Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes (4AD/Rhythmethod) CD REVIEW

October 9, 2014
2 mins read

ARIEL PINK, A Los Angeles native born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, is considered to have been one of the main American exponents of a scene known as hypnagogic pop (or hauntology), a predominantly English genre where new music is ‘ghosted’ by the past. It’s not so much music that copies the styles of the ‘60s and ‘70s – although the English branch of hypnagogic pop seems to be in awe of anonymous library music (or incidental music) as well as the treasure trove of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
That’s all bye-the-bye, because Ariel Pink, who made his first eight albums at home, and rolled around like a pig in shit in the sonic detritus that resulted from music having been produced in grody circumstances, probably couldn’t give a rat’s ass about some eccentric English synthesiser music. Clearly, the biggest influence in his life is music maverick Stevie R. Moore, a skewed pop genius who has been creating a huge and varied catalogue of amazing morsels from his home studio in Nashville since the mid-‘70s.
Ariel Pink’s love of Moore is well-publicised, and it’s audible on Mature Themes, his ninth album and his first proper immersion in the professional studio environment. But whereas Moore is an oddball recluse, AP is a 34-year-old cross-dressing Californian who writes songs that reflect his obsessions. In short, he’s a sexually ambiguous man-girl with a lot of issues writing catchy but often eccentric material that, on Mature Themes, takes many of its cues from ‘70s AOR power pop. It’s this musical transgression that’s most interesting, because he successfully gives life to a genre many would consider to have been moribund even in the ‘70s, let alone in the succeeding decades on ‘classic hits’ radio.
But it’s not only the AOR that gets the Ariel Pink treatment. ‘Kinski Assassin’, for instance, gathers the raw psychedelia of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and adds bizarre lyrics, sharp humour and spatial anomalies to create something that surprises and commands attention. ‘The Early Birds Of Babylon’ goes even more psych-garage, like some lost near-classic from one of those ‘60s Pebbles-type compilations, except that it destroys the picture by going all goth just when you least expect it, thereby blending several unrelated genres/decades. ‘Is This The Best Spot?’ is a naughty little ditty that’s almost throwaway, with sped-up vocals and all manner of strangeness (awkward time changes, insane theremins) that still, somehow, manages to sound like pop music. The title track is a gender-bending fantasy with a classic stadium feel and a synth-guitar melody, which feels even more risqué than it is simply because all those big-hair, hairy-chested ‘70s groups like Boston could never have coped with anything that wasn’t sexually straight down the line.
I like the way he throws in tracks like ‘Driftwood’, which could almost be a little horror from a Roald Dahl children’s nightmare. And ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ takes the cake, or rather, the meat dish: it’s an ode to AP’s favourite midnight diner with really bizarre manipulations, beatbox percussion and distorted vocals. Hell, Frank Zappa could have turned out a more hi-fi version of this.
Some might find it all a bit too much, as it descends into Mexican disco (‘Pink Slime’) with falsetto vocals and overwhelming synth sludge, and even goes to the effort of including a defense of his move into the professional studio environment (‘Farewell, American Primitive’).
In truth, Ariel Pink may have deserted his home studio and with it the lo-fi cred his admirers loved so much, but Mature Themes is hardly a clean recording – he’s constantly jiggling the dials, adding distortion, meddling with sound levels, and the impression is that he’s made exactly the record he wanted to. It’s an odd one, alright, but there’s something very likable about this chap who looks a lot like Meatloaf without the loaf (and more makeup, and a dress) and makes a version of pop music that comes from his own planet, or at least his own version/vision of Cali-fornication. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 4/5

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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