Spirit Phone is the seventh album released by Lemon Demon. Neil Cicierega, the man who is Lemon Demon, says this album started production back in 2008. The final product was released in 2016.
Spirit Phone consists of 14 tracks and 13 bonus tracks (it’s no wonder the project took 8 years to finish).
The genres of the record can be called anything from Synthpop, New Wave, Synth Funk, Alternative Rock/Indie Pop, and Geek Rock. The nuances of genres are getting harder to define and this album doesn’t fit perfectly into any of those categories, but they can give you an idea of what you’re getting into. Overall this album is one that sounds and feels very upbeat and dance-able, which Neil said he was going for.
“Making this music involves a lot of me sitting on my butt, not interacting with other people, and I overcompensate for that by making every song dance-able, on some level.” – Neil Cicierega
On the surface this album feels like it’s full of strange but catchy courses, spooky synth sounds, dance worthy tracks, and maybe a sprinkle of ambiguous deeper meaning. When you dig a little deeper, and have one of those late night listens with the lyrics open in a separate tab, you start to understand that each song is a unique story either rooted in a strange urban legend or Neil’s own late night thoughts. And whether there’s deeper meaning behind the music is up to you.
If you buy this record on the official needlejuice records website you’ll also get a one hour long commentary where Neil deep dives into all the tracks and explains their origins.
My favorite part of this commentary is his explanation of the “meaning” behind Spiral of Ants.
“…if you’re like me, you just listen to songs without consciously parsing the lyrics, sort of in one ear and out the other, and the vocals are just another instrument. That’s how I listen to music, I go years without knowing what a song is actually about. And I’d have a much easier time writing songs if everyone was like that, but some of you are those maniacs who instantly focus in on understanding the lyrics and you know right away if it’s a good song or just a good sounding song. And I live in fear of you people. Please, just let me sing about bugs. Bugs that don’t matter… that’s all I wanna do. I mean it’s very satisfying to successfully make a song that feels a little more substantial through the use of words and, you know, emotionally evocative… singing. It just takes way longer to do that…” – Neil Cicierega
Though music can be super meaningful in its creation process, listening to music in search of its written meaning hasn’t been my style for a long while since I realized that enjoying music for what it is and letting it mean what it means to me is way more fun. For that reason I plan to just explain where these songs come from, some of my favorite aspects of them, and maybe a dash of Neil commentary to assist my points.
The meaning behind these songs might be straightforward, ambiguous, or non-existent. That’s for you to decide.
If you want to make this fun we can talk about it in the comments below.
Before I do my deep dive into each song I want to say that I really love this album and this isn’t an objective rating – it’s an analysis. It’s one of my favorites to keep on repeat because I can always find something new in it that I missed the last time I listened. I also enjoy the unique and dedicated fan base. Lemon Demon has some of the best fan made art and music videos I’ve ever seen. And one of the most tame subreddits. If you want to see some of the many Spirit Phone fan made videos you can check out my YouTube compilation playlist here.
My only contribution to Lemon Demon fanart so far is this painting, but I’m planning to make more since I am mildly-obsessed with this album and sometimes like to do random things (like make this blog post) to feel closer to it.
I’m going to go in order, share some highlights from each track, and give my favorite lyrics. Hope you enjoy it.
Lifetime Achievement Award
This album wouldn’t make sense if it didn’t start off sounding spooky and dramatic with some white noise that are actually “ghosts”, as Neil says. This song also sets the stage for the dance-ability of the record.
This song was inspired by the 2012 performing hologram version of 2Pac that made headlines. The lyrical pun “You’re unnatural babe” hints towards the song’s main storyline, which is one of bringing dead artists back to life. The creepy scientist behind this fictional tale is signing old artists into new contracts and making them “perform like animals.” This track has a lot of musical variety including changes in tempos, vocals, and lyrics. We get some incredibly high vocals from Neil, some very low, and some that aren’t even his voice. Try to spot which vocals are actually just a computer.
