Ariel Pink is out there. Like a reach-for-the-thesaurus-to-describe-adequately status of strange: quirky, idiosyncratic, madcap -- those might do. The Los Angeles-based singer has churned out a stream of basement-tape consciousness -- as in hundreds of cassette tapes -- before catching the ear of Animal Collective. As his first album for 4AD arrived in 2010, ‘Before Today,’ the lo-fi was traded in for hi(er)-fi production, and the lone artist found a band, expanding into Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. ‘Mature Themes’ is their second effort, and it is as every bit as outlandish as Pink’s previous work. 

The surreality is clear by halfway through opener ‘Kinski Assassin,’ which features manic musings of “suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs” among a layer of synths that tumbled out of 1978. The song also exhibits themes carrying over from Pink’s previous body of work. There's sadness in the shift from “we will always have Paris” to “I will always have Paris” there, a loneliness also described in ‘Only in Dreams,’ an AM Gold ode to love (the imagined kind). Pop provocateuring is also present: Pink declares that “North Korea is me” in ‘Farewell American Primitive,' and he mocks “dubstep, dubstep baby!” in ‘Live It Up,’ though the most excruciating Zappaism is in the five minutes of ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ -- which sounds exactly as its title implies: an ode to schnitzel breakfasts.

The music does rarely get beyond self-aggrandizement-via-belittling of irony, like the surprising shoegaze breathe of ‘Nostradamus and Me’ -- you get the feeling that he can’t actually mean something that sounds so nice. That tension between prankster-artist and capable performer is at its furthest expression in the lead single and album closer, a cover of Joe and Donnie Emerson’s ‘Baby.’ The blue-eyed soul is so pleasant and earnest that it feels like it must be a joke. What happened to those testicle bombs?

Solidly meandering, sometimes maddening, ‘Mature Themes’ is one of the strangest records you’ll hear this year. It repels as it attracts, and therein lies its magnetism: Ariel Pink has created something relentlessly weird with a few brief pockets of wonderful.

6 out of 10 rating