-- By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
For the man known as Ariel Pink, albums aren't so much collections of songs so much as dump trucks full of ideas: some good, some bad, some ridiculous, some stupid, some disarmingly good-natured, all smashed together in an unpredictable mosaic. Even an individual Ariel Pink song, like 2010's breakthrough single "Round and Round," might alternate between gasp-inducing prettiness and awkward stumbles. As he's moved beyond his lo-fi bedroom-recording roots — and learned how to better control the outcomes of his experimentation — the juxtaposition has only gotten more striking.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti project is about to release its first album since the success of "Round and Round," and Mature Themes (out August 21) finds a way to both capitalize on Pink's new-found budget and explore the flights of fancy that made his name. The deadpan double entrendres of "Is This the Best Spot?" would've made it an easy fit on college radio circa 1981 — while, if anything, "Schnitzel Boogie" is more aggravating than its title suggests — but crossover potential peeks through on Mature Themes, especially in singles like "Only in My Dreams" and an album-closing cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson's "Baby."
During "Only in My Dreams" in particular, Ariel Pink locates the closest thing he's got to a hit-making formula: a hard-to-resist mix of the verses' gee-whiz primitivism and the choruses' spangly, breathless lushness. On Mature Themes, Pink isn't foolish enough to run that approach into the ground. Instead, he converts each sensation he cultivates — from swooning all the way to revulsion — into an alternately strange and sweet surprise.
Mature Themes will be available to stream on demand from August 14 through August 20, 2012.