Album Review: Ariel Pink – ‘Dedicated to Bobby Jameson’
Written by Conor Battles on September 28, 2017
Artist: Ariel Pink
Album: Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
Label: Mexican Summer
Release Date: September 15, 2017
From the first ten seconds of gated vocals and drum machine blasts on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, it’s immediately clear what Ariel Pink is going for.
Pink’s ability to perfectly encapsulate a period in music and culture that may not have ever really existed is his greatest strength. On Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, Pink – born Ariel Rosenberg – continues to build on the camp and sleaze of his retro lo-fi sound, while exposing himself as an artist with a thoroughly modern vision.
Like 2014’s pom pom before it, the crux of Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is characterized by the queasy early ‘80s synthpop that Pink is most comfortable working in. “Time to Meet Your God,” the loud and unrelenting opening track, makes it clear that the vintage synth sound remains Ariel Pink’s purest avenue of expression. The dance punk of “Time to Live,” boasting an incessantly catchy chorus buried beneath layer after layer of lo-fi compression, occasionally gives way to crushingly heavy metal riffs; blending genres and history so effectively that it stands out as Pink’s crowning achievement in his unending quest to pay tribute to the glory of cassette tape schmaltz.
The low-fidelity aesthetic and murky production that has defined Ariel Pink’s output since his first self-released material in the early 2000s has been refined into some of his most accessible work. Tracks like the anthemic Cure-baiting “Feels Like Heaven” and the stripped-down, acoustic balladry of “Another Weekend” are exquisitely-crafted bites of sugary bedroom pop; some of the strongest, most melodic songs Pink has ever released. By taking a few of these odd moments to tone down the quirks and novelties of his characteristic throwback sound, Pink sounds more human on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson than he ever has.
While Pink makes a point to remind the listener of his own identity, his ability to channel other artists and styles remains an undeniably entertaining aspect of Dedicated to Bobby Jameson. Pink’s ear for the pop music canon is on full display, as he shifts from the jangly R.E.M.-meets-Beach-Boys college rock of “Bubblegum Dreams” to the organ-driven New Wave of “Dreamdate Narcissist” with ease. On “Revenge of the Iceman,” the ravenous pace and vicious “oi”s of early British punk close the album on a curiously intense note, harshly juxtaposing the saccharine songwriting of the album’s high water marks.
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson doesn’t quite iterate on Ariel Pink’s sound so much as it crystallizes it. Making lo-fi synthpop on vintage gear comes with the risk of being pigeonholed as a novelty act, cashing in on what James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem once eloquently described as “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ‘80s.” But Ariel Pink feels timeless in a way that the also-rans of the genre simply cannot. His pop music sensibilities are too finely honed, drawing on Bruce Springsteen and Brian Wilson just as much as Robert Smith and Michael Jackson. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is an album out of time and space; a musical time capsule that grows better with age.