Album Review: Pom Pom – Ariel Pink


[LISTEN]   [Label:4 AD] [Date Released: November 17, 2014] [Genre: Lo-Fi, Indie Pop,Synth Pop ]

Every realm of music can call to mind a certain oddball character—a court jester or sound clown that helps round out the soundscape by mixing in a healthy dose of eccentricity and irreverence to whichever party he or she decides to crash. However, the key difference between the typical larker and characters like Ariel Pink is that rather than nestle himself deep into a niche crevice, Pink acts more like a vortex. He vacuums up every nuance and quirk from pop and rock genres and movements from the past fifty years and exudes a visceral, bubbly, and irresistible lo-fi sound with lots of humor and personality. Nearly two decades of musical razzle-dazzle has thusly amounted to Ariel Pink’s release of pom pom and now, thoroughly removed from any Twitter beef or other “news” natural to personalities as singular and kooky as this, the music can finally speak for itself.

The overall sound of pom pom is a lo-fi parade, a procession of floats carrying different relics from pop and rock history all under a distorted—although not at all obscuring—blanket of low fidelity noise confetti. This mental image is easily maintained: opener “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” sounds like it was pulled up straight from the 1960’s Revolver era with doting guitars and a charming sunshine pop twinkle. The grand marshall’s message, to praise weirdness and eclecticism in a sense, is resonant between the bright calls of “Oh yeah! Oh yeah!” Quick to follow, “White Freckles” jump starts itself and leaps some years ahead. Here Ariel Pink’s vocals keep pace with a bouncy new wave synth and guitar groove combo. Afterward comes the seamless transition to the metal-flavored “Four Shadows” which slows the pace down considerably. This darker, Halloween-friendly flirtation with rock’s more chilling and foreboding mode of sound features howling guitars and a charmingly animated obsession with “things that go bump in the night.”

It’s at this point in the record where Ariel Pink really sinks into a solid groove—which is a feat considering how easily most of these tracks flit and scurry between genres. Lead single “Put Your Number in my Phone” is lush, sweet, and glows inoffensively like sunlight peering through your window in the morning. The guitars sail like a soft breeze and blend perfectly with Pink’s patent air of saucy irreverence. Even the way Pink’s vocals interrupt the voicemail sample shortly after the two-minute mark is both smooth and largely comical. “One Summer Night” is the perfect follow-up, a gentle synthetic love ballad with slow, syrupy production. The parade procession even touches the sand once “Nude Beach A G-Go” fires off with twangy surf rock guitars and ever so pleasant show tune vocal performances. The straining lines “And chiffon and silk and wool and cotton / They are all forgotten” are especially delivered with cheeky comedic force.

Barreling down a few more avenues of musical experimentation, “Negativ Ed” is a high energy, foot-stamping craze synthesizing new wave and hard rock elements in a style fit for Saturday morning television. “Negatory negatory / Yeah yeah yeah yeah” is definitely the sound the Aquabats probably have in mind most of the time. A four-minute spoken word funk interlude in “Sexual Athletics” comes into play next only to be followed by “Jell-o,” the noisiest, bounciest, and most gelatinous half-song, half-commercial jingle since “Superfast Jellyfish.”

This manic stint all leads up to “Black Ballerina” featuring One-Eyed Willy, Shotgun Billy, and C-String Sally. Ensemble cast aside, the track pops up with a funky synth-punch intro and effortlessly slinks into a groove like no other. “C’mon don your doggy collar / Bet your bottom dollar” progresses—obviously—to “Bet your bottom Dolly / Wrapped in dollars all I gots to spend” with such ease and frolic that Shotgun Billy’s nervous trip to the strip club is as edifying as it is hilarious. “Picture Me Gone” shares this irreverent magic. Distant musings about iCloud, Find My iPhone, and other inklings of mortality come easily as they coast in on a wave of sheer noise.

And it’s this versatility that makes pom pom so special. To toe the line between sentiment and irreverence, between noise and lucidity, between pop rock and new wave is the foundation behind Ariel Pink’s blanket of low fidelity recording. Closer “Dayzed Inn Daydreams”—uplifting, dramatic, and captivating—tips the scales, but even now it’s hard to say which side won out in the end. Thankfully, there’s no need to choose: pom pom is an experience along pop and rock’s most vibrant avenues and boulevards, conceptually impressive and undoubtedly pink.

[Favorite Tracks: Black Ballerina, Picture Me Gone, Dayzed Inn Daydreams, Put Your Number in my Phone, One Summer Night, Negativ Ed]

by Dynn Javier