Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti are finally releasing the follow-up to that exceptional “Before Today” that marked the group’s switch from Animal Collective’s label, Paw Tracks, to 4AD. There were many who feared that the change of record company would also imply a change of direction in the band’s sound, but Ariel Pink and his gang have remained faithful to that dirty, psychedelic, lo-fi hypnagogic pop-rock that’s given them such good results: there are those undeniable hits like “Round And Round” or “Bright Lit Blue Skies”, where they had already tried out that 60s sound that predominates in “Mature Themes”, the present album.
First, let’s situate the album: a few weeks before its release, there were rumours of a break-up. Fortunately, they were only that: rumours - there’s a reason why the group, made up of Ariel Pink himself, Tim Koh (who participated in Gang Gang Dance’s last work), Kenneth Gilmore and Joe Kennedy is one of the most elusive on the current scene. Cole M.G.N., a former member of the band (who appeared this year in the credits of Julia Holter’s “Ekstasis”) also helped them record the songs and DâM-FunK collaborated on the album’s closing cut, “Baby”, a Donnie and Joe Emerson cover. So these collaborations are plenty solid for a work that, in the words of Ariel Pink himself, is what he would have liked to have put out when they recorded “Before Today”.
In fact, “Mature Themes” is much more sophisticated than its predecessors, and although it doesn’t entirely give up on lo-fi, it does mete out the usage of it. This doesn’t mean that the album is over-produced, not at all, but it is more homogenous, with a clearer line than “Before Today”: here the 60s influences predominate, a decade whose shadow even hangs over the cuts that are closer to that trademark apparently-simple pop that can be enjoyed on “Farewell American Primitive” or “Live it Up”. Where this influence is seen most clearly is in the delirious “Kinski Assassin” and “Symphony Of The Nymph”, which immediately call to mind psychedelics, The Byrds or even The Doors. One of the surprises (we already know that Pink and company like to keep a couple of aces up their sleeves) is “Pink Slime”, a song where they give a nod to italo-disco, no less. As happened with “Before Today”, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti play at touching a variety of keys, but this time they seem less dispersed and clearer, with a homogeneity that, far from being boring, actually just makes them more solid.
“Mature Themes” is also a darker title: it seems that Pink and company have distanced themselves from that pseudo-levity that they sometimes displayed in their early recordings, choosing a denser, more evasive sound instead, which is perhaps less immediate, but which leaves a stronger impression. Examples of this are moments like “Is This The Best Spot?”, reminiscent of Devo, or “Driftwood”, with post-punk echoes. The album closes with the wonderful cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby” mentioned above, with a voltage and intensity that might seem striking at first, although it’s not really surprising if you’ve followed Pink’s career closely. In spite of everything, “Mature Themes” still displays that particular wit of theirs, with which they seem not to want to take themselves too seriously (“Kinski Assassin”) as they make a journey through some of the golden ages of music, but with the distance necessary to avoid lapsing into cheap revisionism.