Marks an exciting chapter in Ariel Pink’s discography.
Bobby Jameson, a cult Los Angeles figure whose brief dalliance with fame in the 1960s ended in obscurity and substance abuse before resurfacing in the 2000s with a blog devoted to record industry grievances, is an ideal subject for Ariel Pink. The vampiric curator of L.A.’s AM-radio ghosts, Pink has long found inspiration in sounds forgotten by those who heard them and the subsequent generations who never knew them. His follow-up to 2014’s massive pom pom, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson gives the artist a nominal focal point for his kaleidoscopic pop, as well as a direct tether to the most mordant qualities of his own music.
Opener “Time to Meet Your God” certainly foregrounds the mortal ruminations on Jameson, who died in 2015 just before Pink discovered him. With Pink’s vocals shrouded in reverb and buried in the mix, they sound like a grim intonation leading the listener to doom. All the while, keyboards spin dissonant funeral music occasionally shot through with frantic arpeggios that add a perverse gloss. Elsewhere, Pink is more oblique on the subject; even the title track challenges expectations, layering bouncy, pastoral psychedelia with a late intrusion of country guitar that compounds the jaunty tone.
That country element recurs throughout the album, adding a new dimension to Pink’s spectral sound. It hangs in the pop-dub fog of “I Wanna Be Young,” the title of which could be the foundational theme of country had it originated in Los Angeles. The composition folds over itself frequently, consuming the riff before it can gain steam, speaking to a sense of arrested development that flecks its sunbathing mood. This is most prevalent on the lilting, somber “Another Weekend,” which rides a gentle acoustic riff surrounded by warbling effects. Pink’s plaintive croon drops all of its ironic distance, at times sounding nakedly exposed on lines like “Another weekend out of my life/ I’m either too shy or humble.”
Having uncharacteristically laid low after his insipid, press-baiting comments in 2014 distracted attention from his finest album, Pink sounds loosely contrite here, never addressing any regrets directly but hinting at a sense of weary honesty that is refreshing coming from so insistent a provocateur. The unexpected vulnerability marks the track as one of Pink’s most surprising songs, and it rates with “Round and Round” and “Put Your Number in My Phone” as one of his finest singles.
This being Ariel Pink, however, nothing can stay too focused for long, with just as much of the album following strange stylistic paths as keeping to the overarching narrative. “Time to Live” is practically a Mr. Bungle song in its insane mix of children’s TV chant, cock-rock fist-pumping and blurts of thrash metal, all of it sounding like it was recorded on reused tape off of a radio broadcast at the edge of signal range. Jangle-pop gets a filthy garage makeover on “Bubblegum Dreams,” which is itself bubblegum only if you count some dried wads pried from underneath a barstool. Then there’s the demented shlock of “Santa’s in the Closet,” written like a novelty hit too weird and taboo to ever chart for the holidays. Pink shivers and swallows his syllables, sounding less like Count Dracula than Renfield as he mutters lines over cod organ. It’s the most quintessentially outré track on the record, proof that Pink has not matured too much.
Try as he might, however, Pink unmistakably emanates a different atmosphere than usual. A necromancer of esoterica, Pink at last turns his deathly powers upon himself, bridging aesthetically disparate songs under a unifying sense of malaise and uncertainty. The artist has always had a talent for balladry and piercing insight underneath his ironic poses, but few of his earlier displays have the stark intensity of “Do Yourself a Favor,” an elegant country ballad that finds the tragic loneliness buried in his dispassionate vocals. That Pink follows that up with the swampy funk of closer “Acting,” an expression of exasperation with an endless party that one cannot leave, is a testament to how deftly he can now weave together his stylistic leaps.
Pink may be in no danger of being as forgotten a footnote as Jameson, but the nagging fear that he might ever share the same fate as the music he plunders drives him to a level of seriousness that fits his idiosyncrasy surprisingly well. It may not hit the same heights as pom pom or Before Today, but Dedicated to Bobby Jameson nonetheless marks an exciting chapter in Pink’s discography.