Release Date: Aug 21, 2012
Record label: 4AD
After years of weird-ass bedroom recordings, Ariel Pink has upgraded his operation, and what he loses in stoner burble, he gains in high-def Sixties flashback triggers. The music gives the whimsy weight. "Only in My Dreams" channels the Byrds via the La's, and the synth reverie "Farewell American Primitive" might be a kiss-off to his old self, with a glance over his shoulder but no regrets.
Ariel Pink's music began its strange journey early in the last decade, as a CD-R lying on the floor of Animal Collective's tour van. Before then, he'd been heard by almost no one, despite that he'd recorded hundreds of songs, by himself, in what sounded like a windowless dungeon. The quality of those early recordings was poor, but something shone from the murk: Pink became the first artist signed to the band's Paw Tracks label, which reissued his album The Doldrums in 2004.
The weirdness is now available in Technicolor. Mature Themes is the latest installment in subversive maestro Ariel Pink’s lengthy Haunted Graffiti series and the second (along with 2010’s Before Today) to employ a winnowed soundscape. However, added clarity does not dilute Pink’s mindfuck masquerade in the slightest. Songs like the title track and second single, “Only In My Dreams,” easily pass for lucid ’70s AM pop, before torching that veil upon further inspection.
Two years on from the album that transported him from the bedroom to the Billboard 200, Ariel Marcus Rosenberg finds himself in a strangely unfamiliar situation, as his burgeoning fanbase is now more divided than ever in terms of its expectations. A section of recent converts are doubtless hoping for ten variations on Round and Round, while some long-term fans will want to see a return to the more radical experimentation and downright weirdness of his early days. If Mature Themes does just one thing consistently, it demonstrates that Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti bandmates have very different ideas.
Ariel Pink has become markedly more conventional since his early cassette-only recordings, when by his own admission he couldn't actually play – "I had no verifiable talent, no instruments, nothing. I was just completely disturbed," he told this paper in 2006. But it's all relative: for all that his second album for 4AD is full of normal pop sounds and melodies, it remains deeply odd.
Now that Ween has officially (finally?) ceded the throne of comedy rock, maybe it's time we give Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, better known as Ariel Pink, his rightful crown. Back in the early aughts, with the brothers Ween already selling out huge shows, Ariel Pink was crafting the lo-est of lo-fi pop experiments, each of them revealing both an encyclopedic knowledge of music and songcraft-with a particular fetish for '70s and'80s radio hits-and an off-kilter sense of humor on par with that of Ween, Zappa, et al, or his own oft-cited influence, R. Stevie Moore.
To anyone familiar with his music, it's obvious that Ariel Pink is weird, but it bears repeating: Ariel Pink is really weird. It's also not a surprise that he's a (self-professed) "nympho" either, but he sheds more light on that throughout Mature Themes, which is both his most accomplished album and some of his most twistedly immature music. As on Before Today, the album's sound is just a shade clearer than what came before it, and his backing band Haunted Graffiti's tight musicianship provides the perfect foil for Pink's stream-of-consciousness sprawl.
I thought that 2010’s Before Today would be a tough act to follow. This, of course, was the last record we heard from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – and their first after ascending to the ‘big time’ (that is, signing to 4AD). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect.
With all the buzz that’s been building for him and his Haunted Graffiti bandmates over the last several years, this new record could have been a commercial breakthrough for the weird and wild Ariel Pink. But instead of moving in the more polished direction hinted at by his 4AD debut, Before Today, Pink takes a step back to keep moving ahead on Mature Themes, blending the lo-fi vibe of his earlier bedroom work with the more accessible sheen of his last record. With its esoteric pop-culture cutouts (“Trolololololo … Who sank my battleship / I sank my battleship … G-spot, H-bomb, lets go!”), Mature Themes is a bubbling word stew, an absurdist stream-of-conscious pastiche ladled atop a bed of Oingo Boingo-style ’80s ray-gun synth pop by a psychedelic 8-bit videogame Captain Beefheart.
Ariel Pink’s always been a crude provocateur, but he’s only lately found himself on a stage large enough to prove it. Following the breakthrough success of 2010’s brilliant Before Today, his first album bolstered by a crack backing band and budget, the decade-plus veteran of outsider pop has explored plenty of ways to test the patience of his newfound crowd. One of his much-reported tour meltdowns last summer found him slinging a skein of slurs and stereotypes at bewildered fans in Mexico.
Madman, lo-fi genius, Godfather of Chillwave™ – discerning the exact contents of Ariel Pink’s brain should really be an Olympic sport for hipsters by now. Scoring a deal with 4AD after fate and timely props from Animal Collective conspired to make him a cult figure on the internetz, the 34-year-old LA tunesmith enjoyed crossover success of sorts with 2010’s ‘Before Today’, an album that subtly switched his focus from the warped murkiness of his home recordings to writing amazing pop songs. He says he hopes ‘Mature Themes’ will make his Haunted Graffiti band “huge”, but you’d be nuts to believe him.
I mean this in the nicest possible way when I say that Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, also known as Ariel Pink, is one weird cat. Or his brand of avant-bizarre pop music makes him seem that way. Last year, when his early independently-released solo albums Worn Copy, The Doldrums and House Arrest re-emerged in record stores on vinyl, I scored copies of all three and spent at least one summer’s evening on the balcony of my apartment, beer in hand, taking in the brave new waves that were emanating from my stereo.
