There is a certain recklessness about Ariel Pink that has prompted a large following; unfortunately, there are times where it has led him into trouble as well. The lo-fi pioneer rides the fine line between cheekiness and plain brashness without the worry of overstepping boundaries along the way.
With remiss comments synonymous with misogyny and bigotry clouting his past, it’s obvious why Ariel Pink is the not the most likable of musicians. Needless to say, his oddball genius has and will continue to spike interest, as he has sculpted polarizing pop tunes and pulled together colorful, scuzzy arrangements of glitz and glamour on his latest album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, his first under the Mexican Summer label.
Despite how out-of-left field and compelling Ariel Pink’s music may come across, the message behind his latest album’s title is just as offbeat and intriguing. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson makes a striking and memorializing reference to deceased musician Bobby Jameson, whose resurfaced online rants about the music industry have garnered a heavy following.
There are certain parallels between Bobby Jameson’s indifference with the music industry and the criticism that has followed Ariel Pink’s career. Appropriately, Jameson serves as a sage-like example for Pink to emulate. With all this to say, Pink is understatedly self-aware of his divided reputation but remains callous in his personality. Although he insists he has grown out of the desire for attention that presumably drove his purpose for making music, it’s plain to see that he remains the same quirky and unforgiving Ariel Pink in Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, especially when he admits on the album’s closing track, “Acting comes naturally/ I’m acting out my fantasies.” Admittedly, this man probably does not care if you like him or not. If he is attracting some kind of attention, whether that be negative because of what he says or positive for the music he makes, then he wins in the end. Pink’s 11th studio album is a microcosm of who he is; it’s not necessarily brilliant, but it’s for the most part interesting. It’s uneven in tone, yet possesses enough hook-driven tracks to garner enough credibility to keep his name in fame.
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson signals a return to Ariel Pink’s roots with a lo-fi approach, thus making this project feel less manufactured than anything he has previously released under the 4AD label (three albums). With resonant ‘80s synths, muddy vocal alterations, and sleazy tempos abound, Ariel Pink provides his listeners something wholly unto himself while paying homage to iconic pop acts from the past. Whether that be the Beach Boys in “Bubblegum Dreams” or his love letter to dream pop swooners The Cure in “Feels Like Heaven,” Dedicated to Bobby Jameson manages to delve deep into various generations of pop music with psych, new wave, hypnagogic and art pop flourishes aplenty. Nevertheless, listeners will embark on a turbulent collection of lo-fi earworms and zany detours into whatever decade or genre of music Ariel Pink decides to throw himself into.
The title track is sunny and glittery with an offering of direct hooks. “Time to Live” is perfectly pitched between Ariel Pink’s lo-fi charisma and his peculiar hypnagogic voyages through fuzzy soundscapes reminiscent of John Maus’ distorted oddities. “Another Weekend” is a sweet reprise from Ariel’s typicalities—a track that captures the carefree elation in the midst of time fleeting and weekends wasted. With a track this melodic, warm and mature, it would have behooved him to have included more songs in this vein of relaxation.
With all this praise in hindsight, this album is definitely flawed. Unfortunately, the majority of the record’s excellence relies on the strengths of moments of seldom maturity and callback to his lo-fi roots (a revelation for the enigmatic Ariel Pink). With 13 tracks to digest, there’s no compromising with Ariel Pink’s creative sphere here. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson echoes Ariel Pink’s essentially helter-skelter attitude; unfortunately, his latest is convoluted by overwhelming weirdness, unnecessarily tongue-in-cheek musings and shells of sounds from yesteryear. Too much creative freedom hurts more than helps Ariel Pink in the end. Maybe with a little pushback in the creative process, Ariel Pink could have created an album that compromises both his character and listenability. Unfortunately, the fun-spirited Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is not the maturated masterstroke we hoped for from Ariel Pink.
Follow writer Kyle Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner.