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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is deeper than just weirdness on “Mature Themes”

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    About a third of the way through “Symphony of the Nymph,” the psychotic highlighting track from proto-hipster Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes, something strange happens: Pink and his abstract musings begin to make sense. The beginning of the song meanders along like a lovesick teen at a skating rink, finding Pink leading his band through lyrical gems like “She’s a nympho / At the discotheque, / Dr. Mario, / Colonoscopist” with a straight face before conceding, “My name is Ariel, and I’m a nympho.”

    The latter is sung with more conviction and earnestness than any other lyric on the album. It makes you believe that perhaps the cracked-out genius of Mature Themes is concealing an attempt at working through deeper psycho-sexual conflicts. But then Pink follows up with a bridge in which he sings “I don’t mean to burn no bridges / But I can’t get enough of those bitches” over the sound of galloping horses. It’s this juxtaposition of genuine and outright silliness that characterizes the entire record, ultimately placing Pink alongside artists like Paul Westerberg and Frank Zappa as a master of the tragicomic.

    While “Symphony of the Nymph” is perhaps the best example of Pink’s uncanny ability to cycle between the lighthearted and the disturbingly intimate, in every track Pink churns out catchy 60s pop with the best of them. On the whole Pink doesn’t deviate much from his tried and true style of melodic lo-fi, such as the title track that straddles a line between The Soft Bulletin-era TheFlaming Lips and 70s soft rock like Bread or America like no indie artist has done before. Other cuts like the murderous “Kinski Assassin” or “Is This The Best Spot?”, an aptly-titled paean to the elusive g-spot, teem with hummable melodies that Pink hilariously insists on singing as if he is the world’s worst Beatles impersonator.

    In fact, The Fab Four’s influence is on display all across the record, from the carefully-constructed song bridges and choruses to “Schnitzel Boogie,” which sounds like the late-Beatles nervous breakdowns Paul McCartney never wrote.

    As with the tragicomic elements of “Symphony of the Nymph,” Mature Themes is at its best when it sounds like Pink has something to say. For this reason, songs like the perfect folk-rock “Only In My Dreams” fare better than the charming but ultimately superficial “Pink Slime” or “Early Birds of Babylon.”

    Undoubtedly the most interesting sequencing on the album belongs to the final two songs. Penultimate track “Nostradamus & Me” abandons pop structures in favor of a wistfully ethereal take on drugged-out jam music, as if the demons Pink has spent the entire album facing have finally taken over not only his thoughts, but his songwriting as well. For seven and a half minutes, an insistent bass guitar seems to be the only thing keeping Pink in our world as he threatens to disappear at any moment.

    Ultimately, the album ends with a reverent cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby,” a final, revealing wink from Pink who seems content to stay in the world of pop — at least for now.

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