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

[4AD; 2012]

A lot of people jumped on board the Ariel Pink ship in 2010 with Before Today, an ambitious and accessible record with some really polished and chilled-out ’80s-inspired tracks like the oft-name dropped “Round and Round.” While the rest of the album jumped all over the place in terms of its sound, with tracks such as “Little Wig” really picking up the pace of things, it was a consistent listen that rightfully earned Ariel Pink a whole bunch of new fans.

In early July of this year, Ariel Pink returned with the lead single of the new record, Mature Themes; a cover of a song by Donnie and Joe Emerson called “Baby.” It sounded very much sonically in-line with “Round and Round,” with the same sort of chilled atmosphere. As said in my original review of “Baby,” the track created a lot of high expectations for Mature Themes. And, while the rest of the album may not be as instantly gratifying and easy to listen to as “Baby,” there is still a lot to like about Haunted Graffiti’s latest album.

The initial impulse to say that it’s a bit weirder than Before Today is perhaps an inaccurate assertion, but there are a lot of unexpected turns throughout that keep a listener wondering just what may come next. Mature Themes is a schizophrenic and sporadic record, both lyrically and musically. Some tracks are successful forays into experimental pop territory, such as the folky “Only In My Dreams,” which features some wonderful vocal harmonies reminiscent of Before Today and The Beach Boys. Others, such as “Symphony of the Nymph” delve into the weirder aspects of ’80s synth-pop, adding sampled horse neighs between glitzy electronics.

It all sounds as unique as Ariel Pink has done in the past, and it’s hard not to respect an artist who sings differently in almost every song. At times sounding like a tag-team between Damon Albarn and David Bowie (“Kinski Assassin”) and others playing around with vocal effects (“Driftwood”), Ariel’s vocals shift in tone and resonance so often that it can be difficult to keep up at times. Similarly difficult can be repeated listens of the record, as some tracks stand out more than others. While “Mature Themes” is an obvious highlight, “Schnitzel Boogie” is a bit uncomfortable, plodding around in a messy fashion with no real pay-off. Similarly, “Pink Slime” sounds a bit lacking compared to some other tracks, demonstrating the odder side of Ariel without proving to be especially engaging.

However, a strong finish from the short but sweet “Farewell American Primitive” and the breathy and beautiful “Nostradamus & Me,” keeps things operating at a high quality throughout the duration of the record. “Baby” is still arguably the best track that Mature Themes has to offer, but across the rest of the album there are more highs than lows. It’s perhaps not as instantly enjoyable as Before Today, but it’s likely to please fans, even if it doesn’t prove to be as popular as its predecessor.