Review: Ariel Pink Makes Another Wondrous Mess With ‘pom pom’
Release Date: November 18, 2014
As Ariel Pink has moved on from no-fi outsider artist to outspoken indie-pop A-lister, his public appearances have tended to skew a little weird. Not that Pink wasn’t strange even when he was quietly chunking out collections of Animal Collective-approved bedroom psychedelia, but in the half-decade since “Round and Round”‘s dead-eyed hookiness brought him wider acclaim, we’ve seen a peculiar personality that no number of songs about schnitzel could have predicted. In addition to the unpredictable live performances he’s become known for over the last few years, he’s become an increasingly volatile interview subject, as likely to engage in chatter about his music as he is to relate stories of his experiences with dominatrixes or bemoan the victimization of “small, white, nice guys who just want to make their moms proud and touch some boobies.”
That bizarre sense of humor has cropped up on occasion over the course of his vast catalog, but on pom pom — Pink’s new double LP and his first to come solely under the banner of his own name — he’s finally able to fully marry the two divergent sides of his personality: his effortless knack for reeling off torrents of sincere bubblegum beauty and his irreverent sense of humor. Those dual natures circle the record from its opening moments on “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade,” a goofily surreal track penned in part by record producer and novelty songwriter Kim Fowley. As Pink prattles on about polka-dotted skies and “portobello girls,” he settles on a phrase that might function as a mission statement for the sprawling record: “Don’t be afraid to show your stripes.”
That philosophy holds up throughout the whole LP. In a discography littered with singular statements (the tape-warbled synthesizer explorations of 2000’s The Doldrums serves as the quintessential reverb-heavy detritus that preceded Pink’s breakout on Before Today), pom pom just might be the Ariel Pink-iest. There’s six-minutes of self-serious synth-pop on “Not Enough Violence,” bite-sized surf-rock satire on “Nude Beach-A-Go-Go,” and a whole glut of cheeky lewdness on “Sexual Athletics” and “Black Ballerina” — all styles explored in detail in Pink’s past work, but by sidling the diverse genres up against one another he’s crafted a delirious journey through his strange psyche, warts and all. Early singles like “Put Your Number in My Phone” and “Picture Me Gone” function as the most immediately endearing moments amidst the record’s deliberately daunting 67-minute run time, but pop pom is best taken in its disjointed whole.
Pink’s last two records with his (now ex-)Haunted Graffiti bandmates — 2010’s Before Today and 2012’s Mature Themes — tamed his merry prankster predilections in favor of sticky melodies and a general aesthetic that played like a somewhat sexier new wave act. With pom pom, the 36-year-old mad scientist has finally developed a full-length that does right by the songwriting sensibility that’s led to collaborations with fellow pop-world oddballs (see: Azalea Banks’s own version of “Nude Beach-A-Go-Go”) while simultaneously keeping his peculiar personality at the center. His strange public behavior may ultimately prove that he’s Los Angeles’ preeminent lecher-troll or just an unapologetic provocateur, but either way he’s put together a record that’s as full of unforgettably kaleidoscopic melodies as it is surreal shoutouts to Dolly Parton and Kurt Cobain — pom pom is just about as beautiful of a mess as Pink himself.