Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Mature Themes’

A hardcore record and the work of a unique mind

Madman, lo-fi genius, Godfather of Chillwave™ – discerning the exact contents of Ariel Pink’s brain should really be an Olympic sport for hipsters by now. Scoring a deal with 4AD after fate and timely props from Animal Collective conspired to make him a cult figure on the internetz, the 34-year-old LA tunesmith enjoyed crossover success of sorts with 2010’s ‘Before Today’, an album that subtly switched his focus from the warped murkiness of his home recordings to writing amazing pop songs.

He says he hopes ‘Mature Themes’ will make his Haunted Graffiti band “huge”, but you’d be nuts to believe him. Last time we checked, artists looking to grow their fanbase don’t rhyme “blowjobs of death” with “hopped-up on meth” on Track One, but that’s exactly what happens with ‘Mature Themes’, as Pink trots out surrealist obscenities in a faux-British accent on ‘Kinski Assassin’. His bid for the big time isn’t helped by the throwaway Devo vibes of second track, ‘Is This The Best Spot’ and its opening gambit: “G spot! H bomb! Let’s go!”

The title track indulges Pink’s sweet tooth for modern adult concerns with a chivalrous ballad complicated by an unsettling stream of non-sequiturs that passes for lyrics: “I don’t care about you/I wish I was taller than five-foot-four”. ‘Only In My Dreams’’ solid ’60s folk-rock extends the sweetly melodic run, before ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Early Birds Of Babylon’ plunge headlong into the darkness that lurks beneath Pink’s smeary pop ventriloquism. The former’s a fever dream of cross-eyed goats and hangmen with laughter in their eyes, the latter a dub-leaning affair interrupted by Pink singing, “Houdini do dis do dat/How does he DO dat?” Trust us, it’s funny.

‘Schnitzel Boogie’ finds Pink ordering takeout over a Frank Zappa-esque, ad-jingle ditty, while ‘Symphony Of The Nymph’ continues the VHS-renaissance-fair sonic thread that pops up throughout ‘Mature Themes’, with deadpan lyrics about Pink’s alleged nymphomania: “I don’t mean to burn any bridges, but I can’t get enough of those bitches” (although last week he told NME it was actually about dogs). ‘Pink Slime’ recalls the sickly synth of his ‘Doldrums’-era work, while ‘Live It Up’ — a re-recording of a 2006 track — will be a must for fans of corporate training songs sung into a paper bag.

‘Nostradamus & Me’’s seven-minutes of cosmic ambience offer a breather from the zanier stuff. But it’s his collab with DaM-Funk, a tender, soulful cover of ‘Baby’ by ’70s posh lads Donny & Joe Emerson, that stands out in the same way ‘Bright Lit Blue Skies’ did on ‘Before Today’. Perhaps Pink only feels he can play straight with others’ material. Either way, ‘Mature Themes’’ fearless strangeness shows up the limits of Haunted Graffiti as a mainstream concern. It’s a hardcore record from a top-shelf kind of a guy, but the work of a unique mind.

Alex Denney