Lemon Demon, the musical project of online content producer Neil Cicierega, dropped a new album called “Spirit Phone” on the music-sharing website Bandcamp last week. Most people would probably know Cicierega from his Soundcloud releases “Mouth Sounds” and “Mouth Silence,” both weird mixes of ‘80s, ‘90s and early-2000s pop music, the most well-known being his mashups and bizarre edits of Smash Mouth’s “All-Star.” But Cicierega’s art is not new on the internet. He’s been producing music since at least 1999, and in the early days of YouTube made the popular Harry Potter fan series “Potter Puppet Pals.” As a long-time fan of Cicierega’s work, I was pretty hyped to listen to this new album.
Before “Spirit Phone,” Lemon Demon’s most recent release was the “Nature Tapes” EP in 2014, so this is the first full, original LP since 2008. It is the shortest LP since Lemon Demon’s first album in 2003, but “Spirit Phone” is definitely an instance of quality over quantity. From the very first song, Lemon Demon’s new album sets itself apart from previous albums as being more polished and professional, with nearly all of the songs warranting multiple listens.
Whereas Lemon Demon’s releases from 2014 and earlier were mostly comedic, with songs titled “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Jaws,” and “Two Trucks” (a song about two trucks having sex), the content of “Spirit Phone” is, if not more serious, conceptually deeper. It’s similar in tone to the last LP release, “View Monster,” in 2008; however “Spirit Phone” is, to date, Lemon Demon’s most bizarre release. The subject matter of nearly every song is centered around the occult, not based around references to ‘90s pop culture, and all around feels more polished than previous releases.
The first track on the album, Lifetime Achievement Award,” begins slowly, building a tense mood with heavy guitar and synthesizer. With the opening lyrics: “Die hard fans adored your hands / They loved your throat and quote unquote ‘you’,” Cicierega sets out to criticize the culture in which we idolize artists and creators. With his signature flimsy voice, monster film-esque backing guitar and heavy metal hook, “Lifetime Achievement Award” maintains Lemon Demon’s quirkiness while moving toward something of a more serious musical style. Cicierega’s influences are clear in this song. Long-time fans will recognize chiptune riffs and chord progressions that only slightly remind one of songs like “Toy Food” and “Goosebumps,” and there’s something of a German industrial metal sound in there as well.
The second track on “Spirit Phone,” “Touch-Tone Telephone,” is more like something you’d expect from a Lemon Demon album (it reminds me of songs off the 2005 album “Damn Skippy”), displaying Cicierega’s untrained voice and a more whimsical sound than established in the opening track. Cicierega is good at creating infectious beats and unique, interesting tunes with his use of synth and keytar, amongst an array of other musical instruments.
I feel like Cicierega has been building up to this kind of bizarre and occult album for a while. His 2011 single “Goosebumps” had a gothic premise similar to that of “Spirit Phone,” and in his 2015 single release “Kubrick and the Beast” he displayed a musical polish and instrumental complexity very similar to this new album.
I’ve been a fan of Cicierega’s work and of Lemon Demon for a long time, but I’ve always kind of conceded that his music does better as conceptual work than as something you’d really want to sit down and listen to. However, “Spirit Phone” is a really enjoyable album, and shows how far Cicierega has come as a musician and as an artist.
Even though Cicierega’s voice is honestly not the greatest, his lyrics are really fun to listen to and he explores some cool concepts, such as the practice of using corpses as medicine in track 6 “Sweet Bod,” and of occult and mysterious occurrences in track 5 “When He Died” and track 7 “Eighth Wonder.”
Another thing long-time fans might appreciate is the inclusion of older songs, remastered for album release. Mentioned earlier, “Eighth Wonder,” was originally posted on Cicierega’s YouTube account six years ago, and track 12 “Reaganomics” is three years old. Both of them have been re-worked to fit the more polished feel of the album. Personally, “Eighth Wonder” and “Reaganomics” are two of my favorite tracks on this entire album. “Reaganomics” is a funny take on a classic love song and is steeped in ‘80s musical tropes, but there’s a duality within the song that seems to match with the ethos behind many of Cicierega’s other works, focusing on the seductive (yet unreliable) nature of nostalgia, and its subsequent dangers. And it just sounds really good.
Some of the songs on this album are a bit weaker than others, but I would recommend everyone listen to the whole album at least once. Cicierega’s voice may not be for everybody, and if you’re not very invested in the music it can be a bit of a turn off, but the music itself is unique and creative. Recommended tracks are 1, 6, 7, 10, 12, and 14.