Stranded at Two Harbors
Uunited Acoustic Record Company
on’t be duped by their name: Holy Shit performs Carter-era, bubblegum stoner-pop. Enigmatic weirdo Ariel Pink and Matt Fishbeck, a dandy from whitebread 60’s rock revivalists The Push Kings, concocted Stranded in “various rooms and various mornings” over a four-year period. Fishbeck takes the center as the lead singer and guitarist, while Ariel handles the bass, percussion and studio work. No matter, the entire record could be mistaken for another Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti joint. Ariel’s time-tattered and moldy no-fi production values are in effect, and his recordings of Fishbeck’s croons and yelps sound just as THC-smoked as Ariel’s.
There are two fine exceptions: the flamenco jangle-pop dirge, “Written All Over Your Face” and the instrumental yacht-rock ballad (listen for those seagulls) “Stranded,” which both sound strikingly clean, hi-fi, and ripe for airplay on easy-listening stations. Those songs show that Ariel is capable of writing and recording songs that don’t rely on a fashionably art-damaged production to be remarkable.
Holy Shit sounds best when their music steers clear of the underdeveloped dreck that mars Ariel’s solo albums. “The Castle,” an elegant and blissfully lethargic guitar ballad about a magical kingdom where “children sing ‘Hallelujah’ all over the town,” resembles The Carpenters playing around a campfire of hemp logs with Jimmy Page. The band later channels Cheap Trick on the infectious, static-clogged trad-rocker “I Don’t Need Enemies.” And there is the Martian bossa nova space-out, “The Notice,” the best soundtrack for a trip sequence never used in a hippie-exploitation movie.
There is also blatant—but cute—plagiarism here: “Tokyo Gamblers” steals its melody and “I rilly thank so” hook from The Vapors’s yellow-faced ode to masturbation, “Turning Japanese,” while Fishbeck inhales several balloons of helium and does an uncanny John Lennon impression in “My Whole Life Story.” Not everything clicks. “Let’s Get Straight” struggles to piece together bits of guitar notes and echoing vocals into a narcotic groove, while album opener, “Maus Is Missing” rubs its eyes for its four-minute run-time; the song’s blood-on-the-saddle guitar melodrama and “pizzicato” synths are just unbearable.
Ariel Pink’s albums are typically admired (and loathed) as freak novelties made by a man trapped in his own world, just like Daniel Johnston or Gary Wilson. When I first heard Holy Shit, I was irritated. It sounded like our amigo just repeated himself with Fishbeck’s help. Yet, the music finally hit me while driving home on the highway, exhausted, under a full moon. Unlike Ariel’s solo works, most of Holy Shit’s wearied music would fit well as pop in 70s America, where youthful energies were burned out by failed idealism, chronic unemployment, chemically poisoned euphoria, and selfish escapism. There is finally a payoff in Ariel’s studio touch and retrophilia.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2006-07-05