Review: Ariel Pink - "pom pom"

Ariel Pink - pom pom
(4AD 2014)

It's been fifteen years since West Coast weirdo Ariel Pink released Underground, his first dispatch of scuzzy, saccharine pop; a garage/glam crossbreed tinged with a sardonic delivery borrowed from the last gasps of the eighties. Since then, in all honesty, not much has changed. Fast forward to 2014, and that same brand of warped, low-fidelity psychedelia is just as present on his newest double LP, pom pom. The difference: a recent interest in Pink's work has wormed its way into the foreground of the indie music scene on the strength of his 2010 effort, Before Today, an album of re-recorded, "cleaned up" versions of his most accessible material. The album was met with incredible acclaim, but in the context of Ariel's career, was perhaps too immediate, too grounded in reality. pom pom is a return to the elements of his early material that make him so intriguing as both a musician and character: an exaggerated, Bowie-esque delivery, unconventional song structure and nostalgic pop vibes.

Besides Pink's manipulation of sensationalist music journalism to promote his album, perhaps the sudden interest in Pink's unique sound can be attributed to the postmodern aesthetic that has rapidly injected itself into the indie music scene. The PC Music collective has deconstucted dance music to its most spare components, exploring its inner workings at a minute, almost scientific level. 'Based' rappers like Yung Lean, Lil B and Kool AD don't so much break as they do ignore the rules of hip-hop. It's only natural that Ariel Pink's exploratory efforts would spike in popularity. pom pom's whimsical opener, "Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade" is an example of a song that's teeming with such an atmosphere. It's intricately constructed, yet does not take itself particularly seriously; its chiming keyboards and ecstatic, juvenile energy can be compared to children's music made by acts like The Wiggles, but such a timbre pairs extremely well with his penchant for over-the-top songcraft, peppered with trippy sound effects and dramatic shifts in mood or texture.

While pom pom has its strong pop singles, the feathery "Put Your Number In My Phone", for example, it's the album's most adventurous moments that steal the show. "Dinosaur Carebears" is classic Pink, a lengthy composition that splices together jagged pieces of fractured musical debris, from the unnerving cry of a circus calliope to a spacey reggae rock groove. "Exile On Frog Street" is a warm prog-pop number that hearkens back to late 60s albums like Pet Sounds and Their Satanic Majesties Request. Whether it's beauty, depth or fun you're looking for, you will find it in pom pom.