ariel

Will Schube’s high school football team hired E-40 as their new offensive coordinator

Ariel Pink has always been an artist rife with tensions, and pom pom, his latest work, stands both as an image of, and in direct opposition to, his persona. pom pom is Pink’s most nuanced, carefully crafted, cohesive, and layered record to date. Beneath the pop immediacy is an unfolding of new avenues available for exploration. While his last two records, Before Today and Mature Themes, were both solid , pom pom is the record Pink’s been hinting at: an album that makes one wish he’d cut the shit and go about his career as a very good pop musician.

pom pom wouldn’t be an Ariel Pink album if it didn’t make a game of the serious and the scathingly ironic—the genuine cultural critique and the cringe-worthy neuroses that have long plagued Pink in a fun game of “is he kidding or not”? pom pom marries the sugary sweet with the perverse in a deliriously playful way—Pink’s ability to get away with whatever he wants precisely because it’s impossible to tell what he truly believes is an enviable trait, and a nice veil to hide behind. However, the raw sexuality that makes up much of the lyrical content on pom pom makes it rather clear where Pink’s head is at these days. There’s a strong theme of identity throughout pom pom, the way a self is lost in the post-Y2K muck of internet personality. The album’s opener, “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” is playful in its delirium, an oddly personal affair that sounds like it was written for children frolicking in a Chuck-E Cheese ball pit. “White Freckles” is a psychedelic workout that would have fit nicely on his two previous records, outfitted with intermittent “hey’s!” and a wonderfully sexy halftime verse that finds Pink oscillating between his spastic high pitched engagement and a creepy, brooding low pitched delivery.

 

Pink’s diversity is admirable. No two tracks sound the same, yet each is obviously a Pink construction. “Four Shadows” sounds like a deconstructed King Crimson b-side, while “Not Enough Violence” is an 80s synth-thriller—a VCR recording of a naughty Miami Vice episode. There’s a scathing quality to Pink’s voice on “Not Enough Violence,” especially when he melds a deep, “Penetration time tonight/when we power plant bodies,” with the sort of angelic harmonies that made The Mae Shi so lovable in the mid-2000s. “Nude Beach A Go-Go” sounds like Pink losing his mind in live time, while “Goth Bomb” is a throwback to the joyous lo-fi garbage Pink spent the early parts of his career creating.

pom pom is divided into four sections, the first ‘P’, the second ‘I’, the third ‘N’, the fourth ‘K’. The record feels like the first double album released this year that can’t be trimmed in half (looking at you, Ty Segall). The diversity in weirdness keeps the album’s 17 tracks distinctly fresh. “Dinosaur Carebears” is a middle-Eastern, four to the floor stomp-fest, while the following track, “Negative Ed”, is the psychedelic shredder Pink has nearly perfected by this point. “Picture Me Gone”, the album’s most transparently sentimental track, is a wonderful encapsulation of what Pink does best: the track has the feel of a ballad, and Pink sings, “Let’s make a toast to glory days/when you were 8 and I was only 41.” The synths are grating, Pink’s voice is confidently unconcerned with key, and the lyrics are wonderfully articulate. He continues, “I dedicate the selfie to/The little guy who will outlast me when I’m done/Look into my camera lens/And straight through me/I see that you’re a lot like me/You never get attention/And you’ll never get a pension or your dad’s money.”

At this point, we should put Pink and Father John Misty in a room to see who can come up with the catchiest critique of digital culture, a topic which rests at the core of pom pom. Beneath the layers of sexual provocation and slapstick innuendoes lies a songwriter genuinely interested and fearful of the deterioration of identity. This is an especially interesting topic for an artist like Pink to tackle, considering his playful willingness to shroud his sexuality in something far more blurred and grey. Within the context of pom pom,  Pink’s media-friendly shock tactics seem less a grab for attention than a way to will his listeners into a greater sense of agency and self-awareness.

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