Monday, 13 August 2012

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes

It’s important to remember that LA eccentric Ariel Pink had been making records for almost a decade before signing with legendary British alternative label 4AD for 2010’s ‘Before Today’. The blissed out psychedelia, and particularly single ‘Round and Round’ finally caught the ears of tastemaker behemoth, Pitchfork and set him on the road to, if not actual superstardom then at least the kind of cult following that would allow him to indulge his magpie tendencies for the foreseeable future.

Just in case we were expecting Ariel and co to deliver a more accessible record to capitalise upon ‘Before Today’s surprise success, opener ‘Kinski Assassin’s Beck/8 bit fusion seems to be an attempt to reassert his oddball credentials. Drawling lines like ‘suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs’ over glitch beats and a simple guitar line, it’s shamanic weirdness only barely hints at the deft songwriting Ariel manages to pull out of his bag over the following 40 minutes.

The most instant moment is the Byrdsian ‘Only in My Dreams’ which mixes a jangly guitar line with gorgeous vocals. It also reaffirms that ‘Mature Themes’ is a group project, with deft vocal interplay and a fully fleshed out Californian sunset vibe, as Ariel and his bandmates spin out their wistful backporch tale. The musicianship is gorgeous, like Avi Buffalo at their finest and it’s lent added nuance by the sadness tinged lyrics “If at first you don’t succeed at love, dream a little dream”. Wavves may think it’s cool not to care but Ariel makes trying hard all the more affecting.

Fortunately for those select few who were intimately familiar with the warped world of Ariel Pink before ‘Before Today’, alongside the specimens of great classic songwriting like ‘Farewell American Primitive’ there is also plenty of his characteristic weirdness, from the tongue in cheek ‘My name’s Ariel / I’m a nympho’ on the gothic ‘Symphony of the Nymph’ to the distorted drive-thru horror of ‘Schnitzel Boogie’.

Matching his psychedelic pop to a slinkier, synth-ier sound has its dangers, making ‘Mature Themes’ a brasher and less subtle record than its predecessor which really tried to weave its way under your skin. However, as the closing cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s ‘Baby’ wraps up the record on a moment of soulful melancholy it’s clear that one of pop’s most amiable oddballs has once more made a record that’s diverse and experimental without sacrificing pop craftsmanship.


Max Sefton

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