Music Reviews
pom pom

Ariel Pink pom pom

(4AD) Rating - 8/10

Beneath the unlikable veneer, there’s something about perpetual agitator Ariel Pink that makes him such an admirable figure. There’s hardly a smidgen of moral rectitude in the words he uses, sure, but it’s also his playful defense against the societal patterns of narrow-minded thought. The Highland Park, LA resident doesn’t care whether you choose to lean into some variant of liberal or conservative, and the targets he’s purposely chosen so far mostly fall into some kind of radical disequilibrium - whether it’s defending the Westboro Baptist Church for exercising free speech, or highlighting irrational discourse drawn from feminist rhetoric, Pink has been forced to don the role of delusional misogynist. Which, in the polite, ambiguously moderate world of indie rock, translates to actually having an opinion notwithstanding the outcome.

One is so quick to react against his distracting tirades, trying to silence his inflammatory remarks, that it’s entirely possible to forget that Pink is merely exercising odd, provocative juxtapositions that shine in their fallibility. He’s a joker whose already one step ahead of you, and takes perverse pleasure in knowing your immediate, conditioned response. Being against Pink, whose the easiest of targets, becomes a futile endeavor because he’ll contradict your every point like a kid whose compulsively taken a liking to the question, why? Of course, Pink’s strange, unstructured view on things begins to make a little bit more sense once you’ve spent some time listening to his colorful patchwork of sounds, which embrace a form of irony and honesty with sharp, mulish wit.

For an artist with such boundless creativity, Pink would seem like the perfect candidate to tackle the problematic double album. Pink’s decision to take out the Haunted Graffiti name out of his latest, pom pom, is telling - he displays a more egocentric projection, rightfully taking full artistic credit and responsibility for every single detail that defines his warped sense of propriety. In taking things under his own wing, he dismisses the constraints of a “classic” pop album by taking a more adventurous, and markedly deranged, route. Pink, however, is a savvy historian of pop culture, so even when he tries to self-sabotage his ambitions he still manages to write some of the most memorable tracks of our generation. The first reveal out of pom pom, Put Your Number In My Phone, is sunshine pop of the highest order, sweet, autumnal jangle with a psychedelic touch that could’ve given The Byrds’ 5th Dimension that extra push into classic status. It’s too structurally complex and lovingly crafted to assume that he’s half-assing every implementation he chooses to try.

Pink approaches his craft with a child’s eye, never ceasing to settle for the ordinary. The reality he chooses to adopt is just a part of what keeps us guessing - when we see a trashy, glammed-up zombie whose seen better days strolling down Hollywood Boulevard, he sees himself as a lothario with an insatiable appetite. This oblique play on appearances primordially translates on a songwriting level - it is based entirely on what you choose to hear. The freaked-out, utterly ludicrous jamboree of Plastic Raincoats on the Pig Parade could be sandwiched in between two Saturday morning cartoons; while some choose to raise an eyebrow over the choir of kids laughing and singing “oh yeah!” over siren sounds and a neighing horse, others will be delighted by how Pink pulls off an actual melody out of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Do You Believe in Magic? Shameless jingle Jell-O instantly strikes the image of a bowl-haired Caucasian blond kid lifting a spoonful of red glob into his mouth, but listen carefully and you’ll find it’s also a satire on American consumer culture and its misguided weekend traditions ("strip mall is calling/wearing Wal-Mart clothes/into church steeples").

The casual, devil-may-care attitude Pink chooses to lead borders on schizophrenic, which becomes a fascinating oscillation between Pink’s guileless innocence and forthright perversions. Pink stirred the pot early on with brilliant single Black Ballerina, a crudely-drawn tale about the misadventures of a young boy whose grandfather takes him to a night club for the first time and breaks the cardinal rule of never touching a stripper’s breasts. It’s an immature and classless artistic low, sure, with a delectable funk riff to boost, and the ever-sensitive message board forum-heads were quick to throw hasty shots at Pink, accusing him as a crass sexist. Once it’s over, you immediately want to listen to it again. And what to make of the lewd Sexual Athletics, in which Pink carries himself with a cocksure strut ("that’s why I’m the sex king/sex king on a velvet swing") as a dirty, satirical blues riff plays before it unexpectedly turns into a twinkling children’s lullaby. Despite making the slightest sense it conveys an intramural coherence, and through slipshod humor actually makes a point about the uncontrollable pursuit of sexual gratification.

Which shouldn’t discredit the fact that Pink does write a handful of stinkers, and there’s no way to conceal such fastidious absurdity. For every stroke of pure brilliance, like the touchingly emotive Picture Me Gone (a sorrowful ballad about a father who laments how the importance of a keepsake is diminished by technological advances) there’s an utterly unnecessary theme song parody like Negativ Ed. Or the agonizingly inept Dinosaur Carebears, which careens from a faux-Egyptian flute disguised in synths and wacky, coke-fueled midi sounds ripe for the theme song to Banjo Kazooie to chill dub all in the span of five minutes without any form or purpose. The dramatic rock-opera of Four Shadows does provide a chuckle the first time around, but repeated plays deem it as nothing more than nostalgic pastiche. Pink is so infatuated with histrionic guitars and silly rock tropes throughout the album that it becomes a challenge to perceive whether or not he’s questioning, or praising, the efficacy behind such worn up concepts like virtuoso playing and operatic bombast.

Nevertheless, Pink is a musical radical with an uncanny determination that is much needed in today’s musical climate. He deconstructs pop conventions within the first five seconds in pom pom with a devilish grin, setting the tone for an uncompromising mélange of hissed art rock that ups the ante even further than the disarmingly twisted Mature Themes. If one is disturbed, frustrated or possibly even exhausted after an hour of Pink’s pious claptrap, the grand finale that is Dayzed Inn Daydream is the mother of all hijinks - a sincere, soft rock straight shooter with an iridescent harmony that is arguably the finest song he’s written in his entire career. Think what you will of his crabby behavior (as I write this, a headline just popped up on my twitter in which he refers to Grimes as “stupid and retarded”, proving that some things will never change), but if you don’t believe he’s a talented, chameleon-like force then the joke’s on you.