Album Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes

Matt McCall, Culture Editor

Ever since the handmade CD-R of The Doldrums was picked off the floor of Animal Collective’s tour van and released to the public through their very own Paw Tracks label, the music community has been impressed, repulsed and awe-inspired by each new look into the warped world of Ariel Pink.

The breakout release of the sexy and slightly naughty Before Today  was undoubtedly going to be a hard game to follow— with the smashing single “Round and Round,” coupled with a pleasing, humble approach to FM-Radio rock of the 1960’s and 70’s, he really won over a new fan-base he couldn’t have attracted with the noisy bedroom approach he stuck with until stepping into the studio.

Fortunately, the album Mature Themes not only retained the genuineness and unique blend of hi and lo-fi production, and there were some jaw dropping tracks on this record that really won me over.

The very beginning of “Kinski Assassin” grabs the listeners attention with the same gimmick half these songs have, immediately starting and stopping and throwing you right into a sonic choke hold that forces you to listen intently; deliciously predictable, incredibly satisfying.

Psychedelic organ, nonsense lyrics that I couldn’t print in a high-school newspaper and a romantic reference to Paris that all sound like multiple radio broadcasts overlapping each other – somehow deal with the very recent break-up with a longtime girlfriend.

From the content of this song, I’d infer it was the most avant-garde end to a relationship in recent history.

Much of the beauty in Ariel Pink’s music is the absolutely gorgeous pop-songs he conjures up.

It is those songs when you can tell he isn’t being so tongue-and-cheek or intentionally ridiculous that really show insight into the genius of his delightful arrangements.

It almost seems like he holds back from putting too much of them on the records to fool us into believing he isn’t that good or to keep us from thinking his music is anything but weird or hard to listen to.

It’s not like he is being contrived or pretentious, Ariel Pink is Ariel Pink, just that, like some pop star from another planet, a real-life Ziggy Stardust. He does what he wants and that is clear.

In my opinion the best single of the year is “Only in my Dreams”. Equally optimistic and forlorn with lyrics, “If at first you don’t succeed at love/ Dream a little dream about a girl so real,” say we can dream all of our pain and loneliness away with an imaginary crutch. “And If I could say, if only in my dreams/ You’re the luckiest girl/ In the world there’s no girl luckier/ You don’t have to explain it/ Cause you’re the one that’s in love,” deal with the same lovesick feelings. Echoes of brilliant Lennon-McCartney singles and chiming and pinging synth decorated over a wash of vocal harmonies deliver this vibe that is absolutely titanic because he is doing what he does best–you don’t know what he’s copying but he puts such a fresh spin on whatever it is, that it doesn’t matter because it is so wonderful to listen to.

Unfortunately the album has a fatal flaw, a real sag in the middle. “Early Birds of Babylon” absolutely kills the brilliant flow prefaced by the previous songs. In context it was really a horrible choice to put after the already drony “Driftwood,” and to follow it with the silly “Schnitzel Boogie” which is literally about eating weiner-schnitzels. It picks back up with the very entertaining, vile ‘eurotrash’ of “Symphony of the Nymph” and the really solid Smiths-y pop tunes that follow it.

Unfortunately the momentum is never as intense as it began, and that’s a real shame for the album to be flawed based entirely on the song placement, or misplacement.

Distant and all the while strangely familiar, he, like an abstract artist viewing the world in some new unorthodox way, re-fashions all the music we’ve already heard before. Haunted Graffiti’s second major release, Mature Themes on 4AD gives new challenges, and proves exponentially thought provoking with each listen.