On the second track of his new album, "Mature Themes," Ariel Pink invites us to "Step into my time warp / Step into my time warp now." It's a fitting request. Listening to Ariel Pink - and his band, Haunted Graffiti - is like stepping back in time. Pink's music is a hodgepodge of past influences, from 1960s psychedelica to '70s glam rock to '80s synth pop and beyond.
Ariel Pink's sound is hard to pin down. It's been called noise rock, avant-garde, new wave, disco. Pink himself has been compared to David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. Suffice it to say that Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti is all over the musical map. Their 2010 album, "Before Today," was a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles from bygone decades.
The other thing to say about Ariel Pink's music is that it's, well, weird. His lyrics range from the charmingly kooky to the downright bizarre. Take this line from the song "Driftwood" on the new album: "Bad breath of a cross-eyed goat / Eating children for a Monday morning."
Pink's lyrics are often nonsensical; their meaning tends to depend on the overall musical effect of the band's vintage-inspired instrumentation and Pink's zany vocal register. Despite the title of his new album, Pink's lyrics are anything but mature. They tend to occupy a middle ground between the juvenile and the absurd.
Still, the songs slide along on their own grease. For one thing, they're catchy as hell. Even a puerile, throwaway track like "Schnitzel Boogie" will stay with you for a long time, and you'll find yourself murmuring, "I'm eatin' schnitzel / I'm eatin' schnitzel."
This is not to say that every song on "Mature Themes" is infective and irresistibly catchy. The first half of the album is far more accessible than the second half, which contains a number of opaque, even alienating moments. (The song "Nostradamus and Me" is the album's low-point).
Highs and lows are typical of Pink, though. His music frustrates and confuses as often as it delivers moments of crystalline pop perfection. With Pink, you have to take the bad with the good. "Mature Themes" is full of ideas, some flawed, some brilliant.
One thing is for certain: Pink knows how to write a transcendent pop melody. "Round and Round," the standout single of "Before Today," was named the best song of 2010 by Pitchfork Media. It was the song I played more than any other that year, as anyone who rode in my car will tell you.
If there is a runaway hit to rival "Round and Round" on "Mature Themes," it's almost certainly "Only In My Dreams," which, according to my iTunes library, I've already played 12 times (and the album has only been out for a week). "Mature Themes" rewards the patient listener. It gets better and better with repeated listens.
All in all, "Mature Themes" contains some of my favorite Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti moments. Pink has an incredible talent for fusing together seemingly-incompatible musical components. A wonderful example of this comes on "Symphony of the Nymph," which shifts abruptly from hi- to lo-fi and back again. The verse and chorus couldn't be more different, but it works.
The album is full of these sublime - and unlikely - transitions. On "Mature Themes," Pink is like some sort of musical alchemist mixing unstable elements to produce a very addictive strain of ear candy.
DOWNLOAD NOW: "Only In My Dreams," "Kinski Assassin," "Symphony of the Nymph."