Ariel Pink, “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson”
Ariel Pink is hard to pin down. He’s a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter, an eccentric visual artist, and an icon of weirdo-rock and lo-fi glam. Now thirty-nine years old, with nearly twenty years as a chameleonic recording artist, Pink has become an indie rock star known for his brand of memorable if difficult-to-define hypnagogic pop. His 2003 album, Worn Copy, opens with an eleven-minute psychedelic jaunt (“The human race is a pile of dog shit!” reads one lyric). pom pom, his strange, seventeen-track 2014 record, positively puzzled critics, who were torn between praising it as “art rock” and snubbing its dressed-up nonsense (“Negative Ed / Lives in my brain,” goes one track, “Negative Ed / He’s not ok and I’m just dead).
Three years later and Pink’s latest release, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, retains the energy of the avant-garde but with less self-indulgence. The title honors Bobby Jameson, a musical renegade whose rapid rise in the LA rock scene of the mid-60s preceded an even swifter disappearance from public life. Though Pink makes clear his reverence for the departed musician — a kindred spirit of California iconoclasm — he sees Jameson as both an idol “staring at God” and as an instructor teaching “me, myself, and I not to die.” Most tracks are heavy with existential truths. Take “Time To Live,” an epic grunge anthem of a manic anarchist bent on spiritual survival. Or the shrugged, weepy single “Another Weekend” — among the best songs of Pink’s career — in which the singer bellows like a man, hungover and alone, wondering what he’s doing with his life. Still, at times Pink’s penchant for the bizarre distracts from the album’s themes. “Santa’s In The Closet” has flamboyant flair, but feels like farce following the somber rocker “Death Patrol.”
That’s all to say that Pink hasn’t changed. Though you might mistake the deliberative “Bubble Gum Dreams” for Beach Boys, or “Do Yourself A Favor” for Cage The Elephant, Pink has not gone mainstream. In fact, he’s done the opposite, creating a muted but mature statement of synth-pop that’s neither 1980s nor 2010s. Just listen to the burst of synthesizers and pseudo-scriptural commands that open the album, sounding like Joel Osteen dropped into a Richard Simmons workout video.
Quirks and all, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson reins in Ariel Pink’s eccentricities to reveal a subdued imagination that is still challenging, endearing, nostalgic, and undeniably modern.