The man known as Ariel Pink has always been one of the more prolific and unconventional artists of his generation, putting together a menagerie of different-sounding music for almost 20 years. He seems totally uninterested in fitting into any sort of niche, despite being known primarily as a “lo-fi” artist. On his last album, 2010′s excellent Before Today, Pink catapulted himself forward, musically, with a series of excellent pop rock songs suited for a 1970s audience, given a millennial touch by Pink’s general weirdness.
The new album by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti finds the songwriter moving in a similar direction. Not away from lo-fi, exactly— the songs on Mature Themes are better produced but still sound kind of like they’re being played out of a cassette recorder into a megaphone. But the music, though not royalty free music for videos versus other righteously indie bands, itself showcases Pink’s expansive musical knowledge and surprising diversity.
Pink strattles the fine line between the poppy and the bizarre with songs like the lead track, “Kinski Assassin,” where he repeats the line “Who sank my battleship? I sank my battleship” in a warbled voice over a dancing organ. He follows this with a truly odd but infectious new-wave-weirdo rocker before finally settling down on the delightfully poppy and pretty “Mature Themes,” a song in the vein of Before Today. It’s an earnest song, something echoed on “Only in Dreams”, which starts out with a bit of weird advice to the lovelorn: “If at first you don’t succeed at love just dream a little dream about a girl so real. When she don’t call no more, well, don’t give up.”
There’s also the supremely ridiculous, something Pink has never shied from, though at times he makes you wish he did. On “Symphony of the Nymph,” he starts off singing about a sex-crazed lesbian before seemingly abandoning that train of thought and announcing that he, rock and roll star Ariel Pink, is also a nympho. There’s also the ode to pink slime, and a song called “Schnitzel Boogie,” where he literally just sings about eating schnitzel. Now that really should be copyright free music I reckon.
But above all, Pink’s music is equal parts fun and inventive, and that’s what elevates Mature Themes. Haunted Graffiti is probably most comparable to a band like Devo, certainly spiritually if not musically (though the first two tracks do make that case, as well.) If you look under the surface of even some of his poppier songs there’s a layer of absurdity that shines through. In that sense, on Mature Themes as with his other work, Pink challenges our notions of what makes pop, “pop,” while also putting together— well, another pretty great pop record.
4 / 5 bars