Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ariel Pink - Dedicated To Bobby Jameson Review

First impressions are always the most important. Typically, artistic forms of expression grapple with overcoming the idiom "never judge a book by its cover," as bearing witness to that visual stimuli, and reading the integral title, are virtually unavoidable. Thing is, Ariel Pink is not a typical artist. His latest album, 2014's Pom Pom, and every one before that, whether under his titular or the most famous Haunted Graffiti, gave zero exposé as to the contents held within. This, quite the curiosity given Pink's titillating persona. With Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, nothing changes, despite the title greatly affirming otherwise. By his own admission, yes, Pink's 11th studio LP is dedicated to the troubled, and recently deceased, cult songwriter Bobby Jameson, but no, it has nothing to do with him. That's just the Ariel Pink way, I suppose. Anti-modern Hypnagogic Pop centered around illustrative depictions of death, the afterlife, and the aberrant misremembering's of an alienated, adolescent age. Long removed from the bedroom blues of the early 2000's, Pink's transcendence into Indie's nutcase hasn't come at the cost of his spirit. If Pom Pom was the explosive identifier of his brain discharging oversaturated nonsensical's, Dedicated reels the pieces back in, restoring the ounce of sanity Pink once held a decade ago.

To those adventure-seekers dipping their toes into Pink's caustic pond for the first time, calling this album sedated is quite the statement. There's talk of Santa as an effeminate cross-dresser, death formality a la Monty Python's "bring out yer dead," and English nursery rhymes disguised as grief-stricken ballads, after all. However, the remote inclusion of subtlety and the moralistic language sit opposite Pom Pom's repungant transparency. Nowhere on Dedicated's 13 tracks does Ariel Pink crudely embody a cool cat porn star, a socially awkward strip club attendee, or a bloodthirsty femme fatale. Perhaps Bobby Jameson's looming non-significance isn't entirely so, given Pink's embrace of his autobiography that examined his life, death, and existence under the radar of those closest to him. Presence as a feat of mortality plays a symbolic role through Dedicated's passages, beginning promptly with 'Time To Meet Your God,' a synth-righteous prognostication of religious acceptance following final breath. If the omnipotent protagonist of the intro was the message, then follow-up track 'Feels Like Heaven' acts as the deceased's response. Lush, serene, and entirely Dream Pop-like, 'Heaven' contradicts the previous track's judgement day in ways only Pink knows how.

Throughout the rest of the LP, life and death partake in a two-man game where the Grim Reaper struggles to snatch the grip of someone reminiscing on life's guilty pleasures. 'I Wanna Be Young' prays for a reversal of time, while 'Bubblegum Dreams' and 'Dreamdate Narcissist' expound upon why. Like most, Pink's nostalgic vision magnifies the highs while reducing the lows, although that pattern discontinues, momentarily, for the confounding 'Another Weekend.' The lead single finds Pink unsure of his gregarious lifestyle, believing that weekend after weekend is "gonna get me into trouble," but fears staying in because he'd be seen as too "shy or humble." It's a sudden moment of introspection for the outlandish social butterfly. Prior to 'Another Weekend' though is 'Time To Live,' Dedicated's epic centerpiece, both in stature and quality. Over a minute longer than any other track, 'Time To Live' feels like two-in-one, confidently pushing the boundaries of Pink's already boundary-less gumption by eschewing 80's Glam Pop (a la 'Video Killed The Radio Star') with seething guitars, relentless drums, and a cacophony of noise. One of 2017's best tracks, and an hallucinogenic nightmare that bodyslams the Grim Reaper into submission. Unfortunately, while there's a handful of valuables elsewhere, no song comes close to combating 'Time To Live's' brilliance.

That's due, frankly, to Ariel Pink's relative uniformity here. It's the sole reason I preferred Pom Pom to any Haunted Graffiti work; the group always yanked him back to the familiar. Pom Pom disengaged tethers, creating a spontaneous and uninhibited record that couldn't care less about audience reaction. In this manner, Dedicated is more reserved and mature. A few cuts here, like 'Feels Like Heaven,' 'Dreamdate Narcissist,' or 'Kitchen Witch' would've felt more at home with fan favorite Before Today, rather than any previous Pink solo record. Even the language contained within dials back on the sissyish absurdities. Dedicated even closes with 'Acting,' what could easily be seen as Pink's most confessional track yet. With L.A.'s atmospheric fabricator Dam-Funk in tow, Pink takes to the city's nightlife to disclose his concocted existence. 'Acting' warps back to 2003's Worn Copy, and particularly 'Thespian City,' a track that parallels Pink's revelation that life reflects art, and art reflects life. To him, every place is a stage, every thing is a scene. 'Bubblegum Dreams' returns to the 50's surf spot of 'Nude Beach A Go-Go,' 'Santa's In The Closet' creaks down the halls in his least covert Bowie impersonation yet, and the title track embeds itself in the 1970's era of Scooby Doo.

Musically, Dedicated aligns itself with Pink's ardent Hypnagogic past, rather than his recent amalgamous hi-fi. While each project certainly embodied his idiosyncrasies, Before Today and Mature Themes leaned towards overproduced Garage Rock, while Pom Pom lifted the veil, removing the vacuous sound that defined his past. Here, a mixture surfaces, as the ripened Glam Rock of 'Another Weekend' or 'Feels Like Heaven' attempt to coalesce with the syphoned void of 'I Wanna Be Young' or 'Time To Live.' The latter, a curious case, as the innate loudness opposes Pink's past, but the unbridled imagination and inventiveness only something 2000's tracks like 'Trepanated Earth' or 'Helen' transmitted. This does make Dedicated's granular theme quite spiritless, at least in comparison to Pink's former works which were all more coherently-complimentary. As a musician, Pink hasn't lost his touch. 'Feels Like Heaven,' 'Time To Live,' and 'Bubblegum Dreams' are all exquisitely produced despite awakening in separate corners of his cranium. As a songwriter, he hasn't either, even if that greatness has been questioned time and time again. 'Another Weekend's' impermanence and 'Acting's' oracle vision evidence of his strengths. Dedicated To Bobby Jameson is a preservation of talent, rather than a reinvention of virtuosity.

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