Forget the classic guitar solo. The synth solo at 3:42 is about the most dance-able moment on the album.
The truly defining moment of this track is the last minute where a deep synth makes Neil’s voice sound super unnerving while he recites a shortened version of the disclaimer that plays at the beginning of Micheal Jackson’s video for Thriller.
Favorite Lyrics from the track: “You’ve been gone for way too long like half a year an entire career for some.”
I wonder how many people also discovered this album by this track. As far as catchy choruses go this track wins.
Not only is the opening acapella sequence the most light hearted moment on the record, this track never loses momentum. I struggle listening to this song at work because I start to unknowingly dance while I clean.
I’m now known for my sick dance moves at work. And I’m serious about that.
The song is about a man who’s trying to call a radio station to say this profound thing that he’s realized, but no matter how hard he thinks he can’t seem to get the words out. He “understands it all”, and someone needs to hear it, but for whatever reason it never happens.
It reminds me of the audio of that old scientist who broke out of Area 51 and called a radio station just barely able to explain what he saw there only to call back a day later and claim that he was joking.
I don’t think he was joking.
Neil says that the song is that feeling of someone saying they’re going to do something but never do it. I’m sure my family and friends feel this way about the novel and short story I still haven’t finished. If you’re that 1 person who is a fan of my Monster’s Inside series, don’t fret – a new chapter is coming. Eventually.
This track is also an evolution of the much earlier track Ivanushka, which was released on Neil’s patreon.
Favorite Lyric: “like you, I’m a genius before my time. Disbelieving, that’s the real crime. Pretty soon, they’ll discover me….”
My favorite story on the album is found in Cabinet Man. Cabinet Man is a gaming cabinet human hybrid who is also a murderer.
He’s taken out of storage, put on display, becomes obsessed with his attention, and starts to eat maintenance men drive kids to madness (maybe they were predisposed to madness, who knows?) after business slows down and before becoming overtaken by the handheld consoles.
He has a beating heart but he still takes coins. He’s ultimately taken down by some kids who vandalize the arcade and fashion in his face with a crowbar. They seem to notice in horror that they didn’t just destroy a machine when they see his blood on their sneakers.
We get an idea that a man was trapped in the machine by the lyric “The news reporters reported that I died. But all my organs were living on inside.”
This is one of the most comprehensive stories in the record, next to When He Died.
My favorite moment is when the music transitions into “I’m happy for years and years…: the build up is intense and the song’s changes in tempo really make it feel like the perfect track for a short film.
Favorite Lyrics “I stood so proudly, like I was going to war. Players soon appeared and I quickly was revered. This must be what love would have felt like.”
No Eyed Girl
One of the best transitions is Cabinet Man’s lead up to No Eyed Girl.
This is another Sci-Fi themed short story that’s also a love story. Neil loves his puns and parallels and the idea of a no eyed girl is meant to be a way of saying “being obsessed with eyes is a little strange”. Since blue eyed and brown eyed girls are a romantic dream thing.
My favorite thing about listening to this song is singing “There’s too much light, blinding white. Your matter tells mine to scatter. It’s alright, it’s alright” in a high pitch that I definitely can’t reach and hope drivers next to me can’t hear.
It’s fun, dance-able, and when you listen deeply you’ll probably be just as confused as you were before you did that. Like much of this record.
Favorite Lyrics: “Right before the kiss I noticed something in the air. Molecules existed when there should have been none there. Chemical reactions with the surface of your skin. Some will say my actions let the no-eyed people in.”
When He Died
This is also one of my favorite story-telling songs on the record – and one of the most chaotic.
When he died tells the story of a man who thought it would be fun to mess with everyone around him when he died. He planned a series of strange, unlikely, and seemingly impossible events to happen at the moment of his death.
Based on what we hear in the song, it almost seems like his death may have been timed or planned. Or maybe everything was so well planned that no matter when he died the events would play out flawlessly. Who knows.
