Ariel Pink’s back catalogue seems to have as many head-scratching moments as highlights so it’s hard to know what to expect from his latest release. Those looking for a natural follow up to the more conventional sound of his brilliant 2010 hit Before Today will probably be disappointed though, as Mature Themes sees a return to the lo-fi weirdness of his earlier output. If that previous album was his masterpiece, with just the right amount of perfect pop song craft and oddness, then Pink lets his maverick artistic temperament skew this new record to the point where it’s pretty hard to listen, let alone like.
Instead, it feels like a two fingered salute as Pink uses his undoubted skill and inventiveness to present a baffling interpretation of the psychedelic Californian sound. Each track feels like an excursion into the absurd from the opener Kinski Assassin, containing organs and Zappa-esque oddball lyrics, to the distorted gothic of Symphony of the Nymph, through to the droning chillwave of penultimate track Nostradamus and Me.
Genres and themes veer wildly but Pink’s trademark sense of lo-fi avant-garde trash remains throughout. Uncompromising yet boundlessly entertaining, Mature Themes is so diverse it’s difficult to make an overall judgement on, but then again this is the Ariel Pink formula.
What I do know is he makes you work pretty hard for the payoff, which comes in the form of two or three outstanding moments. First single Only in My Dreams is a slice of sun-kissed California pop that recalls his real breakthrough single Round and Round.
Then there’s the quite brilliant closing track Baby. Here Pink delivers a loving, faithful rendition of the Donnie and Joe Emerson seventies soul track, complete with smoky vocals from Dâm-Funk.
Mature Themes has ingredients that both cult followers and fans of Pink’s more structured work will appreciate but, for me, one generally negates the impact of the other to entirely work as a whole.