Review: ‘Spirit Phone’

Lemon Demon’s new album, ‘Spirit Phone,’ is more than a holiday playlist

COURTESY OF BANDCAMP

By Miller Bowe

It’s Halloween, and this album is perfectly suited for the holiday. “Spirit Phone” by Lemon Demon deals with eerie and supernatural subject matter, but you won’t put it on the shelf on November 1st: it’s so good you’ll listen to it all year round.

Originally released digitally in February 2016, “Spirit Phone” received a release on vinyl, CD, and cassette earlier this month.

Lemon Demon is the musical moniker of the multi-talented Neil Cicierega– also known for projects like Potter Puppet Pals and his trilogy of mash-up albums, “Mouth Sounds,” “Mouth Silence,” and “Mouth Moods.”

Many of the songs on “Spirit Phone” deal with the paranormal, topics like ghosts, extradimensonal relationships, and ancient aliens. Other songs focus on topics that are more mundane but equally spooky, like Ronald Reagan and toxic masculinity. The peppiness of the music sometimes masks how dark the lyrics really are: “I Earn My Life” has a jaunty, happy flute following each chorus, but the lyrics are about a man whose life is in crisis because he can find no meaning for it beyond the work he has to do to survive.

Cicierega has a distinctive singing voice that reminds me of David Byrne or Danny Elfman.  In “Touch-Tone Telephone,” he perfectly expresses the desperation of a self-described UFO expert attempting to contact the hosts of “Unsolved Mysteries” to share his new unified theory. In “Soft Fuzzy Man” he gives a very human touch to lyrics about a cuddly and visually indistinct ghost who begs to be loved despite his incorporeality.

The album is also criminally catchy. The peppy synth riffs of “Touch-Tone Telephone” and “Cabinet Man” are more infectious than the common cold. “Sweet Bod” deals with an unusual subject– a human corpse being turned into candy– but its lyrics are so catchy they demand to be sung along to. Musically, it draws from New Wave bands from the 80’s, like DEVO and Sparks.

Perhaps the most poignant and existential song on the album is “Spiral of Ants,” which is about feeling crushed by society: “you don’t remember where you came from,” Neil croons, “you don’t remember where you’re going.” The song takes its title from a phenomenon where blind army ants, navigating using pheromones, will occasionally get stuck walking in a circle until they die of exhaustion. “Spiral of Ants” captures a certain sense of hopelessness: a pointless, tedious cycle of work, impossible to escape, because “the circle rules your life.”

I would highly recommend first-time listeners experience Spirit Phone in order. While each song is excellent on its own, the entire album works very well as a whole, with tracks that flow both musically and thematically.

Although the main album is 14 tracks, the digital download includes another 13 bonus tracks. Of these, five are included on the vinyl pressing, and just like the album tracks they are insanely catchy. “Crisis Actors,” for instance, argues for the existence of an enormous and ancient conspiracy controlling the planet through false tragedies. Why would anyone believe in such a thing? “Malevolent gods are better than none.”

“Spirit Phone” by Lemon Demon is an incredible album. Musically, it is a delight. The lyrics are clever, catchy, and often poignant. It is an album I have listened to hundreds of times and one I am eager to recommend.

Spirit Phone is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Bandcamp. The physical release is available online from Needlejuice Records on vinyl, CD, and cassette.

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