Having previously dwelt at length in the realms of lo-fi psyche, Ariel Pink reputedly had his arm twisted into making 2010's very well-received Before Today
LP. Somewhat stumbling into the limelight therefore and, several public meltdowns since, it's perhaps offhand to suggest that he was never quite comfortable with that album's soft-rock sound and its relatively popular jams.
To a degree then Pink and his Haunted Graffiti band return to type on Mature Themes. The improved production quality of Before Today remains intact, its willing sense of diversity too, but, aside from the title track and "Only In My Dreams", which are both lovely little throwaways, wistful and bucolic, bubbling along happily lost in a stream of West Coast 60s shenanigans, there are few commercial takeaways to be found here.
True there's the pleasant lead single - a collaboration cover with DâM-FunK of the recently rediscovered funk-soul standard "Baby" by Donnie and Joe Emerson, but elsewhere things get very odd very quickly. Take the gloriously weird opener "Kinski Assassin", which talks about "dropping testicle bombs" and the exact whereabouts of a battleship. Built on little more than a dancing organ line, it brings to mind James Ferraro`s borderline experiments in tomfoolery, which, along with the cheesy retro-futurist jingle for lab-manufactured meat "Pink Slime", feel more like being taken for a ride than the stuff of subversive commentary. Similarly "Schnitzel Boogie" is a munchies-grade oddity toasted with fuzz-on-everything production and a grating vocal pitch that lacks the necessary depth to make any analysis worthwhile.
All credit then to 4AD for their notably hands-off approach when they could have demanded an album full of safe cuts and moreover for not freaking out when Pink delivered "Is This The Best Spot" - a giddy Casio-punk offering that features a covertly captured sample of label boss Simon Halliday to whom the track name must be credited. All the same, it does feel like a skit dragged out too long for the sake of an inside joke.
When push comes to shove it's tempting to give Pink the benefit of the doubt nevertheless because, true to his word, Mature Themes is only as peculiar a work as one should perhaps expect from a "rock and roller from Beverly Hills". Who then are we then to try and appraise the assonantal stream-of-conscious strangeness that is "Symphony Of The Nymph" - its strong almost-chorus is worthy of note though, rising twice out of the bong-sludge like a revelation. And what else can be said of "Early Birds Of Babylon" except that for a while it thinks it's The Doors, ultimately splitting itself apart to reveal a parallel tracking of creepy carnivalesque post-punk. Though grammatically shaky, "Nostradamus & Me" too is almost beyond classification, channelling superior psychedelic ambience and soothing synth washes comparable with those of Richard Youngs - only on acid of course.
The world needs people like Pink to be making records like Mature Themes, but guys like him are not everyday men for a good reason. Former city-mates Liars once presented an alternative Los Angeles via their dark Sisterworld
LP; Mature Themes is best summed up as the other side of that coin - a hang-out for all the freaks when the lights go down ... and Pink is undoubtedly one of their ringleaders.
Advised downloads: "Only In My Dreams" and "Symphony Of The Nymph".