Review of Pom Pom Album by Ariel Pink

As we've said before, the lingua franca of pop music around the world is in its conformity, that  chameleon like ability to adapt, blend in, emulsify into something that can be easily digested anywhere by the majority of the population. Then there's everything else. Then there's Ariel Pink.

Ariel Pink Pom Pom Album

A native of Los Angeles, Ariel Rosenberg has been, to put it mildly, at the margins since first appearing twelve years ago with his début releases 'House Arrest' & 'Lover Boy'. 'Pom Pom' is approximately his eleventh album (it's hard to make an accurate count) but the headline news this time is that it comes along together with some newly acquired baggage. All publicity, someone once said, is good publicity, but whoever spun that probably wasn't including being accused of misogyny by your 4AD label mate Grimes, or having the lack of self awareness to praise the Christian fundamentalist loonies of the Westboro Baptist Church. Not that either of these are particularly forgiveable, but there have also been other b****cks dropped, bringing wider attention to an artist who previously has carried on in his own potty way, largely unmolested by notoriety, paps or any meaningful record sales.  

If he's feeling under any particular duress because of all this, 'Pom Pom' doesn't reveal it. Flipping between a number of different poses, Pink instead goes for being vaguely provocative rather than compounding any of his rapidly assigned stereotypes. Maybe each of these guises is an alternative identity: maybe he doesn't care. Either way, it's hard to listen to the bonkers surf rock of 'Nude Beach A Go-Go', or 'Jell-o''s straitjacket non-sequiturs such as "Mom and dad are normal/ Everyone eats white bread/ That's why they're all dead" and not feel a little bit like you're being experimented on. This suspicion is brought into sharper focus on 'Dinosaur Carebears'; a track in two parts which  is initially a nightmarish scramble of white noise - interspersed with cartoon parps - and then segues without explanation into cod-reggae. Okay then.

All of this screams self indulgence, but across 'Pom-Pom''s overly ripe seventeen tracks, the obviously maverick creative spark that Rosenberg possesses was inevitably going to be stretched. When his energies are channelled by someone or thing, the rare moments of lucidity lead to something the listener can at least relate to. Here on the likes of 'Negative Ed', the spirit of new-wave nut jobs Devo is preserved in all its glory, a schizoid Frankenstein's monster of a song possessing manic bleeps, breakneck speed and silly treated vocals a go-go. On 'Sexual Athletics', he's a lounge lizard; freaky, self proclaimed "Sex king/ On a velvet swing" whilst sleazy guitar and sometime harmonies render him as Prince on formaldehyde, before in a predictably unpredictable turn the whole thing veers off down another totally unexpected path.

Settling all the activity into a coherent narrative is impossible for the record itself and therefore even more difficult in terms of summing it up coherently as a writer. Case(s) in point, 'Not Enough Violence' and 'Put Your Number In My Phone' are two equally interesting facets of Pink's kicking against the hubris, the former spectacularly overblown, the latter neatly clipped, sixties orientated sweetness.

Many geniuses are simply misunderstood. In Ariel Pink's case, the piquancy of some of his views are in danger of overshadowing a record which is cheek and jowl with both the avant garde and the extremes of mainstream music. 'Pom Pom' is undoubtedly a strange collection that - if rarely - hints at an artist who might be able to shrug off that controversial aura by virtue of his boundless imagination. It's worth saying one more time though: there's pop, then there's Ariel Pink.


Andy Peterson

Official Site -