Mature Themes – Ariel Pink & the Haunted Graffiti

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It was sometime back in the fall of ’07 that I first heard Ariel Pink. I was in a Longwood University bedroom, snorting a concoction of Klonopin and Adderall with a friend and his mutuals. My bud’s girlfriend at the time — mind you from California — set Pink’s “Are You Gonna Look Out For My Boys?” on Youtube. From what I remember, I was pretty fuckin’ amazed. I mean, little androgynous Pink, prancing around LA with a fist full of balloons. C’mon. That nipple pop really spoke to my sexy terrible feelings of snorting someone else’s “normalizing” meds in a room full of white mouths and abroad students. Not to say I was hooked, or anything. But definitely intrigued.

For a man fond of Daniel Johnston's Yip Jump Music and unaware of the amusing and exhausting sprawl of R. Stevie Moore’s catalog, this was a fairly significant event in the development of my taste for warped lo-pop. Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam had just dropped on Domino, so that was also in rotation. But hearing that one Ariel Pink tune made Strawberry Jam seem a little too serious for undergrads stuffing their faces into the wood grain of a collegiate work bench — which may be a reason AC previously released two of Pink's albums on their own Paw Tracks label. Memories of the Angry Samoans, the Dead Milkmen, Camper Van Beethoven, the Ziggens, and other novelty “pop” bands didn’t really shine a clean quarter to my vending machine of a stare that night. If I took anything back on that fear-ridden hangover of a drive back to Richmond, VA the following morning, it was this: If I’m gonna get all glammed out and play dress up with a drugged-up coterie of friends and strangers every once in awhile, I’m going to need a supplement like Pink to help ease the ride on the “sparkle train”.

Five years later, and ten since the release of Scared Famous — which features the aforementioned “For My Boys” — Pink's Haunted Graffiti released their second LP off 4AD, Mature Themes, which continues Pink's slow-turn progression of lo-fi, tongue-in-cheek musings. While his first round with 4AD, Before Today (2010), glossed up his melted variety of AM glam rock with a handful of producers, studio time, and a backing band, the Graffiti gangs' latest exhibits a less constrained vision of what Pink's been doing in his bedroom for thirteen some-odd years. The tribulations of an aging short man in LA continue to be expressed under a blanket of cryptic poetry.

“Kinski Assasin” is a Rocky Horror Picture Show tune on downers — not all high on glee — about heart-break, and lament. “I will always have Paris,” drifts Pink. There's no “we” as if the only person affected by the memory is the one whose been left behind. Following, Graffiti throw out the slam-dance number “Is This the Best?” Spectral synths bore out a hole for the syncopated shove of the repeated line “Is this the best spot, is this the spot?” This song that may be about anal sex could easily be sunk into the two-tone ska variety with the addition of some scratchy up stroke guitar rhythms. The off-kilter tunes with endearing hooks continue later on with an ode to schnitzel and the frustrations of ordering from a corporate drive-thru. On “Schnitzel Boogie” Pink orders his burger “hold the cheese, the pickle, the ketchup, and the sauce…lettuce, tomatoes, and onions only” to the response, “Would you like cheese?” “Symphony of the Nymph” takes on the fantastical side of Pink's John Maus-y sound while expressing his desire for a bi-sexual mate with a comparable “appetite”. Pink and Graffiti get sentimental on “Only In My Dreams” — which sounds as though it's a Real Estate cover — and the Donnie and Joe Emerson cover of “Baby”. Whether the choice of cover is a combination of era and downtrodden man feelings or not, it's a fitting end that has the power to throw people back onto make-out music. Only, Graffiti could've taken a little more liberty in making the cover their own.

While accompaniment on the “sparkle train” is more adept with Pink's solo recordings before 4AD, Graffiti's latest era stays true to the heart and soul of those solitary creations even with a budget and a rhythm section. Klonopin don't mix with a cool fall breeze in the back of a Cabriolet during a Friday sunset. You don't need drugs to create memories with Mature Themes.