Today is a big day in the world of album releases, with new additions from the Foo Fighters, Cool Kids, and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend hitting the airwaves all at once. Yet one album in particular merits a special kind of artistic attention that can only be garnered by synth-pop master Ariel Pink: Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.
The warm lo-fi familiarity of Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is a refreshing departure from the wacky, weird, and unabashed theatricality of 2014's Pom Pom. Pink's compositions are intimate, sharp, simple, and as close to understated as haze pop dreams can get. The closest Pink comes to the manic cheer of “White Freckles” and “Dinosaur Carebears” is during the aptly-named “Bubblegum Dreams,” but even then it’s broken up by jarring metallic percussion straight out of the most recent Alien movie, followed by disquieting moments of silence.
In its best moments, the intimacy of Dedicated to Bobby Jameson sounds like a return to the smaller scale of Mature Themes and Before Today, yet this return to the past is startlingly self-aware, and it's this awareness that elevates Bobby Jameson beyond a boring regression to square one. Pink has always been mired in a classic fuzzy pop feel, and the stripped-down urgency of “I Wanna Be Young” speaks of a weird ageing rocker who perhaps never made much of an effort to conform to the aesthetic of his contemporary music scene in the first place. “Do Yourself a Favor” grapples against monotony in music composition and appeals to innovation, even as the Pink riffs off of jingle-y standards like "Pop Goes The Weasel.”
Ariel Pink stated in an interview for Stereogum that “[he’s] dad rock now,” and indeed, tracks like “Feels Like Heaven” sound akin to something you might hear at a father-daughter dance, if your dad was really into The Cure. Yet while the album title positions itself as a tribute to cult musician Bobby Jameson, it becomes immediately clear that the entire album is a sort of larger homage to Ariel Pink’s gritty, dreamy L.A. The hypnotic, infectious trance of "Time to Live" borrows its refrain from The Buggles' “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the very first music video to play on MTV. "Time to Live" is immediately followed by “Another Weekend,” whose melody sounds suspiciously like ELO’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” Yet the refrain here makes a small alteration to “out of my life,” which speaks to Pink’s larger--dare we say, “meta”--musical project. The distinctive keyboard on the title track sounds familiar but elusively out of reach until we hear the closing solo, which is a dead ringer for that of “Light My Fire.”
All these references, more direct than alluded to, speak to Ariel Pink's retrospective exploration of not only his own canon, but the entire pop tradition, and his belated position in it. It's no secret that Pink's compositions are indebted to the synth revolution of the 70's and 80's, while Pink himself was a late player to the game, not gaining wider exposure until the release of 2010's Before Today at the age of 33. Yet Pink's nostalgia is innovative rather than formulaic, progressive rather than elegiac; it brings both maturity and a welcome self-awareness to his catalog, while sacrificing none of Pink's boyish flair and energy. It might just be his best album yet.
Give Dedicated to Bobby Jameson a listen below: