Mashup-maker, puppeteer, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Youtube star, and internet personality Neil Cicierega’s solo music project, Lemon Demon, has been around for a while, but until now I had never given them a chance. I recently saw that their 2016 album, Spirit Phone, was getting re-released on vinyl, CD, and cassette, so I decided to take a look at what it was all about. The only knowledge I had about this was that famous music reviewer, Anthony Fantano had found it to be pretty good. Other than that, I was going in blind.
Coming from a background of listening to Neil’s mashups, I could immediately see the similarities between the two. While his original music is, well… original, the quirkiness and sense of humor transfer over quite obviously. His personal material is less meme-y than his mashups, but that’s more or less par for the course when you’re creating everything from scratch, rather than working with other people’s creations. That being said, I have always found that he’s a magician in whatever he does.
In his mashups, he always finds a way to push two very different pieces together into one weirdly magnificent creation. In the album, Spirit Phone, rather than creating a song that shouldn’t work through two juxtaposing pieces, he manages to create a masterpiece out of incredibly eccentric topics or musical choices. A good example of this is the song “Sweet Bod,” where instead of talking about what you would assume *wink*, it discusses a man’s thoughts towards a dead body, and wanting to cover it in honey and other sweet things. It’s not sexual, as he clearly states in the song itself. This is not about necrophelia, but instead an urge to create, as he says, “sweet cadaver.” Despite this weird turn the song takes, he somehow makes this song bouncy, catchy, and fun. Songs like this appear throughout the album (including my favorite song, “Cabinet Man”), showing off the outstanding creativity, and eccentricity of Neil’s mind, often reminding me of Weird Al.
The music itself is very reminiscent of the early-mid 80s, during the post-punk, new-wave scene, sounding a lot like bands such as Devo, or The Talking Heads. Filled with tons of electronic sounds, synthesizers, and guitars, the songs are more driven by the crafty instrumentals in my opinion, rather than the vocal performance from Mr. Cicierega. The vocals are definitely good, and not a problem, but I think the great, dancable beats distract you from the fact that Neil isn’t the next Frank Sinatra. The range of his vocals are actually impressive in certain songs, and are arguably better than the lazy-sounding vocals of Will Toledo in lots of the songs on the last album I reviewed; Teens of Denial.
The songs are often about four minutes long; not ever-shifting masterpieces with tons of sections, but instead just really solid songs. The progression of the songs are sometimes similar, but this is made up for by songs like “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which goes through several sections and features a tiny one minute interlude for an ending (which is also featured on some other songs). Breaks like these make the album more interesting and shifts up the tempo so you don’t feel like you’re listening to the same song over and over. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case without these tiny gaps either, as Neil’s funny antics, discussions, and weird sound effects create a different tone in each song. It just helps keep you on your feet.
Overall, I enjoyed this album quite a bit. Neil Cicierega’s quirky sense of humor mixed with his masterful production came together into a hilarious, and fun-to-listen-to album filled with nice, catchy songs. I can understand how some of the song topics may make it off-putting to some people, but the pop feel and pretty clean production quality should make it pretty accessible to a broader audience. The songs aren’t huge masterpieces of a musical genius, but I think Neil is more or less genius in how he puts this all together. The lyrics aren’t a ten out of ten performance, but are good nonetheless, and he really makes it work his musical style. It’s a nice, different sound, bringing back musical trends I haven’t heard in thirty years in some instances. I don’t think it’s repetitive, and honestly the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it. I am thinking this is an 8.5 out of 10.
Listen to it yourself and let me know what you think, and tune in for more album reviews soon on the way!
Favorite Track(s): “Cabinet Man,” “When He Died,”
Least Favorite Track(s): “Man-Made Object”