Ariel Pink has been responsible for some of the most half-assed, godawful, pathetic excuses for live performance I’ve seen over the past decade, in venues both small (the Drake) and massive (Coachella). But the very thing that makes Pink a trainwreck onstage is what make his records so fascinating: His music hinges on the most delicate of balances—between sweet melody and sun-warped sonics, between comfort and terror—which are nigh impossible to reproduce in concert without either reining in the weirdness or flying right off the rails.
Mature Themes won’t make that challenge any easier: Though it continues the new adventures in hi(gher)-fi Pink initiated for 2010’s breakthrough Before Today, it swaps out that album’s austere post-punk/yacht-rock symbiosis for an absurdist ’70s bubblegum-pop/’80s new-wave assemblage. And while certain tracks feel frivolous on an individual basis—“Schnitzel Boogie” is indeed a Ween-worthy polka about deep-fried, flattened meat—the randomness coheres into a holistic, hermetic sound-world unto its own.
Just as Frank Zappa used doo wop and ’60s pop to skewer hippies and the establishment alike, Pink mines golden-oldies arcana and Reagan-era radio as a means to both reclaim lost innocence (see: the disarmingly poignant title track, or the gauzy cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson’s 1979 EZ-rock obscurity, “Baby”) and wallow in the underbelly of disposable trash culture. When he sings, “I’m just a rock ’n’ roller from Beverly Hills,” you don’t so much want to ask for an autograph as file a restraining order.
Playlist Picks: “Mature Themes,” “Only in My Dreams,” “Symphony of the Nymph”