Ariel Pink isn't one of those artists who's known for the high fidelity in his recordings, and while he's occasionally pitched out some great songs, I've remained more mystified than anything else by his huge output. That said, his newest project (where he teams up with Matt Fishbeck) of Holy Shit finds him at perhaps his most poppy and concise yet, creating an album of songs that's still sometimes burdened with low recording quality while at others breaking through the hiss into something amazing.
Fortunately, even the songs covered in hiss are melodic and interesting as well. After an odd instrumental opener, Stranded At Two Harbors drops one of the better pop songs I've heard this year in "Written All Over Your Face." Multiple layers of ramshackle guitars all wind together over hand percussion, bursts of hi-hat, and some harmonized vocals that feature sprinkled bits of forgotten conversation and random phrases that tie the whole thing together.
"Hot On Your Trail" is another gem, and while it's buried in a load of tape hiss, the duo again pulls together some great vocal harmonies over rinky-dink drum machine beats, organs, and an almost completely submerged bass. In places, the recording quality becomes much more of a distraction than it should be (such as on the worse-than-boombox "I Don't Need Enemies"), but in other places the rough quality actually works in favor of the release, starkly contrasting the shiny metallic packaging and giving the release a sort of long-lost basement hits feel.
Listening to tracks like "The Castle" and "Let's Get Straight," I can't help but wonder what they'd sound like recorded with the same attention as the aforementioned "Written All Over Your Face" was given. Although he's moved onto bigger and glossier contracts, even the earlier work of Stephen Merritt sounded better, even though he was making it with fairly plain equipment. Those looking for a loose thrill will definitely find some joy here, but others will be frustrated in their attempts to get past the fidelity.