Ever since I first caught wind of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti it always seemed like (it actually was) one man’s recording project. It was steeped in lo-fi recordings, occasionally allowing for the pop elements to leak out into the listener’s ear. On Mature Themes, throw all your preconceived notions out the window and get ready for Ariel Pink’s pop extravaganza.
I swear that the first time I heard album opener “Kinski Assassin” I thought I had stumbled upon some rare Magnetic Fields track. Deep vocal tones backed by keyboard backbones are most prevalent, fueled by witty bits of lyrics that might only connect with the songwriter. It’s actually a solid tune, just not what I expected here. From here it blasts off with “Is This the Best Spot,” which definitely sounds more like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti have opted to make a video game piece…it’s like the oddball version of Blank Dogs–not necessarily a bad thing.
While the group’s received a lot of praise for their work in the past, I feel as if the accessibility of Mature Themes alone warrants more fans and listeners, though that might steer away the hipster cognoscenti. “Only In My Dreams” approximates the group’s quirky psych hits, but the production has made way for clarity that makes the record leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. There’s warm tones from the guitar, relaxed backing vocals and a central pop element…yet it’s definitely still as playful as ever. “Farewell American Primitive” is another track where the clarity of the pop element provides listeners with a chance to really sink themselves into the song. You can just take one listen to the vocals and you’ll see that this track is moving the band in a more direct approach to songwriting, and that will vastly benefit anyone who picks this up.
Still, I’m not going to get rid of the allusions to Stephin Merritt, though there’s slight differences present. “Symphony of the Nymph” is another example of a track where Ariel Pink are flirting with more sincerity in their songwriting, using simple rhyme with the lyrics to provide a much-needed hook. But, of course, the group’s always been built upon pushing the limits of their craft, and even within this track they do it successfully, happily letting the tune take turns left and right, only to return to the central pop song.
Admittedly, I can see that Mature Themes is not nearly as weird and out there as many listeners thought Before Today was. You’ll find more tunes that allow you to sink your teeth into the lyrics, rather than coat them in meaningless atmospherics and yelps. For some, that’s going to be a detractor, as they want Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti to be their own secret joy, but with some of the best song the band’s constructed to date, that’s not going to be the case this go round. Ignore the recent drama of the group and ignore the ideas you already have about the group. If you do so, you’re going to find yourself pleased with a pop record that’s got far more longevity than anything the group’s put together before.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/04-Only-In-My-Dreams.mp3]
Download:Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Only In My Dreams [MP3]