The sugary bedroom pop album could be improved with tighter melodies.
The first album I listened to in 2019 was “BURN PYGMALION!!! A Better Guide to Romance.” It’s a sweet release from the Bandcamp-exclusive “the scary jokes,” a bedroom pop group active since 2014. This newest album, dropped on Jan. 1, 2019, is the most polished and complex of their releases to date.
Self-described on their Bandcamp (a free-for-artist music streaming service) as “a dizzying kaleidoscope of neurosis as an entertainment journalist is left in solitude to tend to her movie star girlfriend’s country home,”
“BURN PYGMALION!!!” is a synthy romp of a concept album that explores an obsessive, emotionally-manipulative relationship and the mental states of Jeannie and Sylvia, the stars of the drama.
The first track off the album, “Community Gardens,” opens with an admission of monstrosity: “Full disclosure, I am a monster/a creature of despair, not that that should be a cause for concern.” This opening track, like most of the album, is in the voice of Sylvia, a fading actress who finds confidence in the adoration of her girlfriend Jeannie. Sylvia’s discreet monstrousness, her manipulation of Jeannie and her own self-doubt propel the album forward, and Sylvia’s duplicity and desperation ultimately cause the end of the relationship in the closing tracks. That first line disclosing Sylvia’s monstrosity signals the end as the album has barely begun.
Sylvia’s need to see herself loved through Jeannie is the inspiration behind the album’s namesake: Pygmalion, a Greek mythological character, who made a statue so beautiful that he fell in love with it. Jeannie is Sylvia’s statue, as referenced by “Pygmalion,” one of the catchier tracks off the record. To offset and complicate Sylvia’s narrative, the album is interlaced with Jeannie’s voices lashing out against and then forgiving Sylvia’s behavior.
Full of smooth transitions, soft synths and a surprisingly complex narrative, “BURN PYGMALION!!!” only seems to be lacking in energy. If I could crack this album open and tighten its melodies, diversify the instrumentals and get a more emotionally-involved vocal performance, I think I would really love “BURN PYGMALION!!!” That’s not to say that the album is dry or bland, but that it would be a stand-out if it were recorded and mixed with more oomph. The edgeless, reverberated “Do You Believe Me” particularly suffers from this punch-lessness, especially in its first half.
I get that not all albums need to smack me across my face, and that’s fine. But to borrow a high school-level biology concept, form should at least equal function. The emotional panic and intricacies of the manipulative relationship that the record represents lyrically feels a bit absent from the sound of the backing instrumentation. To the album’s credit, the later tracks of “Bets Against the Void” and “Crushed Out on Soda Beach” sound pretty dissonant and out-of-it, but there could have been a bit more fire in the album’s narratively turbulent midsection.
Overall, this album is worth your time if you’re a fan of concept albums and the sort of unique active listening experience to which they lend themselves. If you like synthy, sweet bedroom pop, this album is probably worth your money. If you find yourself outside of those two groups, or if you want a lot of diverse instrumentation from music, “BURN PYGMALION!!!” is something you could pretty easily skip out on, which is unfortunately the biggest failing of the record.
And that’s frustrating, because this album has so much potential in both concept and lyricism. There are some truly haunting moments, especially when the glucose vocals are allowed a moment of spotlight away from the backing instrumentation — “Sleepyhead” comes to mind. There’s just not enough outside of the narrative to keep me coming back. I paid for it and everything, but I just don’t see myself revisiting the sad little love story of Jeannie and Sylvia after this review’s been published. And that’s kind of a downer.
Highlights: “Starstruck,” “Pygmalion,” “Admire the Architecture” and “Jeannie… You’re a Tragedy”
Lowlights: “Your Vicious Kin,” “Do You Believe Me”