My favorite moments from this track are the laughing record and the clown painting in the burning building. Also the rugrats sounding instrumentals.
The laughing record was a real record made back in 1916 that was a compilation of people laughing. Laughter is contagious, right? It seems so. The record is believed to have sold over a million copies. Neil was right to say that it is “the scariest thing I’ve ever heard”, and it really adds to the mysterious and haunting feel of the track.
The painting of the clown was found in a building that burned down right at the time of his death. He painted it when he was just a child. On the back of the painting was the exact date of which he died. All I have to say about that is – this was one dedicated man.
Sometimes we uncover things about people who’ve passed after they’re gone. This man decided it would be fun to leave behind more mystery than possible to uncover. I get the feeling he didn’t want people to try and understand him after death, so he made it physically impossible to do so. Makes for an interesting track and honestly I could see this being a fun film project. It plays like a tiny movie in my head when I listen.
Favorite lyrics: “When he died. They found a message etched into his spine.
(That said) when he died an endless age of untold nightmares would be nigh”
Side Note: I always thought that the lyric was “an endless age of untold madness would be nice.” I kind of like that version more.
I would’ve never guessed that this song had a real meaning to it. The lyrics are kind of strange and allude to a dead person being covered in honey and sold in mason jars. What could that be about?
Apparently it’s about the story of the mellified man. A man who decided, at the end of his life, to eat and soak in only honey so he could become honey. He died and was buried in honey and, just like the song says, his body was dug up later to be used as a new tool for medicine.
This is one of the fun things about this record. You learn about urban legends, myths, and strange laughing records that you might not have known about otherwise. Most of which you probably wouldn’t have cared to learn about, but hey that’s the fun of this record.
It isn’t sexual, it’s medicinal, and according to this podcast episode the story does have some truth to it.
The song has a funky synth hook and features the only guest spot on the album, which is a guitar solo done by Dave Kitsburg. It’s extremely danceable, catchy, and strange; like the rest of the album.
Favorite Lyrics: “Your body’s starting rumors of Mason jars of sweetness. Whose satisfied consumers have often claimed to witness”
The best urban legend featured on this record is Gef the talking mongoose. Not only does this song have one of my favorite subtle intros, it has some of the best and most direct lyrics. It’s also the oldest track on the album. Neil started its production in 2009.
I didn’t know who Gef was before this song. I mainly enjoyed it for its hooks and music, but once you read up on Gef you’ll see how truly clever the lyrics are in this one. Neil uses some parts of the legend word for word as lyrics in the track.
To learn more about Gef you can watch this video.
Gef is an urban legend who comes from a story told by the Irving family in the 1930s where they claim a talking entity was living with them in their home. Initially they said they didn’t know what it was, but eventually it revealed itself to be a talking mongoose. The mother and father claim to have never seen Gef, but believed him because of the stories he told and the fact that their daughter claims to have seen him.
Gef says he was born in 1852, a lyric used in the song, in India. Somehow this ancient talking mongoose decided to move into their small home and become a gossip. He was believed to have left the house many times to explore the town. During these explorations he hitchhiked and learned about the town gossip. He would then go home and share the tea he learned with the family.
He wasn’t all fun and sassy mongoose though. He was also reported to bang on their walls and yell at them. He scared them so badly at times they thought he was there to run them out of their farm house. He declared things like “I am the eighth wonder!”, which is where the song title comes from, and also called himself “an extra clever mongoose”. You might see parallels between the songs and the legend now.
In reality, this would be super creepy if it did happen. But just the thought of a sassy gossiping talking mongoose entity is sorta hilarious.
Favorite Lyrics: “Extra clever earth-bound spirit. Ghost in the form of a mongoose.”
It really sums the song up well.
Pt. 2 Coming Soon
This turned out way longer than I expected so I’m chopping it up into parts. Stay tuned for part 2 next week!
Until Next Time,