I just finished reading David Foster Wallace’s The Broom of the System recently, the same David Foster Wallace who wrote Infinite Jest because it turns out, like J. D. Salinger, both of them have other books than just their magna opera. And David Foster Wallace’s first novel shares almost parallel problems to Ariel Pink’s Pom Pom. Firstly and most obviously, both are bubbling with ideas without much thought given to transitioning those ideas. Secondly, both could be shortened (though The Broom of the System is a brisk 467 pages in comparison to the tome that is Infinite Jest); it was a bad sequencing move to put four of the album’s longest songs as the final stretch. Finally and least importantly, Wallace’s characters have homophobic undercurrents, while Ariel Pink (and his characters … or is it caricatures?) have been accused of misogyny (I can only imagine the Richard D. James-like grin on Ariel Pink’s face when he released “Black Ballerina” as a single the day after Grimes tweeted about his “delusional misogyny” with regards to some comments about Madonna).
But they also share an often delicious absurdity that’s either hilarious or revealing of humanity, and not only is Pom Pom one of the best albums of 2014, it’s also Ariel Pink’s best album. Even on some of the album’s cuts that I’m not entirely fond of, Ariel Pink manages either a melody or a texture or both that resonates: the Viking funeral (all dressed in pink robes) of “Four Shadows”; the flute throughout “Lipstick”; the bombastic electric guitar throughout “Goth Bomb”; 0:20 – 0:39 of “Exile on Frog Street” where Pink works up a melodic climb surrounded by synthesized strings before finishing with a satisfying descending melody. But these are my five favorite songs from the album, in the order that they come:
~The combination of the terrifying synth tone, the galloping bass and the pummeling drums of “Not Enough Violence” that culminates in Ariel Pink yelling “FERTILIZER” on top of the mountain like he’s King Lear and that insufficient cow manure killed his crops and caused his wife to leave him. Would have easily been one of the best songs on the Cure’s Pornography, and that’s a rare compliment you wouldn’t give to a lot of songs; least of all a lot of Cure songs.
~”Put Your Number in my Phone,” which Pitchfork’s Jeff Weiss aptly describes as “David Crosby covering 2Pac’s “What’z Ya Phone #”. Despite the ’60s Sunset Strip jangle, the terrain shifts to the Eastside, a Silver Lake taco truck where Pink sweetly begs for the chance to get to know a girl better, before promptly blowing her off—which we hear in uncomfortably Drake-ian Voicemail detail. It’s the paradox at the heart of the collection and what ultimately makes it so compelling. Beyond catchy melodies, there’s a constant agitation between Pink’s moonlit dreams and everyday pessimism.” Listen to Pink phrases the choruses, lingering in the air and leading into the next phrase. And the way the spoken word bridge leads into said chorus (“I’m just wondering if you could / Talk to meeeee”) is a step-up from the spoken word bridge of Ariel Pink and Jorge Elbrecht’s non-album single “Hang on to Life” from the previous year.
~”Nude Beach A Go-Go,” which can be found on Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste, whose version I preferred for a while because Azealia Banks’ voice is prettier than Ariel Pink’s baritone. But while Banks does the melody justice, the harmonic “GO! GO!” about four octaves higher than Pink’s voice (hyperbole) is missing on hers.
~The second half of “Sexual Aesthetics.” The first half ain’t bad, but it’s mostly a functional funk number until the 1-minute mark where Ariel Pink changes costumes into a cheerleader (for himself) and then a gay reporter. But the second half (marked by a channel change that is what a prime example of the lazy transitioning of ideas that I alluded to earlier) is a lovely lullaby that’s as funny as it is saddening: “And all I wanted was a girlfriend all my life / But she’s too sexual.”
~”Black Ballerina,” which I first thought was a time-waster when I heard it before the album was released but now think is one of the album’s best songs. It’s everything good about Ariel Pink rolled into one song: his herbivore appetite for genres as that you wouldn’t think he succeeds at but he does (cf. the synth-funk riff), the absurdity (cf. how the riff is punctuated by the crunch of someone taking a bite out of an apple or more obviously, the bridge where a virgin half-squeals and half-screams “I LIKE YOUR AREOLAS, BABY” to a stripper while a grinning pervert watches in the distance, right hand in his pants) and the melody (you’ll be singing “Elevators, manufacturers” without realizing why you’re singing those words by song’s end).
Sure, it’s not perfect: the hook of “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” – “OH YEAH! OH YEAH!”’s – slaps the song’s momentum when the song didn’t ask for it; “White Freckles” ain’t much outside of its riff; “Dinosaur Carebears” is a bunch of ideas searching for anything at all; the stops for frog ribbits sap the energy out of “Exile on Frog Street.” But frankly, we haven’t heard an album like this since, I dunno, take your pick: since They Might Be Giants’ Lincoln, David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) or whatever Frank Zappa album you think Zappa bowed out on.