“Everything’s pink in this villa, so it’s called the pink villa,” explains Mrs. Goforth, the dying protagonist of Tennessee Williams’ play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. The color pink has been a conceptual thread and namesake of Richard Chartier’s Pinkcourtesyphone project, dialing up its tenth year with All Intensive Purposes, seven tracks released on Lawrence English’s Room40 label and described succinctly as “catastrophe muzak.” Chartier has spoken about pink as a stressful color, one shown to induce anxiety in viewers rather than comfort. He often uses cinematic references, and one is reminded of Julianne Moore as Carol White in Todd Haynes’s Safe, sitting patiently in her doctor’s office. The walls are painted a strange, medicinal shade of pink. Slowly, we are faced with the horror of her domestic paralysis. She has a wonderful family, the bourgeois dream, yet she can’t shake the intangible feeling: something in the world is wrong.
Like Hypnos dressed in a Chanel suit, Chartier lulls us into dark rooms filled with plastic plants. The opening track, “that intangible object of contempt / the tenderness of…,” conjures a sense of Delia Derbyshire falling, but belongs to a realm of sleep without dream, what David Toop describes as “music in which a blankness prevails.” The title “serving autosuggestion” perfectly captures the empty gaze of an Instagram starlet. Oh, to be pretty and vacant. This is music for adaptor ports, Brian Eno finally slipping into a hairspray coma. Similar to the work of Zoviet France and the Hafler Trio, Chartier can produce an unsettling feeling of floating, alongside subterranean excavation. The language of Pinkcourtesyphone is often ambivalence, a careful balancing act. Throbbing Gristle were fans of Martin Denny, and Pinkcourtesyphone bridges these worlds, playing at the edges of what Toop calls “Tupperware futurism.” A faint hurricane inside the air conditioning, exotica playing through a kitchen wall. The eternal afternoon of a housewife swimming in Librium, sipping pina coladas on the moon. Beneath artificial lights, the cocktail party never ends.
Chartier takes his references and buries them in ghostly chambers of sound. Like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker set in a deserted shopping mall, we swim through boutiques of satin fog. Lauren Bacall fades inside the hotel lobby of Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. All Intensive Purposes is described as “a new sparkling jewel that already gathers cloudiness in its facets.” Robert Helpmann, as the evil magician Dapertutto in Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann, stares into an opaque gem, a fascination of vapors. The ballet students of Dario Argento’s Suspiria huddle in a red-pink hall and listen to the terrible shadows of witches, “We must get rid of that bitch of an American girl. Vanish! She must vanish! Make her disappear!” The track “drained by the very nearness” opens with a line from queer canon Mommie Dearest and taps into the frightening energy of Faye Dunaway’s performance. Her demonic face slathered in cold cream, screaming in her mirrored Brentwood palace. Derek McCormack writes about the chemical decay of film, which eventually turns pink, a subtle queering of the past and memory, beautiful cowboys from a John Ford western slowly turning magenta.
The album builds to the penultimate track, “comfortable predictability,” with an opening sample slurring, “Having a lot of beautiful things.” Excess is celebrated but also sickly. The track ends with Katharine Hepburn in the delirious adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer, stating, “Most people’s lives, what are they but trails of debris — each day more debris, more debris… long, long trails of debris, with nothing to clean it all up but, finally, death.” Chartier’s pink project feels like a glamorous set of ruins, a seance of the deceased drowned beneath a lagoon of Les Baxter jewels. Glace cherries, meatloaf preserved in cold aspic. Just one more martini before sunrise. All Intensive Purposes closes with a reprise of “wistful wishful wanton,” the first track from Pinkcourtesyphone’s debut Foley Folly Folio, bringing his project full circle. A twinkling voice repeats, “The most wonderful night of my life.” A hiss of carbon monoxide filling the apartment. The gentle hum of the refrigerator. We glide softly across escalators into the perfect arms of mannequins. It feels just like heaven.