Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Before Today was the biggest breakthrough for Ariel Pink thus far into his decade-long career—#163 on the US charts!—but if he made any effort to capitalize on that shred of commercial momentum, it’s all but inaudible on 2012’s Mature Themes. Well, to be fair, there are a few singles here, but the poppiest things on the album—a great, sexy cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby” (with an assist by Dâm-Funk on vocals) and the sweetly jangling “Only In My Dreams”—would be many other groups’ oddest material. But then, Pink is an artist who often excels at indulging his weird flights of fancy, and the first handful of tracks here feature some of the best bits of skewered pop you are likely to hear all year. The catchy, kitschy “Kinski Assassin” has enough affected vocal quirks to impress They Might Be Giants; the twitchy new wave-psych of “Is This The Best Spot?” throws sexual and violent imagery into the same stew, while the funny yet yearning soft rock of the title track presents an idealized portrait of young love. And those three songs are telling about what tone to expect on this record. Though “mature themes” like sex may frequently appear in the lyrics, Pink is intent on speaking about them in some of the least mature (if not necessarily vulgar or unintelligent) ways possible. From the “blowjobs of death” in “Kinski Assassin” to the spur-of-the-moment drive-thru order in “Schnitzel Boogie” to Pink declaring he’s a nympho, humor is a big part of Mature Themes, and it helps some of more half-baked ideas work since they come across goofy and endearing rather than ponderous.
Still, even that humor can’t always save the album. While the record builds up a large amount of steam in its first four tracks, it hits a wall at “Driftwood” and can’t completely find its feet again for the next 20 minutes, give or take “Symphony of the Nymph.” It’s not that these tracks are bad—in fact, they all offer many interesting and funny ideas worth pursuing—but they suck the momentum right out of the album since Pink and his band can’t figure out how to make these songs go anywhere. So instead, one after the other, they all follow the same pattern: a murky, psychedelic jam that muses on one or two lyrical and musical concepts before abruptly ending four or five minutes later. Luckily, tracks like “Baby” and the transportive, space epic “Nostradamus & Me” end up helping Mature Themes land on its feet because they return to the variety and accomplished musicianship of the rest of the record. If it sounds like I’m being too hard on the record, it’s only because I think it had the potential to be something even greater. As it stands, however, Mature Themes is pretty damn good in its own way, and even if Pink could be a better editor, it’s always gratifying to see an artist take so many chances and succeed in making music so unique.