Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes

Even though I’ve been aware of him since The Doldrums — or at least since Paw Tracks reissued that release in 2004 — I’ve never quite figured out what Ariel Pink’s deal is. On one hand, he’s got a glaringly obvious acumen for sophisticated pop songcraft, something that’s becoming even more visible as he moves even deeper into the polished, professional recordings well documented on Before Today, and he’s always been the super-outsider cherished and name-checked by super-insiders. On the other, he’s an artist who’s one of those artist who can rip a hole in a slow news cycle with a bizarre stage meltdown or a strange, off-color pullquote. Though Before Today fragmented Pink’s fanbase — many still prefer the beat-up-sounding, homemade, R. Stevie Moore-informed recordings of The Doldrums and Worn Copy — and on Mature Themes, Pink fleshes out his sound even further on a batch of originals, his first new writing in five years (Before Today was composed mostly of old material, re-recorded with Pink’s taut Haunted Graffiti, a band he recruited via tryouts). As someone who sees what there is to like in both of these Ariel eras, I feel confident in saying that Mature Themes is the best thing Pink has ever done, a record full of the characteristic darkness and jarring weirdness (one song features Pink ordering at the drive thru window of a Wienerschnitzel) that earned Pink attention in the first place and inspired a legion of copycats. Ironically, you might have to listen even harder for it than ever.

On Mature Themes, Pink doesn’t doesn’t wait to get into his weird, violent imagery; “A Kinski assassin / Blew a hole in my chest,” begins “Kinski Assassin.” He doesn’t hold off, either; “My name is Ariel / And I’m a nympho,” he chants on the tongue-in-cheek “Symphony Of The Nymph.” Much of the music on Mature Themes sensibly combines the widening grab-bag of styles that Pink weaponizes, at once his take on radio pop (“Only In My Dreams“), AM radio (“Mature Themes”), polka, chillwave (which he claims he invented, “Nostradamus & Me”) weird carnival music that’s sounds like electronic version of something you’d hear at a Renaissance Festival (“Is This The Best Spot?”), but somehow, it’s never gets grating or tiresome. Nothing gets me closer to figuring it out, but that challenge is compelling, and Mature Themes, like Before Today, still conjures that kind of puzzle, even if you don’t have to imagine the shapes of the songs as much as you had to when Pink’s stuff sounded like it was recorded on a Yak Bak. With respect to “Only In My Dreams,” there’s probably nothing as engaging as Before Today’s “Round And Round” on Mature Themes. And it’s probably better off for it.

Here’s my guess on why Pink’s music works in the way it does: no matter how glossy the recordings sound, you still get that sense of damage and danger that hovers around Ariel’s songs and moods. While you’re listening to the increasingly masterful songwriting Mature Themes exists to chronicle — Pink changes keys, styles, instruments and his pants (probably) so much and so subtly that you barely even notice — there’s a blackness inside. It’s hard to visit sometimes, and kind of a difficult sell, in all honesty, to someone who hasn’t heard Pink before and has only heard of the strange, sometimes gross, things he does or says. But once you begin to engage the shadow, it’s hard to stop trying.

Mature Themes is out 8/21 on 4AD.

Comments (21)
  1. cant wait for this record!! but i’m not sure how ‘dangerous’ his music is…and here’s my trolly comment: why couldn’t this premature eval have been done by someone that has figured out ‘what Ariel Pink’s deal is.’…likely would’ve made for a better eval :\

  2. You sunk my battleship!

  3. I guess I’ll have to re-listen to this because my immediate impression was that it was disappointing and awful. And I love his older stuff.

  4. “Schnitzel Boogie” sounds like a lost track from Ween’s The Pod.

  5. Not only is there nothing as catchy here as “Round and Round,” there’s nothing as catchy as “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” “Le’estat,” “Little Wig,” “Menopause Man,” or “Revolution’s a Lie.” I have to disagree that this album chronicles an increasing mastery of songwriting. I don’t think that’s what Pink was shooting for, and it’s certainly not what he achieves. The singles are catchy and conventional, but the rest of the album sounds like the fulfillment of Pink’s obsession with commercial jingles. Personally, I don’t like it nearly as much as ‘Before Today,’ but I’m a Johnny-come-lately with Pink anyway; I like him more the further away he gets from his early material. My guess is, fans of that will be fans of this; people who like ‘Before Today’ but not ‘The Doldrums’ won’t be.

  6. I haven’t listened to it yet

  7. saw this band open for pulp earlier this year. just terrible, terrible music in my opinion.

  8. They used Arial on the cover instead of Helvetica.
    ;) I see what you did there.

  9. Along with the Merchandise album, this is tied as my AOTY so far. Ariel is better when he;s getting weird. For those of you who don’t like Doldrums, you have no taste. This shit is one for the ages.

  10. where are you ppl hearing this album?!

  11. He accidentally calls it “Mature Dreams” in the second paragraph! Dude that is a great title. I’m stealing that- thanks

  12. Nothing as catchy? Have you people heard “Baby” yet? Granted, it’s a cover, but that’s the closest I think Ariel will ever come to recording a radio-friendly song.

  13. Am I the only one hearing Frank Zappa-isms all over?

  14. this might earn me some thumbs downs, but other than the singles the album is pretty un-listenable, and I’m an Ariel Pink fan, just not of this.

  15. I’m glad I gave this another chance. Like others here I couldn’t even get through the whole thing before quitting on it. But listening to it now I’ve really come to enjoy it’s quirkiness.

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