akin to bands like Portishead sampling 60s spy soundtracks and putting them in a different context, haunted retro artists cannot help taking their influences and molding them into something new. Something that feels warm and cozy like we’ve heard it before, but with a deep and disturbing uncertainty at its core. It’s beautiful, it is uncanny, but it’s not quite right.
Unquestionably Ariel Pink is the leader of this whole “movement”. An outsider from the outset, Mr Pink is finally coming to gain the respect he deserves in the industry after putting out music for the last 10+ years. Much of this is down to his current act Haunted Graffiti and their album Before Today (4AD 2010), in which he has reigned in his more obscure tendencies, and whose output has subtle shades of the Doors, 10CC and even mid 80’s Fleetwood Mac. But his early work is worth checking out too, and his choice of instrumentation (analog synths and vintage drum machines) and recording techniques (8 tracks and plenty of hiss) have been influential on many new acts. In fact, to some folks (me included) discovering Ariel Pink and his music is akin to a spiritual revelation. Music really lacks truly talented idiosyncratic oddballs like this. At a time when the mainstream is playing weirdo dress-up, Ariel Pink is the real deal. Check out the video for “Kate I Wait” which is both ridiculous and sublime:
Ariel Pink “Kate I Wait”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Bright Lit Blue Sky”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Life In LA”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Beverly Kills”
Next up is Pink’s friend John Maus, a college lecturer from Hawaii whose music tends more towards the proto-dance of early productions by Daniel Miller or OMD, but who shares with Pink an affinity for the early works of The Cure and a potential fascination with his own shoes. While his first album Songs is patchy, his last album Love Is Real (Upset The Rhythm 2007) is definitely worth tracking down, containing as it does the simply stunning “Do Your Best”, the equally gorgeous “Tenebrae” and the possible future classic “Rights For Gays” (“And medical care for everyone”). Interviews with Maus are also worth checking out as he is acutely intelligent.
John Maus “Through The Skies For You’
John Maus “Do Your Best”
John Maus “Rights For Gays”
Further aluminus of the Ariel Pink / haunted retro school is Gary War. Mr War also used to play with Mr Pink, and has now branched into solo material, and his latest album is Horribles Parade, released on Sacred Bones records.. His take on things is more playful than Pink or Maus, with a real affinity for 60s psychedlia, while retaining the all important late seventies/early 80s synth appeal and the lo-fi production ethos of R. Stevie Moore (a big influence on Ariel Pink). He makes particularly good videos too that I’m sure Vigilant Citizen would find a lot to analyse in, if only they could be bothered.
Gary War “Reality Protest” (live from a balcony in Dublin)
Gary War “Hope For The Future”
Gary War “Clouds Went That Way”
Needless to say, the music of these acts is not for anyone, but if you have a real hankering for something new and different (but strangely familiar) it is worth checking out. These days the underground gets co-opted in a heartbeat, but there’s something about the Haunted Retro sound that is genuinely too weird for the mainstream. Sweet dreams!
Next time I will be looking at the good ladies of the Haunted Retro sound.