"I'm just a rock n' roller from Beverly Hills / My name is Ariel… Pink!"
Well, okay. Sing it, Ariel! Peculiar popsmith Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti are back, and as absurdly delightful and infectiously catchy as ever. Hella amusingly weird too – just check out the damaged Beach Boys vibe of, uh, "Schnitzel Boogie". Oh, and of course AP couldn't resist titling a track here, "Pink Slime"!
Like his previous album for 4AD, 2010's Before Today, this one, titled Mature Themes, displays AP's "new" sound, one that's (slightly) less fucked up, (somewhat) more slickly produced than his pre-4AD output. It took us little while to adjust to the not as lo-fi, not quite so shambolic AP, but now we're fully into it.
And really it's not that big of a change anyway. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti still traffic in a twisted take on sunshiney psychedelic '60s/'70s AM radio pop, and '80s synth stuff, blended with darker, more drug addled fare, like the fuzz filled "Early Birds Of Babylon" with its propulsive, "driving at night" postpunk vibe.
Thus, Mature Themes has been on heavy rotation here in the store ever since we got it in, and never fails to bring big smiles to our faces with its mix of dreamy, cotton candy colored melodies, bizarre lovelorn lyrics, and quirky elaborate vocal arrangements (that make us think Ariel is probably a big Sparks fan). Those grins start right from the get-go, when the song "Kinski Assassin" opens the proceedings with lyrics that include (repeatedly) the lines "Who sunk my battleship / I sunk my battleship", delivered in a mopey voice over a hiccupping beat. Love it!
The whole record is full of treats, we're pegging "Only In My Dreams" for a hit (and yeah, they made a goofy video for that one, see above) but there's lots more, every track has its charms. Maybe our favorite is the one from which the lines quoted at the top of this review come, "Symphony Of The Nymph", which is indeed a symphonic prog-pop opus of sorts, with lots of parts, that comes across like a collaboration between eccentric '60s pop producer Joe Meek and equally eccentric "song-poem" composer Rodd Keith, thanks to its echoes of Meek's space age hit "Telstar" (and "Apache"!) and the strange, singsong rhyming lyrics. If that's not a recommendation, we don't know what is. Also, the way Ariel Pink squeaks out his name in a high voice kills us every time.
Also gotta mention the smooth and soulful album closing ballad "Baby", with help from DamFunk on vocals; it's a cover of a song by Donnie & Joe Emerson, from their 1979 album Dreamin' Wild, that we made an aQ Record Of The week recently when it was reissued. The AP version amazingly sticks pretty close to the original, not noisily messing with it or anything, which points up how wonderfully warped AP's own songs still sound, despite the slightly higher fidelity, cleaned-up production we mentioned above.
Like we said, we've been playing this album a lot, and are probably gonna keep playing it over and over until somebody makes us stop. Just can't get enough of the Ariel Pink sound, and it IS a sound of his own; gotta hand it to him, he's already (a while ago) reached that point where, as shorthand, we describe lots of other artists, many of whom were influenced by him, as sounding like Ariel Pink.