“The new album is bonkers,” an old colleague recently described Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes. There’s really no way around it. Even Pink himself said, “If people are into it, they’re weirder than I am.” Such unabashed weirdness is probably to be expected from the Los Angeles former recluse who believes in his Android, feels at least somewhat like a Svengali, guides Haunted Graffiti’s drummer with his mouth sounds, and practices — if we are to believe the premise behind the tongue-twisting, genre-bending “Symphony of the Nymph”; and the existence of “testicle dumplings”, “blowjobs of death”, and the G-spot among many double entendres on “Is This the Best Spot?” — nymphomania. But regardless of literally anything that may have come before, Pink and Haunted Graffiti’s decade-long discography included, Mature Themes is definitely bonkers, and it’s also the quintessential tapestry of hi-fi genius.
Perhaps it’s the kind of genius that often accompanies schizophrenia, because Pink’s different sides are studio-polished to a sheen on this record. DÃ¢m-Funk’s vocal calisthenics on “Baby”, a feather-touched cover of Donnie and Emerson’s 1979 version, could just the work of one of Pink’s alter egos. It sticks out like a sore, “retrolicious” thumb as the most accessible song on the album. The precise interpretation of such a traditionally satisfying R&B ballad, however, proves that Pink hasn’t lost himself in his eccentricities and abandoned all commercial common sense. “Baby” isn’t the point of Mature Themes, but it’s a good place to start.
Pink has a keen awareness of what used to be radio gold, and what are now the charms that adorn hip, retro things like Toro Y Moi and Woods. The second most normal song on the album, “Only in My Dreams”, sounds uncannily like The Byrds remastered: The shaded vocals, chiming guitars, and even “dream a little dream” (The Everly Brothers?) all harken back to the ’60s, but better. Pink’s verses about the perfect girl sound intentionally hazy and distant, equalized by studio time, not dulled by the edges of time.
This synesthetic quality continues on “Driftwood”, which palpitates with drums like the sound — and accompanying sensory satisfaction — of pages turning or cards shuffling. A sinewy bass line wraps everything together, anchoring the listener in a visceral experience as Pink sings, atonally and puzzlingly, about “driftwood clogging up the oil well.” It lashes like a snapped cable into the echoing “Early Birds of Babylon”, which crashes and burns through The Doors’ heyday before Ariel Pink breaks character with the unexpectedly funny, “How does it do that?”
Similar eruptions pepper “Is This the Best?” and “Kinski Assassin”, probably the two weirdest tracks on the album and also, fans, the openers. On the former — which might, in fact, be the best — Pink navigates a time warp with ejaculations like “H-bomb!”, “Let’s go!”, and indiscernible vocal blips that may or may not be a dub version of that Gaga manta, “I want to take a ride on your disco stick.” “Kinski Assassin”, on the other hand, reads like your standard ’70s Vox-affected psychedelia until you actually listen to what he’s saying. Pink rhymes “pacifist” with “monogamist”, “hole in my chest” with “dribble at best”, and my personal favorite, “slacks” with “fondle your ass.”
Except for “Schnitzel Boogie”, which pretty much speaks for itself, and “Nostradamus & Me”, which takes chopped and screwed to uncomfortable levels of lethargy, the rest of the album is palatable as opposed to an acquired taste. Much of it is boringly due to the higher production value. While the clarity of the Spanish language samples on “Farewell American Primitive” and the whispered OK Computer droid-speak that closes out “Live It Up” highlight Pink’s foibles, it also makes them more accessible. Rather than having to sift through layers of sound, ear to the speakers to discern what the fuck Pink is talking about, the listener can appreciate him, like The Beatles, … Naked.
Essential Tracks: “Baby”, “Only in My Dreams”