Settling with 4AD for 2010’s Before Today seems to have been a masterstroke for Ariel Pink and his spectral scribblers, aiding mainman Ariel in channelling his vision into something that record buyers could comprehend – at least in part. Follow-up Mature Themes was, we’re told, recorded with more of a collaborative spirit, but still revels in its unfettered idiosyncrasies.
There are elements of Magnetic Fields’ sensitivity here, as filtered through Gary Wilson’s (non-)self-editing machine; sometimes, as on Is This The Best Spot – all ray gun sound effects, cascading melodies and illogical time signatures inviting us to “step into” Ariel’s “time warp” – it’s as though they’re trying to bring Adam & Joe’s Song Wars back to the airwaves. Nympho lesbians at a bibliotheque, “blowjobs of death”, sinking one’s own battleship, a cross-eyed goat with bad breath and a wake-up call for schnitzel that floats off in a fuzzy cloud cloud: Mature Themes isn’t really much of the sort. And where MF’s Stephin Merritt drops the sardonic detachment for some emotional connection, Ariel seems largely content to pile it on.
If it weren’t for the fact that he and Haunted Graffiti tie it all up in a wonderfully crinkled pop bow, the hipster disconnect might get a bit much. As it is, Beach Boys harmonies, La’s guitar jangles, spy riffs and narcotic soul such as the closing take on Donnie & Joe Emerson’s Baby are bound together to make one fucking odd present. Unwrapping it is a beguiling, utterly baffling joy.