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Album Review

To anyone familiar with his music, it's obvious that Ariel Pink is weird, but it bears repeating: Ariel Pink is really weird. It's also not a surprise that he's a (self-professed) "nympho" either, but he sheds more light on that throughout Mature Themes, which is both his most accomplished album and some of his most twistedly immature music. As on Before Today, the album's sound is just a shade clearer than what came before it, and his backing band Haunted Graffiti's tight musicianship provides the perfect foil for Pink's stream-of-consciousness sprawl. But while Mature Themes' conceptual glue makes it more cohesive than all of his previous work put together, glorious randomness abounds: not many artists would interrupt a song to order food at a drive-thru, as Pink does on the rhapsodic "Schnitzel Boogie," or write a song about being bros with a legendary seer, as he does on "Nostradamus and Me," one of his more ecstatically drifting pieces of chillwave. As always, Pink's lyrics are densely knotted with wordplay and innuendo; his fondness for sound effects approaches Spike Jones levels, and his fondness for dropping violent imagery into his songs makes them all the more jarring and surreal, as on "Is This the Best Spot," where G-spots and H-bombs go hand in hand. Yet all of this weirdness feels like it has more of a point on Mature Themes than it has on his previous albums: sex and love can be strange and complicated. "Pink Slime" takes on a whole new meaning in Pink's hands, and amidst its silliness, "Symphony of the Nymph" tackles gender roles and sexual stereotypes; despite the song's bragging, when Pink sings "I'm just a rock n' rolla from Beverly Hills!," there's more than a hint of strain in his voice. And even if a lot of the album's sexual imagery seems adolescent, Pink turns it on its head with the album's soft rock title track, which addresses the teenage ideal of a girl and boy in love (along with his wish to be taller). He goes deeper into that fantasy with the jingle-jangle single "Only in My Dreams," which is is sweetly creepy and full of bubblegum yearning like a vintage AM radio hit, and with the fantastic album closer "Baby," a cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson's 1979 song (and 21st century mixtape favorite) that features Dam-Funk helping Pink complete the smooth loverman persona. It's one of the few times where Mature Themes is actually sexy as well as sexual, and the way Pink disappears into the song may be his biggest mind-f*ck yet. Even his surprises end up being perfectly Ariel Pink things to do in retrospect, and with this album, he's mastered being more superficially accessible yet ultimately more cryptic. Mature Themes just reveals more levels with more listening; as Pink himself sings on the psych oddity "Early Birds of Babylon," "hey, how does he do that?"


Formed: 1996 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti craft lo-fi recordings full of intrigue — and full of contradictions. The Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist Pink writes songs that are melodic, catchy, and familiar — and in their own unorthodox way, recall the most immediate, accessible, straightforward FM pop/rock of the '70s and '80s. As a songwriter, Pink has a real sense of pop/rock craftsmanship, with influences ranging from David Bowie, John Lennon, the Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, and the Raspberries...
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Mature Themes, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
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