Ariel Pink – Pom Pom
By: Emmett McCleary
Ariel Pink is a difficult artist to love. Even disregarding his well-publicized penchant for generally offensive statements, his creative output has been frustratingly inconsistent – of his dozens of releases over the past twenty years, many contain flashes of brilliance, but few work as full, cohesive LPs. In 2010 Pink released his finest project to date, Before Today, an album that neatly synthesized many of his musical tendencies (lo-fi production, constant references to AM pop, catchy but unusual hooks) into an easily digestible 12-track package. The record was a success, and it seemed for a moment as if Ariel had finally found the perfect balance of craft and spontaneity, but his follow-up disc, Mature Themes, saw Pink ditching a lot of his unpredictability in favour of competent but comparatively straightforward compositions.
Pom Pom, however, can safely be called bizarre – it’s full of unexpected twists and turns. It is sometimes disturbing, nearly always tuneful (“Dinosaur Carebears” being the notable exception), and endlessly entertaining. Clocking in at seventeen tracks, it is longer and less focused than the two albums that precede it, but it never loses steam or gets old. Pink keeps the listener’s attention by ping-ponging from genre to genre, deftly navigating sunshine pop (“Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade”), surf rock (“Nude Beach A Go-Go”), garage (“Goth Bomb”), disco (“Black Ballerina”), and 80s balladry (“Picture Me Gone”). Each track feels noticeably different from the one that precedes it, but the album still works as a singular statement. In this way, it reminds me a bit of Prince’s masterpiece Sign ‘O’ The Times, or the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out!.
A few of the album’s highlights: “Lipstick” is an expertly realized synth pop jam. It has the feeling of a monster movie – it’s slightly creepy, but campy and fun at the same time. Lead single “Put Your Number in My Phone” is flawless jangle pop; it is breezy and effortlessly pretty, and it will likely be a mainstay on mixtapes in 2015. My personal favorite, though, is album closer “Dayzed Inn Daydreams,” with its lightly strummed guitar and odd, yet fluid chord changes.
If you took a sexually frustrated Frank Zappa and forced him to watch nothing but late night television for a month, this is the album that I imagine he would make. Pom Pom is postmodern pop at its finest. It is fascinating to enter Ariel Pink’s mind, if only for an hour, and it is a journey I recommend taking. I guarantee you won’t be bored.