The polarisation that characterises the reviews of Mature Themes, the new album by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, is not surprising. Pink is an artist people seem to either love and get, love and don't need to get, or just don't get and dismiss with often quite nasty distain from their narrow corner of the world. More on the latter later. Thankfully, this reviewer sits with a foot in each of the former and as with Before Today, which this website rated the best album of 2010, the indie AM pop troubador has once again assembled an uber-talented array of music afficionados around him to produce an album that will both delight and confound.
Once he was able to get out of the basement and into the world and enlist the assistance of the likes Tim Koh, Kenny Gilmore, Cole Greif Neil, Jimi Hey and Aaron Sperske, for Pink the release of the exquisite 'Can't Hear My Eyes' as a single in 2008 on Mexican Summer was indicative of what was to come. Only interesting songwriters with something profound to offer are able to assemble talented like minded people around them and there is no way Pink would have been able to attract the aforementioned luminaries, who are not just studio musicians, but actually contribute greatly to the process, if he was simply an inconsistent flake.
What Pink has been able to do with Before Today and now with Mature Themes is give long standing and new ideas the flavour of virtuosity. The tracks that make up Mature Themes are forever restless and unpredictable and don't conform to traditional elements of time found in pop music, witness 'Early Birds of Babylon'. Forever the pop deconstructionist, Pink and his ensemble consistently blur and stretch the lines of the absurd and play tongue and cheek on the edge of conformity without ever wanting to go there. There's a deliberate intention to stay well out of convention's way, even to sneer at it at times and Mature Themes is much better off for it.
Lyrically, things are as strange as ever but are indicative that far from having all the answers, Pink's mind seems genuinely forever in a state of flux. On the superbly neurotic 'Kinski Assassin' he namedrops Athens and Paris with double agents and angels, talks about getting shot in the chest and wearing bullet proof vests, hypnotists, masochists, jacuzzi wads that will fondle your arse, suicide dumplings and testicle bombs. What the...? But what is telling is the line 'Who sunk my battleship, I sunk my battleship' suggesting that Pink is a much more durable entity these days and if anybody is going to bring him down, he'll do it himself.
Further evidence of Pink's search for making sense of his world surfaces on the relationships based title track. Here he is brutally honest that although he wants things to be good, talks about devotion to thee and promises to be true, he simply isn't able to; "truth is shameful and vile and I'm not real", "I don't care about you". He finishes lamenting his vertically challenged frame; "I wish I was taller than 5"4, 35 years of my life spent computing it all".
But in the end it is what's contained in the party ode 'Live It Up' that gives a clue as to what Pink actually wants, "gotta find my destination...meet you down at the bright spot, 24 on the dot you know, baby tell me is this the right spot or not, let's go yeah, gonna live it up all night long".
Musically, Mature Themes is a wonderous listen with its blissful twists and turns, hooks and licks. The space like spaghetti western bass lines of 'Driftwood', the kaleidoscopic nature of "Is This The Best Spot", the disciplined title track and the salacious Byrdsian, 'Only In My Dreams' sport some of their best work. The deadpan and wholly weird 'Symphony of the Nymph' contains nods to Pink's lo-fi past, which really never departs the room at any point on the album. 'Pink Slime' is a joyously jaunty ride while 'Farewell American Primitive' glistens with its sunny keys despite its caustic criticism of modern mainstream money driven America.
The quotes penned by critics than pan Mature Themes are telling in their intellectual laziness and display their overall cerebral shortcomings when it comes to commenting on multifarious independent cultures that don't need to be understood. Lines like "a band and songwriter that don't really care, so why should we", "a celebration, rather than an analysis, of several species of awfulness" and my favourite, from the 'pretend we know what independent means' Slant Magazine; "another tiring exercise from an artist who may never tire of releasing such profoundly hideous messes" suggest a complete misunderstanding or total lack of awareness of Pink's career or life in general existing outside artificially constructed commercial norms.
He has never been "a man without a scene", because there is no scene, nor has he ever cared for supposed scenes created by the artificial side of the commercial music industry. But make no mistake, he has always been 'a full tilt radical' and those who suggest that he has "nothing to rebel against" are again living a sub-conscious nightmare world where an intensely unheathy respect for a hideous, monolithic mainstream culture seems to be their lot in life. Mature Themes suggests that Pink may be still trying to work it all out but all the while he does, people on board with what he's doing are in for one unpredictable and thrilling ride.
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