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Controversial artist brings new sound on ‘Pom Pom’ album

Ariel Pink • Photo by Sasha Eisenman
Ariel Pink • Photo by Sasha Eisenman

Ariel Pink is an artist known for his irreverence, his controversial antics and his skill at writing nostalgic, syrupy indie pop songs.

The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has been consistently releasing grungy, lo-fidelity albums since the early 2000s under the name Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. This is his first record that omits the latter part of his band name.

But, whether Haunted Graffiti or just Ariel Pink, his music is noticeably influenced by elements of garage rock, glam rock, disco and synthesizer pop music. But, perhaps more interesting than his sound is his behavior: the man himself seems like a throwback to the various satirical and eccentric musicians that came before him, stuck somewhere between sincerity and acting.

His music, at its core, is pretty ridiculous, both lyrically and instrumentally. But, it’s ridiculous in a good way. It represents what it’s like to be young, stupid and brash in a city like Los Angeles. “Pom Pom” sounds like the soundtrack to a weekend bender.

“Pom Pom,” released on Nov. 17, is Ariel Pink’s newest release. It is a breath of fresh air but will still be familiar to fans of his work.

His willingness to be ridiculous is apparent even in the first opening notes of the record. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” sounds like a psychedelic-pop polka piano song littered with references to cocaine, nights in Tokyo and mannequins being scared. Ariel Pink’s surrealist edge is well-known among his fans; his willingness to blur the line between what’s real and what isn’t has always been a facet of his music.

“White Freckles” starts out with a synth and guitar melody that resembles an ‘80s arcade game theme song, before abruptly shifting to Ariel Pink singing “She got them at the tanning salon, white freckles” over a groovier rhythm. The song switches speeds at the end of the song, as Ariel repeatedly sings a refrain.

The third song on the record, “Four Shadows” is noticeably darker and minor key, and features Ariel’s tenor voice layered over a menacing, pitch-shifted vocal track. It then breaks into a chorus that somehow combines what sounds like a glam metal melody, double-bass kick drums and dark synthesizers.

Ariel Pink’s knack for eclectic songwriting can be seen on “Put Your Number In My Phone,” the lead single off the album. On this song, sunny guitars dance around a mellow chord progression under rather earnest lyrics. Ariel croons “I hope to get some time alone / I want to get to know you more, baby,” before a voice mail message starts to play during the bridge.

There are a total of 17 songs on “Pom Pom,” all of which have different flavors seemingly inspired by different points in alternative music. “Goth Bomb,” for example, sounds like a mixture of early punk predecessors in the same vein of Iggy and the Stooges. “Nude Beach A Go-Go” is a syrupy, surf rock ditty about, unsurprisingly, a nude beach where “you can do anything,” according to the lyrics.

But nowhere is the eccentricity of this album more apparent than on “Dinosaur Carebears.” The song starts out sounding with a vaguely ethnic synth riff before delving into a child-like, candy shop melody before settling into a groovy, psychedelic chord pattern. This song is erratic, seemingly senseless but still thoroughly enjoyable.

This is much like the rest of “Pom Pom.” Certainly, this is not a revolutionary album. It probably won’t go down in history as an “Abbey Road” or a “Dark Side of the Moon.” But it is an interesting album, a good one even. It’s the kind of album you can half-listen to in your car and then later, sit down with a cup of tea and an hour to kill to contemplate its deeper meaning (or lack thereof).

Ariel Pink is nothing short of an eccentricity. His music is definitely not for everybody. But, if you can stomach some ridiculousness to see the legitimate talent for songwriting underneath, then “Pom Pom” is certainly worth a listen.

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Controversial artist brings new sound on ‘Pom Pom’ album