The first work attributed solely to Ariel Pink since the late 2000s and his first solo album, Pom Pom finds an uneasy balance between his early days and his later albums with Haunted Graffiti for 4AD. With slightly murkier production values than either Before Today or Mature Themes, the sprawling double album nods to Pink's home-recording days, but features a far wider cast of collaborators -- including Spiritualized's Jason Pierce and rock polymath Kim Fowley -- than any of his previous music. Similarly, these songs encompass some of his most engaging pop and some of his most aggressively weird music. While Pom Pom isn't as fragmented as the collections of his early work, the sides of Pink's music often feel polarized, especially compared to how well they complemented each other on Before Today and Mature Themes. The album's pop side might fare slightly better, at least on the first few listens: "Put Your Number in My Phone" may be even catchier than Before Today's "Round and Round" or Mature Themes' "Only in My Dreams" (and the fact that it appears a quarter of the way into Pom Pom suggests Pink is aiming for a disorienting listening experience), while "Dayzed Inn Daydreams" delivers more gauzy AM pop that sounds like it was channeled from the early '70s. Elsewhere, the breezily disturbing "Lipstick" could be an '80s new wave ballad written by Brian DePalma, and "Picture Me Gone" mixes mortality and technology into something equally witty and bittersweet. Some of Pom Pom's more overtly wacky tracks, like the novelty rock and musique concrète collision of "Dinosaur Carebears," take a while time to warm up to, and some, like "Exile on Frog Street," are just too long. However, for every song like these, there's a "White Freckles," a fine tip of the hat to Frank Zappa's legacy. Likewise, Pink's Fowley collaborations feel like the passing of the torch from one eccentric to another, whether it's "Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade"'s surreal sugar high, "Jell-O"'s whitebread satire, or the risqué surf-pop of "Nude Beach a Go-Go" (Azealia Banks' version of the song on Broke with Expensive Taste was even more successful and surprising in context). Indeed, sex is never far away on a Pink album, and "Sexual Athletics"' mix of cartoonish lust and romantic longing feels like Mature Themes in a nutshell. Though the way Pink zigs and zags on Pom Pom can be dazzling or confusing depending on listeners' patience, in its own way it's one of the best representations of what makes his music fascinating and occasionally frustrating.
Pom Pom Review
by Heather Phares