For all the thinkpieces, accusations of misogyny, and clickbait-facilitated outrage his words have inspired this year, LA rocker Ariel Pink’s message is quite simple. It’s not trolling or mean-spirited publicity-hounding so much as a deeply-felt need to tow the line for the rock ‘n’ roll outcasts. He is of a lineage with both Frank Zappa and Kim Fowley (the latter of which has two co-writing credits on this new record), contrarian sonic experimentalists with a knack for combining irreverent language, ingratiating melodies, and harsh noise experiments. The publicity campaign Pink launched this year around his new double album pom pom – which included everything from singing with a New York childrens’ choir to asserting in an interview, facetiously, that he was “raped in the ass” by a dominatrix – has proven oddly perfect for setting the tone of the record. While pom pom offers no apologies for Pink’s irreverent behavior, it helps to contextualize the erratic way his mind works. In fact, pom pom may be the best fusion of Ariel Pink’s disparate moods yet caught on tape. It is a whirlwind of a record, encompassing an abundance of styles and degrees of seriousness over its nearly-70 minute runtime, but it is held together by the self-professed psychopath in charge.
pom pom is rendered in much higher sonic clarity than even his previous breakout record Before Today, which pushes his eclectic songwriting methods into much greater relief. The record encompasses everything from Magnetic Fields-esque pop balladry (lead single “Put Your Number in My Phone,” an irresistible ditty) to gothic beat workouts (the bizarre and winding “Not Enough Violence,” which incorporates Kraftwerk synthesizers, alarm clock samples, and repeated shouts of the word “fertilizer” into its 6 minute run-time). “Sexual Athletics” starts off as a proto-rap goof, with Pink declaring himself “the sex king on a velvet swing,” before the song gives way to Beach Boys harmonies and bells as he confesses that “all I wanted was a girlfriend all my life.” The fantastic “Black Ballerina” plays like Prince attempting a recreation of the Velvet Underground’s “the Murder Mystery” based around a 13-year old boy’s first experience at “the number one strip club in L.A.” Album centerpiece “Dinosaur Carebears” plays like a list of every genre Pink was ever told not to attempt, with excursions in Arabic dance, reggae, and children’s music.
The record also includes some of Pink’s most nuanced, emotionally realized songs to date. “Picture Me Gone” finds Pink balladeering about a near-future bereft of physical media, dedicating selfies to his future children before his death. It’s all a bit on-the-nose and cheeky, but the sci-fi element allows him to deliver one of his most emotive and powerful vocal performances. “One Summer Night” is a sugary synthpop shuffle with a similar focus on the death of an era, with Pink crooning that “time is running out, yeah / better write down these lines.” Album closer, “Dayzed Inn Daydreams,” is a widescreen cowboy ballad straight out of The Searchers that ends the record with a well-earned sentimentality.
Ultimately, pom pom proves itself as a successful record because these disparate moods and sounds work best in proximity to each other. The obnoxious novelty of something like “Jell-o” gains heft when sandwiched between XXX anthems “Sexual Athletics” and “Black Ballerina.” Similarly, the seriousness of “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” is harder to pinpoint after the extended Beatles goof of “Exile on Frog Street.” Over the course of the record, Pink wears many crowns – the Sex King, the Frog Prince, the Goth Bomb, the hunter hidden in lipstick – but the record is held together by its own delirious enthusiasm. Opener “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” finds Pink looking in the sky and musing that it must be “an Ariel day,” and the ensuing 67 minutes make good on that promise. pom pom presents pop music through Ariel Pink’s twisted lense, allotting you “the chance to go with a big parade.” It’s up to you whether you follow the procession or not. For those interested in Pink’s brand of irreverent pop anarchism, pom pom is an absolute pleasure. Mannequins are so afraid.