Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes
Published on August 28th, 2012 | Theo Gorst
The press release for Mature Themes, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s second LP for 4AD, likens the record to “late-night channel hopping”. As a description this seems fairly apt, which is both complimentary and not so: both share an otherworldly quality, a strangeness borne of the freedom that comes with a healthy disregard for mass audience…
…and yet by the same token both seem aimless, a place where pieces of scant emotional clout are left out to dry. Where the parallels stop however is at the distinctive nature of this Haunted Graffiti record: late-night TV is governed by repeats, and while Pink’s sonic references nod to the past – for a man who calls his music ‘retroliscious’ it would be impossible not to – there’s an idiosyncrasy to Mature Themes that makes it both entirely different to any other record that’s come out this year and also distinctively a product of Ariel Pink.
Read any interview with the fuchsia-haired West Coast native and you’ll be met by a similar quandary from each interviewer: is Pink a genius or a lunatic? On 2010’s Before Today tracks like “Bright Lit Blue Skies” and “Round and Round” pointed to the former, and yet a case can easily be made for both. In 2002’s Scared Famous Pink recorded the track “Why Can’t I Be Me”; indeed a decade on one would assume he’d resolved these identity issues, and as such it’s reasonable to assume the personality driving this record to be entirely his.
Furthermore it’s unlikely the folk at 4AD were pressuring him to pen an ode to Schnitzels (“Schnitzel Boogie”), a polymonogamasturbator (“Kinski Assasin”) or “a bad breath … cross eyed goat” (“Driftwood”). Therefore it’s understandable that Mature Themes was expected to be his definitive record to date, with its success being the best judge of whether he is indeed a mastermind or a madcap.
Beginning with “Kinski Assasin” the record gets off to a jaunty if frivolous start. The track starts with a spiralling guitar riff that wouldn’t sound amiss on an ’80s motivational workout video, before being joined by Pink’s faux-serious narration of “Who sunk my battleship? I sank my battleship”. “Is This The Best Spot” follows in a similarly flippant vein; both tracks are fun throwaway pop songs and neither do Pink any favours if he does want to be considered a genius, and yet the following three tracks [the title track, recent single “Only In My Dreams” and “Driftwood”] stand as possibly the strongest three Pink has strung together thus far.
“Mature Themes” begins with keys and an electric guitar working in tandem, gently propelling the track before breaking at the verse: here Pink’s vocal intonations eschew a slightly sweeter version of the melodrama used by Robert Plant on “Stairway To Heaven”, his voice giddily ascending before dropping and leading to a glorious chorus.
“Only In My Dreams” successfully visits Roger McGuinn by way of R. Stevie Moore’s “bedroom rock ‘n’ roll”, its psychedelic chorus building and building before dissipating, ultimately reflecting the futility of the relationships Pink cultivates in his dreams. “Driftwood” shares the same ominous keys John Maus used to great effect on his 2011 LP We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. And yet after “Driftwood” the record becomes an increasingly frustrating listen with enjoyable tracks coming few and far between, getting lost amongst a slew of songs bereft of any substance.
Until “Nostradamus and Me” the middle section of the LP seems to pass by anonymously, and aside from the momentary comic relief of “Schnitzel Boogie” the six tracks placed in the middle feel awfully like filler. The aforementioned “Nostradamus and Me”, however, shows why Pink was given the moniker Godfather of Chillwave: slowly expanding in various waves of luxuriant keys, it’s a track that matches the standard of recent Animal Collective releases and is one that works as a terrific penultimate track.
Finishing the record, Donnie and Joe Emerson cover “Baby” shows exasperatingly what Pink and his Haunted Graffiti are capable of: they handle their cover with care and respect, and it’s hard not to wonder how good they could be if they’d only do the same with their own songs at times. Fittingly Mature Themes, like late-night TV itself, involves sitting through periods of tedium before encountering anything of worth. Both are strangely addictive, yet neither are genius.
Rocksucker says: Two and a Half Quails out of Five!
Mature Themes is out now on 4AD. For more information please visit 4ad.com/artists/arielpinkshauntedgraffiti