Ariel Pink's last album was a coming out of sorts, a startling take on the hypnagogic pop he helped to invent by mixing faux-retro pastiche with strikingly accurate facsimiles of the sort of '60s pop he's been taking cues from since day one. 2010's Before Today not only provided Pink with the highest recording values of his career but finally cut through his alienating weirdness with tried-and-tested classicist melodies. Mature Themes, his second album for 4AD, shows him sharpening his showy side even further but still keeps one foot staunchly in the "weird" camp, leaving an album of extraordinary highs mixed with sometimes frustrating plateaus.Mature Themes contains all the sorts of little sketches associated with Haunted Graffiti.
Now available in stereo: LA minstrel’s junkshop hi-fi comes to life…The last time Ariel Pink attracted any kind of notable attention was when he had an onstage meltdown at Coachella in April 2011. As his band played, Pink – real surname Rosenburg – refused to sing and spent part of the set inspecting the drum riser and biting his fingernails. Later he shrugged it off, as well he might: it’s not the first time Pink has flaked out – Uncut saw a Brighton show in 2006 that lasted five minutes before he flounced off – and it won’t be the last.
ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI play Lee’s Palace on September 19. See listing. Rating: NNN When powerful indie label 4AD signed long-running underground musician Ariel Pink, it seemed to have his bio pre-written: outsider icon plucked from obscurity and given the resources to transform his off-kilter, cheaply recorded song sketches into the hits they always had the potential to be.
LA-based singer-songwriter Ariel Pink is an undoubted talent, but all too often he appears to be treating his career as an exercise in self-sabotage. His second album for 4AD certainly has much to recommend it, with a scattershot approach to genres that defies easy pigeonholing. But for every beautifully realised moment – the gentle psychedelia of the title track, the Byrds-influenced Only in My Dreams or the lyrically opaque synth-pop of Kinski Assassin ("Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs", anyone?) – there's something as tediously throwaway as Schnitzel Boogie, which possesses all the discreet charm of halitosis.
Ariel Pink spent a lot of time underground, noticed by none but a small cult following -- comprising quite a few musicians -- as he cranked out tape-hiss curios from his bedroom for years. That changed, of course, with 2010's Before Today, where Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti joined 4AD Records, entered a proper studio, and turned from eccentric lo-fi project to legitimate and celebrated band. The touchstones to '70s AM-pop and '80s synths were still there, but the hissing detritus of home recording was stripped away to reveal songs that were sweet and deeply textured if not quite lush.
“The new album is bonkers,” an old colleague recently described Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes. There’s really no way around it. Even Pink himself said, “If people are into it, they’re weirder than I am.” Such unabashed weirdness is probably to be expected from the Los Angeles former recluse who believes in his Android, feels at least somewhat like a Svengali, guides Haunted Graffiti’s drummer with his mouth sounds, and practices — if we are to believe the premise behind the tongue-twisting, genre-bending “Symphony of the Nymph”; and the existence of “testicle dumplings”, “blowjobs of death”, and the G-spot among many double entendres on “Is This the Best Spot?” — nymphomania.
A man without a scene, a full-tilt radical with nothing to rebel against, Ariel Pink has never really found his place. Pouring out music like gasoline, but never able to light the match, he’s remained stuck as a novelty attraction and inveterate fringe freak. The sideshow continues with Mature Themes, which pushes further into Pink’s subconscious, a bargain-basement repository of pop-culture ephemera, junky samples, and song fragments.
Andre Breton, the co-founder of the surrealist art movement of the early 20th Century would probably hate this album for the same reason he tried to oust Salvador Dali from the movement: when Dali, on numerous occasions, expressed that if he dreamt of getting amorous with Adolf Hitler, he would paint it, Breton became increasingly anxious about the stigma that would attach to his beloved movement – aligning surrealism with a regime which sought to destroy everything it stood for. However, what Dali was actually getting at was the need to stay as close to your own nature as possible, regardless of how disturbing or disgusting it was – this was the true surrealist manifesto. This is something Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti seems to have nailed on ‘Mature Themes’.
When Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti put out Before Today, his 4AD debut, the frontman was quick to explain that this was the type of album he had always wanted to put out, if given the equipment and budget. While bizarre themes and meandering genres made the album distinctly Ariel, the large leap from extreme lo-fi to more polished vocals and instrumentation was pretty jarring to longtime fans. The success of Before Today marked the evolution of Ariel from outsider to quirky indie mainstay, and the accolades came pouring in.
Early 90s lo-fi was, by and large, a creed by which making music was a free choice, an expression of a decision not to participate in the acquisitive rat-race the 80s had set in motion and to which a cultivated air of unprofessionalism offered some form of rebuke. The autobiography of hypnagogic pop, slacker music's descendent at least in terms of recording values, might be said to be almost the diametric opposite of this: its narrative is one of compulsion, of being possessed by sound encountered in early life which insists on using the performer's body as a conduit for its repetition. In this tale, the artist's agency is envisaged as limited, with music presented as an irresistible, occult force.