Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
The most intriguing thing about this album for me is the implication of its title; “mature” suggesting an evolution toward a higher, more refined concept and “themes” invoking a collection of songs, which could perhaps be used for a film soundtrack. To be sure, the album doesn’t “flow” in typical album fashion, but somehow it makes it that much more compelling for the listener. Instead of feeling the pressure to sit down and listen all the way through, we feel it’s okay to skip around a bit. So go ahead, put it on Shuffle. If you are unfamiliar with Ariel Pink’s style and previous work, I highly recommend viewing his visual art as well and getting a broader sense of the way he approaches the creative process. One of the more interesting results a Google search for “Ariel Pink art” brings up is an Angelfire site showing images from his sketchbook, surreal pencil drawings, and logos. He has been featured in quite a few publications including Soma, Pitchfork, and NPR Radio, and is now under the wing of the independent label 4AD Records, home to many experimental and post-punk artists such as Blonde Redhead, Camera Obscura, Lydia Lunch, and the Pixies among others.
Thus, Mature Themes was hailed by many in the art world as being “mainstream themes” or “commercial themes.” However, it is a welcome transition and there is a tremendous sense of growth, evolution, and craftsmanship in this album that separates Pink from the avant garde noisemakers who lack those skills and resources (read: the production is far more sophisticated and this ain’t no basement recording). The departure from a gritty, lo-fi sound is refreshing and really allows us to pay attention. Some of the tracks are sleepy and mellow, yet still rich with sounds and textures, such as “Nostradamus & Me.” Others are echoes of other styles, such as the fuzzy, demented jaunt of “Schnitzel Boogie.” “Driftwood” embraces more of a traditional structure, yet the mix is slightly “inside-out”: the spoken word dialogue and chorus sit closer to the background and the instruments (especially the baseline) stick out front, creating a vibe that is almost cinematic. The title track is a whimsical pop tune with an autobiographical slant in its lyrics, nodding both to The Yardbirds and XTC or perhaps The Magnetic Fields in its poppy-ness.
Ariel Pink is an acquired taste. Although, if you’ve tried the other avante garde/post-punk/experimental flavors, you will probably like him. In today’s era of imitation-as-flattery and of mashing so many influences and styles together that the list sounds like an iTunes playlist on shuffle, as the 90’s become ripe for revival and the DIY ethic is embraced, the timing could not be better.