To kick things off, here are a few thoughts about Mature Themes, the newest from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Clear-eyed moments of pop lucidity à la the title track (or much of 2010’s breakthrough Before Today) are few and far between here, with Pink instead revelling in… well, self-aware trolling. Sometimes this works, as on “Kinski Assassin” with Pink’s winking “Who sunk my battleship? I sunk my battleship!” couplet, but sometimes we’re given something like “Schnitzel Boogie” and it’s like Ween or something equally stupid decided to vomit into your ears. Much of Mature Themes strikes me as staid and self-consciously goofy, which makes it a somewhat tiring listen: Pink may be a self-aware nympho pop weirdo, but this really just sounds like a forceful step back — “step into my time warp” — designed to bait critics and listeners alike, which doesn’t really strike me as edgy or interesting so much as a bit of a deflated letdown.
Speaking of self-conscious letdowns, it turns out The Darkness are still a band. The ironic hard rock group’s new album is called Hot Cakes, and this is one of the saddest paragraphs I have ever written.
But here’s something that’s just flat-out monstrous: Swans’ new album The Seer will soon be officially released. With a two-and-a-half hour running time split over two discs, The Seer may actually be worthy of the oft-brutally misused term “epic.” Opening with six minutes of “Lunacy” culminating in an austere rumination of “your childhood is over,” The Seer finds Michael Gira and co. stretching out with horrific poise. My first listen to The Seer was over a lengthy walk throughout Montreal last month, and during the half-hour plus duration of the title track, I kept half-expecting Satan to rise out of the sewers. Forget all that “scary” metal buffoonery: The Seer has droning madness, seeping unease and gloriously triumphant moments of dissonant chaos in spades. The album may feel meandering at points, but at a time when music is bloated with formulaic albums that are merely “pretty good,” I’m far more interested in an established band like Swans making a huge statement like this than just producing another normal album; in that sense, risks and all, The Seer hits me with more weight than much else I’ve heard this year.
I’d close this week’s column with a joking dismissal about there being a new album from whichever group of people are calling themselves Lynyrd Skynyrd nowadays, but merely acknowledging the album’s title — Last of a Dyin’ Breed — seems jokingly dismissive enough, if in unintentional poor taste. But hey, I’m not the one who wrote the title — the members of Skynyrd brought this one on themselves!