The good people at Personal Injury Records were kind enough to send me a copy of a new collection of R. Stevie Moore music. Compilations - official and otherwise - of the modern home recording pioneer's music abound, but this one is particularly notable because the songs have been handpicked by Moore's pink-headed stepchild, Ariel Pink.
To the uninitiated, the two artists may seem an unlikely pairing, but they have much in common, including a knack for making the off-kilter accessible, creating melodies and lyrical phrases that quickly and pleasantly take root within the first or second listen (despite unconventionality), and let's face it -- these two guys like stirring it up (Ariel Pink's recent statment that Madonna approached him to collaborate on her new music had Madge's people scrambling to deny any such claim). Both artists embrace controversy, Twitter battles, and photoshopped memes -- pretty much anything that keeps the conversation going.
And going it is. Both artists are undeniably on a trajectory (even if a humble one, in comparison to mainstream voices and faces populating our radios, streaming services, award ceremonies, and reality TV shows), that can only be described as an unrelenting, upward one. So what better way to keep the ball rolling than a rubber stamped collection of the master's work by his successful, influential, and younger counterpart? Sort of a modern-day Ravel and Debussy, if you will (and I think you will).
I suppose there are two main things to consider here: First, there is the music itself, and then there is the matter of the how well this collection works as a cohesive representation of the distinguished Mr. Moore's work. The first question is one I think I can answer with relative ease, though admittedly and unabashedly from the perspective of a fan. The second matter is a bit more opaque, since I have not seen or read anything explaining Ariel's motivation or parameters behind the selections.
Thanks to the compilation's title and cover alone, many new ears will find their way to the wild, sometimes perverse and befuddling, but also beautiful and rewarding world that R. Stevie Moore creates for us. Even without RSM staples like "I Like to Stay Home" or "Conflict of Interest", this group of songs is sure to snare new, avid fans. Styles and decades are spanned and represented in this collection, so even if a stray song here or there eludes a particular listener, another is sure to appeal.
Moore's love for, and intimate familiarity with, 20th Century pop music is evident throughout the compilation. "Here Comes the Summer Again" is paramount to a Beach Boys tribute, with it's layered vocal harmonies, quarter note keyboard pulse, and reverb-laden percussion. You can practically hear Carl Wilson and Mike Love singing during parts of the this RSM pocket symphony. In typical Moore fashion, the references seem closer to The Beach Boys Love You and Friends than anything before Pet Sounds, so there's plenty of opportunity for the father of modern home recording to flex his unique creative muscles.
The completely instrumental "Cuss Me Out" is a particular favorite of mine. Its cinematic character is such that it would have fit well into a classic surf film, or perhaps a more mellow scene featuring one of Russ Meyer's beauties.
Songs like "Johna's Theme" and "Benefit of the Doubt" demonstrate the master's ability to churn out quirky-yet-accessible gems, and both of these could easily have found a home on the Beatles' White Album (a work for which RSM has expressed fondness). The above references all include the caveat that Moore's work is uniformly and unquestionably his own, though I do feel listeners will have fun catching the references. You end up wishing Moore had been your Music Appreciation teacher in junior high, distilling the history, and then turning it into something altogether new, fun, and a bit weird.
Other highlights include the clever, and deceptively sophisticated "We're in Vietnam" and "Mason Jar" -- quintessential RSM with its curveball drumming, infectious guitar riffs, and (if my ears don't deceive) a happily yelping dog. And how can you not give a song entitled "Right Perfume, Wrong Mouthwash" a chance?
If Ariel Pink's aim was to intrigue and invite those previously unfamiliar with RSM's music, as well as create an appealing package to existing fans, I'd say he's succeeded here. More established followers of Moore's music may debate the merits of this song over that one, or suggest songs absent from this particular collection (it's worth remembering that the album is titled Vol. 1) then that fits perfectly with the Moore/Pink model of collaborative discussion, debate, and controversy.
One the whole, the collection is a sincere and worthy snapshot of this brilliant musician's unconventional and ground-breaking career. This album will absolutely remain in my permanent collection, and I think that in the end, both artists might tell us the same thing: let's keep this conversation going. I know I will.
You can buy Ariel Pink's Picks Vol. 1 here: http://personalinjury.storenvy.com