It could take complete confidence or total apathy to make music like what we find on Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes. Either this is a man from whom art flows so easily he can afford to not take it seriously, or one who makes no delineation in his mind between songs like “Another Weekend” and songs where he screams about schnitzel. Sometimes his music pulls the heartstrings like great pop. Other times it twists our head around so hard we have to laugh.

Mature Themes pushes to the extreme of both directions, and it’d be schizophrenic if it wasn’t so well-sequenced. It’s linear, passing through distinct landscapes, weathers, and moods on its 51-minute road to nowhere. You could cordon it into sections: the “pop section” (the title track, “Only In My Dreams”), the “paranoid section” (“Driftwood” through “Schnitzel Boogie”), the “L.A. section” (gaudy songs like “Pink Slime” and “Farewell American Primitive.”) Few of these songs make sense, but they’re ordered in a way that does.

1. “Kinski Assassin”

Any album that begins with the line, “A Kinski assassin blew a hole in my chest” is going to come on strong. But long after the novelty of lyrics like “Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs” wears off, “Kinski Assassin” reveals itself as a great pop song. Listen to how Ariel subtly embellishes the lyrics bar to bar: “angels in Athens” turn to “double agents in Athens,” “battleship” turns to “battletrip.”

2. “Is This The Best Spot?”

Filler, but important filler, pushing us further in the direction of comedy music (“G-spot! H-bomb!”) so the coup of the next two songs hits harder. Its dragging guitars, which make grunge look cheery, predict those on “Early Birds of Babylon” later in the album.

3. “Mature Themes”

The title track interrupts “Best Spot” almost rudely, and it takes a minute to register how gorgeous the synth melody is. But if it scans as a serious pop song, it’s only in comparison to the freakshow of the first two tracks. The third-strangest song on the album, it still has room for lines like “I wish I was taller than 5’4”.”

4. “Only In My Dreams”

It sounds like a rank parody of the Byrds for about 20 seconds before slowly but surely revealing itself as one of Ariel Pink’s best songs. Listen to how the final chorus builds, builds, and builds before linking back up with the main melody like clockwork. This is as far as we venture in the direction of pure pop, at least for now.

5. “Driftwood”

This is where things really start to get weird—not just in a haha-this-is-bizarre way, but in a way that really gets under the skin. Rank, fetid, swampy, and burbling, “Driftwood” is like looking down at the turd you just laid and seeing leery little eyes where the chunks of corn should be. This is the beginning of the “paranoid” section, which extends roughly through “Schnitzel Boogie.”

6. “Early Birds of Babylon”

Not so much a song as a low-hanging cloud of pollution. Pink plays with doodads and murmurs blearily about Satanic spies as rockets burst overhead. It’s the kind of song you forget you’re listening to, which seems to be on purpose. Its only job is to deepen the album.

7. “Schnitzel Boogie”

It’s a lot harder to forget this one. The coda of “Schnitzel Boogie” is one of the most gorgeous moments on the whole album, not least when the lead vocals briefly drop out and the depths of the mix reveal themselves, and the fact that they’re repeating the name of a fried cutlet dish is basically unimportant. That a human being can sit down and write a song like this is inspirational.

8. “Symphony of the Nymph”

“Driftwood” through “Schnitzel Boogie” thrived among death-stench synths and thick clouds of bass, but when “Symphony of the Nymph” announces itself with the click of a tinny drum machine and the screech of a faded keyboard preset, we’re in a seedy back-alley world of tinsel, wigs, and blowjobs. Welcome to Ariel Pink’s L.A.

9-11. “Pink Slime”/“Farewell American Primitive”/“Live It Up”

These songs sound like ads. Though Pink tapped into and arguably helped create the 21st-century VHS/public access zeitgeist, his fixation with cultural detritus is the least interesting aspect of his work. These are the album’s doldrums.

12. “Nostradamus and Me”

No one would want to finish Mature Themes if it devolved into aerobics-class music, so Ariel treats us to a slab of atmospheric rock as physically pleasurable as some of the best ambient. Its distant sighs bring to mind Gas’s Pop, and it’s undergirded by one of the most distinctive instruments in indie rock: Tim Koh’s misanthropic bass. This is the last track on vinyl.

13. “Baby”

Thirteen songs into Mature Themes, we’ve accepted that Ariel Pink can do anything. A reverent cover of a ‘70s obscurity, “Baby” is his last surprise. Ending an album with a cover is a quaint and old-fashioned move—and a risky one, because you’re using someone else’s work to conclude your own. But all those songs about cross-eyed goats and suicide dumplings and Double Dell burgers somehow seem to flow into this one beautiful, beautiful song.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Ana Roxanne: Because of a Flower

You cannot simply let your mind wander to this stuff. …