As easy as it is to hate Ariel Pink—the most hated man in indie rock, according to MySpace (so that’s what they’ve been doing since 2007)—it’s hard not to love the tangled, yet often melodic madness of his latest album, pom pom. It’s the musical manifestation of a grown man going to town in a playroom, and the result is disturbing, endearing, and, at times, unexpectedly lovely.
Pink’s stamp is obvious on controversial tracks such as “Not Enough Violence,” where he sings in a consciously deep, Satanic voice, “Now it’s time for pain, that’s right/Penetration time tonight.” Pink told Pitchfork the track is a commentary on our unwillingness to confront the violence that plagues the world, but it could easily be confused for a dance hit as it escalates into a layered frenzy near the end.
Songs like “Not Enough Violence,” along with more calculated offensive remarks made outside the musical realm, are what make Pink indie rock’s most hated man, and he regularly switches from taking a perverse pride in the title to whining about how much hate he receives.
Pink is the type of guy who’ll title a song about a stripper “Black Ballerina,” then sulk in the corner when he gets called racist. While his public persona mostly thrives on obvious trollery, in brief flashes of sincerity we see Pink wallowing in confused victimhood. It’s as if he’s come to the conclusion that people will hate him no matter what, so he might as well make them hate him on his terms—hence his deliciously weird music, high heels and wigs, and outrageous comments—but in the end, he still doesn’t get why he can’t click with other humans.
No song better highlights the provocateur-turned-self-conscious dynamic than “Sexual Athletics.”
As the track starts off with a twangy riff that your dad would be totally into, in classic form, Pink declares himself the “sex king, on a velvet swing.” By the second half, he’s confessing, “All I wanted was a girlfriend all my life.”
That’s about as much as the average listener can decipher from pom pom, but there are plenty of inscrutable songs still worth a listen. The second track, “White Freckles,” is what would happen if any generic ’80s beat suffered a bit too much sun damage; “Nude Beach A G-Go” is a perverse twist on the Beach Boys’ aesthetic (Pink sings, “All the kids will be attraction/All the parents don’t like the action”); and “Jell-o” is as scatterbrained musically as it is lyrically, making the nonsensical track a fascinating listen.
Pom pom’s mellower songs are also some of its most memorable. Single “Put Your Number In My Phone” sways along with instrumentation that, if pulled apart layer by layer, would most likely sound hideous, but when combined, it’s dreamy and nostalgic. It’s funny, because the lyrics are actually over-the-top creepy (“Talk to me, I’ll be your lover sky,” and “Make believe, I last forever babe” are a few choice examples), but like that one asshole you can’t believe actually gets laid, Pink makes the pick-up lines sound appealing with the romantic swell of his instrumentation.
Immediately following the single, “One Summer Night” is a pop ballad drenched in syrup, and the simple, sweet melody will randomly resurface on an absent minded walk. Near the end of pom pom, “Picture Me Gone” trudges along through slow-rolling synth, while Pink’s affected vocals sing, “I dedicate this selfie to the little ones who will outlast me when I’m gone” in a pointed commentary on the digital era.
Pom pom is a difficult album to unpack, much like the persona of Pink himself, but his creative entwining of disjointed elements creates an addictive (almost hypnotizing) sound that makes you want to try, again and again.
Ariel Pink – pom pom tracklist:
- “Plasic Raincoats In The Pig Parade”
- “White Freckles”
- “Four Shadows”
- “Not Enough Violence”
- “Put Your Number In My Phone”
- “Nude Beach A G-Go”
- “Goth Bomb”
- “Dinosaur Carebears”
- “Negative Ed”
- “Sexual Athletics”
- “Black Ballerina”
- “Picture Me Gone”
- “Exile On Frog Street”
- “Dayzed Inn Daydreams”