Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, with their punchy gimmicks, pops with enough unmistakable style and punk fuzz to forgive most charges of corny-kid rock. Mature Themes ironically disobeys any presumptions granted by its title right off the bat, but it’s no mistake that Pink is poking at his own dwindling spotlight as a neon-haired, affably creepy mid-30s glamour fiend. It’s endearing, but its own brand of freakshow. Friendly, unobtrusive ventures in pop rock glisten the surface of this dance with discrepancies, because behind the charming surface is a riotous bounty of genre-bending and some fearless lo-fi.
Between the absentminded sidewalk dance in “Only In My Dreams” akin to Pavement’s summertime laze, and the gospel nod in “Baby” that closes the record with some questionable last words, the album travels through miniature models of pop valleys in a noise-making outfit apt only for the band that would surely have Brian Eno up in arms. It’s endearing no doubt, and we have no reason to expect anything less from Ariel Pink.
For years, the favored grunge-happy pioneer has been teetering on the blurry edge of what works in the hip comfort zone and what’s almost (but wittily not quite) too edgy. Meanwhile, his appearance toes the line between Courtney and Kurt, with hot pink locks and a taste for trashy good times to back the look.
Mature Themes fits into this saga of the rocker stuck between generation gaps, both thematically and in its unsteady stylistic footing. With loopy takes on 80s idolatry in “Kinski Assassin” and “Pink Slime,” Haunted Graffiti pilots a pompous Pink past the blandness that most buzzworthy, reverberant mediocracy can’t push through. It’s because Ariel has these bratty balls that are harder to stomach than the majority of forgettable alt frontmen, and it works like something high proof and low shelf to keep the cool kids jazzed. “I’m just a rock n’ roller from Beverly Hills. My name is Ariel and I’m a nymph” bellows the chorus of one of the album’s most memorable anthems “Symphony of the Nymph.” It’s lines like these that establish the extremes of contemptuous love between Ariel Pink and his wafting listenership, and the tunes stay silly all the while.
The reign does not seem to have closed with Mature Themes. It’s a well-polished, guilt-free record that takes itself places that couldn’t necessarily be expected. What Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti do, they do well. However, it would have been satisfying to see more boldness in production values and unforgiving song structures circa The Doldrums. Ariel Pink’s time is now, and it’s worth watching whether his glitzy SoCal throne is sturdy enough to endure something elderly, because maturity has proven worthy, but leaves some veins of badass uniformity hanging.