Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti – Mature Themes – Album Review

photo by Piper Ferguson
Ariel Pink has been making weird, lo-fi pop songs for well over a decade now. Though he has only appeared in the mainstream’s consciousness since his 2010 album Before Today, he has developed quite the cult following. His newest release, Mature Themes, should please old fans while attracting people unfamiliar with his mighty back catalogue. It is a little more polished than previous lo-fi releases. Gone are the days of Pink making cassette recordings in his bedroom.

The album is full of off-kilter psychedelic pop songs. Some are straight up pop gems like “Only in My Dreams”. It sounds like a sweet 60s pastiche of a Byrds’ song. Pink cuts through the syrup by sounding completely delusional about the “luckiest” girl who only exists in his dreams. The lyrics reminded me of the 1950s rockabilly song “Can’t Stop Me from Dreaming”. That song comes off as creepy but in an innocent way. Pink has a knack for sounding innocent but seedy at the same time. The album is titled Mature Themes but instead of maturity we get lots of silly, nonsensical lyrics.  Pink obviously delights in playing with language. The psychedelic opener “Kinski Assassin” for example features the line “Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs”. Then once in awhile you get esoteric references. In the dirge-like “Early Birds of Babylon”, he name drops gnosticism. Some have criticized Pink for having no real emotion in his songs. I enjoyed this album for being a kind of escape from reality. I can do without overtly confessional singer-songwriter stuff from Pink. He is inviting us to step into his “time warp” and experience music through his odd point of view. His music is fun and infectious and refreshingly playful.

At times I was reminded of Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart’s debut album Safe as Milk. These comparisons seemed especially apt for the song “Schnitzel Boogie” which is as bonkers as the title would indicate. Pink has never been afraid of experimenting with his music. From the 60s pop of the title track to the 80s New Wave sound of “Live It Up”. The pulsing synth in “Live It Up” makes me want to put on a pastel suit, hop in a Delorean and thunder gun it down the highway. While Pink is of course the shimmering front man, the other members of Haunted Grafitti have to be credited as fantastic throughout. They have created a dreamy, retro soundscape and made it look effortless. By leaving behind their extreme lo-fi beginnings, the quality of the band is given time to shine.

In “Symphony of the Nymph”, Pink describes himself as just a “nymph from Beverly Hills”. You can definitely feel Pink’s California roots in his music. From the laidback West coast pop melodies to his Americana, TV-obsessed lyrics. It is a unique album that probably could not be made anywhere else. The album closes with the sexy slow-jam Donnie Emerson cover, “Baby”. The song features Pink’s most soulful singing, complete with heavenly shoo-bop shoo-bops in the background.

Although Pink has embraced higher production value, this album is not a major breakaway from his previous releases. He is still doing what he does best – making jangly pop classics for the modern weirdo. However, unlike previous releases, Mature Themes feels like a coherent album rather than a random collection of songs. It’s an album to listen to in your bedroom with the TV on mute and a freaky lava lamp in the background. Do people still own lava lamps? Nevermind… Mature Themes will be released August 21 by 4AD.

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien fills many the happy hour as contributing editor and writer for the Vancouver Weekly. She can be found eating all the nibbles at book launches or getting lost in tiny secondhand book stores. Follow her on twitter @jesso_brien