I've always felt like Robert Pollard (of Guided by Voices fame) and Ariel Pink had a few things in common: namely, their songwriting techniques. On his solo work, Pollard would crank out a ton of music, and it would range greatly in quality. Pink seems to have a similar process: these songs seem to be based on loose ideas, and some of them are fantastic while others are fall on their face. This "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" process leads to some pretty uneven albums that are marked with some amazing highs and middling lows. Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti's new album, MATURE THEMES is a bit more consistent than the band's past releases.
Album opener "Kinski Assassin" MATURE THEMES off on the right foot -- it's a breezy, poppy, catchy tune with a sing-a-long chorus. It's the album's most immediately accessible track, and it gives way to "Is This the Best Spot," "Mature Themes," and "Only in My Dreams" and "Driftwood," making the album's first half prettyspectacular. "Only in My Dreams" in particular seems like it could serve as a hit for the album with its beach-based guitar riff and 80's production. The album ends with a cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's "Baby;" it does double duty here as the album's lead single and the closing track. Pink sends the song into space and layers it with a distant coat of reverb -- it's a smooth track, and a pleasantly calm one on an album maddeningly full of ideas.
The album isn't without it's lows: "Schnitzel Boogie" feels slapped together; its stream-of-conscious subject matter and muffled production make its 4:35 running time feel twice as long. The track is followed with "Symphony of the Nymph," a track that finds the singer crooning "My name is Ariel, and I'm a nympho." The 1-2 punch of these two songs make MATURE THEMES stumble in its middle third. The penultimate track "Nostradamus & Me" also brings the album to a crawl -- it's spacey production and vocals never materialize to anything interesting. These handful of duds are bound to occur with a songwriter like Ariel Pink, but the rest of the album more than makes up for them.
While the album doesn't seem to have a runaway hit like "Round and Round," there are plenty of songs here that come pretty close. MATURE THEMES lives up to the reputation of Ariel Pink and his Haunted Grafitti band: it's largely a scattered, thrift-store glam, loose collection of ideas (some good, some not). As an album, it's decent enough, but the real joy comes in placing each of these songs by themselves out of the larger context of it all. Listeners who didn't enjoy BEFORE TODAY won't be assuaged over to the band's side here, but those that did are in for a treat. Essential songs to sample/download: "Kinski Assassin," "Only In My Dreams," and "Mature Themes."
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