Dichotomies of form, content abound in Ariel Pink’s ‘Dedicated to Bobby Jameson’

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As anyone who’s spoken to Ariel Rosenberg, who goes by Ariel Pink, will probably tell you, it’s somewhat of a fracturing experience. It’s impossible to force his worldview into any one box — except perhaps the box that is whatever the opposite of what you just suggested is. Wild tangents, politically incorrect commentary — some of which got him labeled “the most hated man in indie rock” — and radical, sometimes contradictory viewpoints coexist naturally for Pink, a fact that has always made itself known in his music.

Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, Pink’s follow-up to 2014’s critically acclaimed pom pom, follows a protagonist figure who, according to Pink, undergoes “a battery of tests and milestones, the first of which sees him reborn into life out of death,” referring to the album’s opener, “Time To Meet Your God.”

A protagonist — who is somehow both Ariel Pink and emphatically not Ariel Pink simultaneously — is a helpful organizing principle for an album that cycles between genre deconstruction and pastiche to sonic adoration, sometimes within the same song. Pink adopts a variety of different voices and personalities, ranging from something vaguely British on “Santa’s in the Closet” to something Beach Boys-esque on the album’s title track to a ‘70s-inspired, almost robotic chant on “Time To Meet Your God.”

The album itself is, as its title suggests, dedicated to Bobby Jameson, the L.A. musician who was presumed dead for years — after a pop career that fizzled out in a haze of drug issues and criminal activity — before resurfacing in the late 2000s with a series of blog posts and YouTube videos. He died in 2015, but according to Pink, “his book and life resonated with me to such a degree that I felt a need to dedicate my latest record to him.”

It makes sense, in a way. There’s a fracturedness to Jameson’s life story that mirrors that of this album, and an odd — perhaps slightly discomforting — resonance between some of his controversial interactions with the media and Pink’s own.

It’s impossible, and not worth the effort, to try to parametrize the discontinuities and tonal shifts that drive through the album. Take “Time To Live,” which opens with a singsongy “Time to live / Time for life” refrain and boppy bassline before low, howling winds emerge to slowly bury the upbeat song under a curtain of noise, which notches ever higher with the introduction of achordal, screechy guitar strumming and orchestral riffs that imbue the song with a dark, brooding and almost horror-y vibe.  

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Eliot Lee Hazel / Mexican Summer / Courtesy

Out of the noise emerge more guitars, this time rhythmically alternating between two adjacent notes as the now almost-ritualistic chanting continues underneath. And then, as if driving out of a long tunnel into the sunlight, the noise drops away to reveal a lo-fi beachy tune, the boppy bass returning along with pleasantly chordal vocal harmonies, the “time to live” line now sounding perfectly agreeable. And that’s just the first half of the song.

At halfway through, the first verse starts, but it’s a bundled mass of contradictions, with the first a seemingly anti-suicidal call — “We must be vigilant and strong within this war / You cannot die, you have to live, that’s what it’s for / There is a time for living life and killing scars” — before immediately following that up with “There is no future, there’s no present, only pain / And when you cry, your love is dying all the same / It’s time to die, we must be vigilant and safe.”

Both phrases end with the singsong-phrase from the opening, but altered: “Time to live, time to die.”

It’s emblematic of Ariel Pink’s style — the ironic, celebrity-esque anti-suicide message instantly subverted — as well as the arguably controversial use of it as a subject matter in the first place.

Each track on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson feels like a different cinematic scene — all drawn from different movies altogether. But in his attempt to collage a story out of disparate elements from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, not to mention his own unique deconstructionist stylizations, Pink has also crafted something with a remarkable thematic cohesion. It feels sonically consistent, even when, on closer listen, it’s inconsistent across the board.

Pink is undoubtedly a polarizing figure, with detractors both to his music and his persona, but there are few who dig their fingers as deep into genre, and few who can successfully pull off the amalgam of identity and music that results.

Imad Pasha covers music. Contact him at ipasha@dailycal.org. Tweet him at @prappleizer.

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