On January 1, 2019, The Scary Jokes released their 3rd album: “BURN PYGMALION!!! A Better Guide to Romance”. This piece of quaint bedroom pop follows fictional characters Jeanine and Sylvia through the struggles of their relationship. Liz Lehman, creator of The Scary Jokes, weaves together haunting yet entrancing melodies to probe into the details of each character’s feelings for each other.
A Journalist’s Obsession With a Star
“BURN PYGMALION” is split into songs from the perspectives of both characters with short narrations in between. The second track, “Death, Thrice Drawn” first introduces Jeanine’s adoration for Sylvia, a “hotshot” who she would “set the world on fire to be with”.
However, her anxiety over their less-than-ideal situation leads her to question if the relationship can sustain itself, much like the wyrm referenced in the second verse. The mostly upbeat, synth-filled song ends with an emptying of the soundscape to allow Jeanine’s anxieties to come to light.
The title alludes to tarot cards, in which death signals great change to come, foreshadowing a turbulent relationship throughout the rest of the album. Additionally, these three phases will likely spell the end of them both by their story’s end if it reflects the “triptych in decay” referenced in the second verse.
Pygmalion – Myth Made Reality
“Pygmalion” steps into an outsider’s point of view of Sylvia and Jeanine’s relationship, scalding Sylvia for her emotional abuse of her lover. Pygmalion was originally a king in Greek myth who obsessed over sculpting the perfect wife to adore before Aphrodite brought her to life.
You’re just a monster with a BFAThe Scary Jokes on “Pygmalion”
She wants to claw your eyes open
So you can see, she’s not a plaything
Much like the king, Sylvia is accused of manipulating her object of adoration to her whims without regard for Jeanine’s feelings. Sylvia chisels “fear in [Jeanine’s] eyes” in order to keep her clinging, as reflected in the intrusive hi-hats and the general emptiness in the music surrounding them.
A Dying Fad
At the halfway point in the album, Jeanine seems to officially cut ties with Sylvia, though not without retaining her love for the star. In “Sylvia’s Just a Dying Fad”, she vents her frustrations and worries with Sylvia leaving her to go film a new movie, suspecting that she is “just a friend” who helped jumpstart Sylvia’s career.
At this point, alarm bells are ringing in Jeanine’s head, just as they do in the song itself. The low synths also seem to distort as Jeanine’s perception of Sylvia does.
No Pleasure in Love
After hearing about Jeanine’s past emotional abuse on tracks like “Emotional Vagrant”, we can understand why she might be so insecure about Sylvia leaving her for so long. On “No Leverage / No Pleasure”, She comes to realize that her habit of hiding everything away even from those she loves is part of the reason why their relationship has mostly failed so far.
Jeanine repeats “I love you/ I need you” over and over, admitting to herself that she feels incomplete without Sylvia able to take care of her. Even still, she knows that part of this need comes from Sylvia “hijacking my mind”. The same musical themes present in “Sylvia’s Just a Dying Fad” present themselves in this song, implying that she’s still cautious about Sylvia distorting her mind further.
Optimism Against the Void
The album ends with “Bets Against the Void”, in which Jeanine finally reconciles the fact that Sylvia does love her and that their love can be beautiful. The more cheerful, lighter synths return as Jeanine tries to focus on how good she feels today, not what the future may bring.
As explained in one of their tumblr posts, Lehman’s own anxieties as someone in Jeanine’s position primarily fuelled the album’s emotional themes that provide complexity. The album’s overall light, spacey instrumentals allow Lehman’s lyrics to shine through while building a stellar atmosphere for those emotional themes to be surrounded in.