Ariel Pink’s “pom pom” is beautiful weirdo-pop
Ariel Pink at Rotown in 2011 Photo Credit: Marcel van Leeuwen
Xavier Lassiter – Arts & Entertainment Editor
Weirdoes write the best pop music. John Lennon wrote songs about walruses while tripping through at least three different dimensions, the apex man-child Michael Jackson wrote songs about being a badass dude while being lovingly effeminate, Kurt Cobain found the time to write “On a Plain” when he wasn’t painting watercolors of meat.
What these three have in common is that they were able to make candid and sincere music by assuming personas. The confident, wise flower-sniffing Lennon struggled with insecurity and domestic violence. Jackson’s bravado on “Smooth Criminal” is refuted by his well-documented personal life. Cobain would have people believe he didn’t care about his music’s accessibility even in the face of his many appearances on MTV (though the channel had at least a little merit back then). Some may unfairly call that acting, but for them it was the perfect way to channel their inner-image through music.
Ariel Pink functions with the same creative channel. He’s a self-proclaimed asshole and misogynist whose best works are cheery, sardonic jingles. He doesn’t intimately croon about past failures like a singer-songwriter, and the closest he gets to an anthem is about Jell-O. Like it or not, Pink’s songwriting is jaded and challenging in an endearing way.
Listen to the album on Spotify here.
Animal Collective immediately signed him to their Paw Tracks label after hearing his demo in 2002. He’s slowly released studio albums over the last decade to acclaim and confusion, and went from a basement-dwelling weirdo to an acclaimed basement-dwelling weirdo. The best part about his lo-fi cassette sound is that he can continually make indulgent records without having to be bothered by the pressure of pleasing labels with album sales.
Pink’s toy chest production combined with 60s and 80s backdrops is what makes “pom pom” intriguing. On the surface, the absurdist humor and twinkly sing-a-long nature of the album make it seem like an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” (which did it’s own job of confusing and charming adult audiences). The experience is like looking through an old View-Master on acid.
Pink is polarizing the way Ween is. It’s love it or hate it, with seemingly no middle ground. Some will find “pom pom” funny, artistic and catchy while others will find it annoying, strange, and offensive. Though perhaps the album’s point is to encompass all of these feelings—to be weirded out by the subjects and enticed by the melody.
“pom pom” is an album of weird pop pastiche—“Nude Beach A Go-Go” is a surf song that the kids would have bopped and twisted to with their Buddy Holly glasses and transistor radios. The opening track “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” is a “Sesame Street” sing-along that makes a statement on the country’s consumerism and love affair with plastic. “Black Ballerina” contains a skit about a nebbish lad’s first trip to the strip club, which includes him being slapped for touching the dancer—Pink’s humor and attention to detail make it work.
Amidst the jokes and playfulness is “Put Your Number in My Phone”—a hazy, sun-drenched dream pop number. It’s Pink at his most sincere and pretty. He sings, “Make believe, the night last forever, babe/ Come for tea, I’ll be your neighbor/ If you want all this and more.” It’s nice to hear Pink be sweet and inviting rather than mischievous. The refrain is simple and earnest, “Put your number in my phone/ I hope to get some time alone/ I wanna get to know you more.”
Pink is self-indulgent, and it’s a trait more songwriters should have. Too many get caught up in striking a balance between artistry and accessibility—it’s understandable to want the best of both worlds. It combines good output and the safety net of a good paycheck. But if they could all be as daring as Pink, perhaps broader audiences could learn the contentedness in being a little weird.
Lassiter’s Rating 4/5 Owls.