Artificial Heart discussion



  • You should DEFINITELY check out The Decemberists, they've got a lot of great songs. I need to listen to them again sometime as well, been too long.
  • Well, just got Level 2 participation. Yes I know I'm not hardcore enough, I don't have money dammit! I spent it all on Deus Ex 3!

    Obviously, Nemeses is my current favourite song of all time. Other than that, I particularly like Sucker Punch, The World Belongs to You, Good Morning Tucson, Sticking it to Myself, and Dissolve.

    The remixes of Still Alive and WYG are very nice too! Though I must say, the minute of alien noises at the beginning of Still Alive is a little strange.

    Now to see how many of these songs I can play on the uke...
  • Deus Ex 3 is a worthwhile investment, but so is Artificial Heart... :P
  • I think almost every UK or European fan I know (and it's possible I only know the most obsessed ones, since they travelled to Amsterdam from other countries and/or to several shows in the UK) got level 4, so I suggest filling the front row of the next concert with exclusive-T-shirt-wearing-people to freak JoCo out a little (since we'll have two exclusive T-shirts each, it would also be possible to lend some to people who didn't get level 4.) Then maybe getting a photo of us all grovelling to him or something after the show, to freak him out a little more. We'll have him jumping on Oprah's couch in no time!
  • When I always wake up with a different song from a record in my head, then I know it is really brilliant :D
    Which is the case for Artificial Heart.

    All in all there are 15-16 songs I really love and just 2 or 3 that I don't like as much as the others.

    @Angelasitc: I am wondering, it's JoCo that sells those Challenge Coins, so does it mean he is also forced to participate in those Challenge Coin games? So if people suddenly start pulling out those coins as a concert and he fails to do so, does it mean he has to buy drinks for everyone?

    I wonder if he knows what he might have brought on himself :D

    He will learn to fear those Level 4 T-Shirt Front Rows, covered in tattoos! :D
  • Wow. I can NOT study to this album. My brain automatically replaces whatever I'm reading with the lyrics of whatever song is running. Time for jazz and classical, I guess.
  • Oh, god, I didn't even think of "Today With Your Wife" as a song about death. :-(

    Why you gotta bring me down all the time, JoCo Wiki?
  • Speaking of song meanings, I wonder about a lot of the lyrics on this album.

    What do you guys think about Artificial Heart?  Mark (my husband) says he can't make sense of the lyrics at all.  I see the song as being about a person who got an artificial heart and then lost their emotions.

    "Now I can imagine how I'd feel . . ."  He doesn't actually feel, but he can imagine feeling.  And without his old heart (his emotions) things are easier and clearer now.
  • It's been almost 50 minutes since I last listened to that song, so I'm just going by vague recollections and the snippets of lyrics you posted, but I think I had the opposite impression… that his old heart was not working very well (I'm not sure whether it was also artificial, or real), and now that he has a newer, better one, he's much better at feeling things and the feelings are clearer.
  • It doesn't fit as well with the album's theme of misery and despair that way, though ;)
  • My interpretation of Artificial Heart is that the title refers not only to a literal heart, but a metaphorical heart as well. So just fill the rest in from that.

    BeatlesLover: Bringin' people down since 1992!
  • edited September 2011
    I should be going to bed now, but I listened a lot to it today on the bus, so I want to give some more thoughts on the songs. As a whole, the album has great music and great lyrics, as we've come to expect from JoCo.

    Sticking It To Myself: Awesome start of the album, brilliant song, love the energy, love the guitar licks in the background. Horns work great with the guitar. One of my favourite tracks. You can definitely hear the TMBG influence here.

    Artificial Heart: Starts off a little slowly, chorus has nice speedup, then when the verses speed up as well the energy is great.

    Nemeses: Great guest vocals by John Roderick, I actually think he's a better pick to be lead on this song than Jonathan, their duet singing works great anyway, their voices match up well. Like the theme, reminds me of his more crazy characters.

    The World Belongs To You: Sounds familiar, reminds me of another JoCo song, can't think of the title right now...

    Today With Your Wife: Very emotional and touching song, great if you're in the mood for it. A little difficult for me to listen to reguarly. Also reminds me a little of Ben Folds.

    Sucker Punch: Back to the awesome energy and rhythm, love the theme (drive around a while and bust a couple things up). This also has a typical "The Who" chord transition which I love.

    Glasses: Kind of a un-"JoCo" song (apart from the bridge), but of course still a good listen and charming.

    Je Suis Rick Springfield: The premise of this song is ridiculous in the first place, this is guaranteed to become a live crowd favourite. I can understand a lot of the French lyrics, but some things don't make sense to me, I want to see the lyrics written down somewhere. The music is very fun as well, Hawaiian influences, fresh sounds for JoCo.

    Alone At Home: At first this fast rocking version sounded very weird to me because I was already used to the slow live version, but it's starting to grow on me, though I still prefer the live version (for now). I wonder which version he'll play live with his band. A great song anyway, though it really does seem to be a bit too short in this version.

    Fraud: Also fresh sounds and music, I like how he went out of his comfort zone on this album, though it means it sounds a lot different than we're used from him. Lyrically and thematically nothing unusual, but musically it's new.

    Good Morning Tucson: Typical JoCo, I could swear he has another song that sounds exactly like this that I listened to before. Lyrically, thematically and musically all old territory, but freshly made and still great music of course. Definitely one of my favourite tracks as well.

    Now I Am An Arsonist: I could almost swear this was a Decemberists song, especially at the start until the first chorus. Great guest vocals by Suzanne Vega and the duet works great, this song just sounds lovely and the lyrics are heartbreaking, one of JoCo's ultimate combinations.

    Down Today: This is one of the surprises of the album for me, new sound for JoCo but it works well, love the chorus transition.

    Dissolve: This also sounds familiar but yet new, love the wacky guitar sounds at the start.

    Nobody Loves You Like Me: When I first heard this as a live version I felt "meh" about it, but it quickly grew on me, and now I dig this song a lot even though it's very simple, just a capella one voice with effects. The lyrics and vocal delivery do it.

    Still Alive: Love the theremin, great intro. Musically sound overall. Apart from that I think this version is good but not great, Sara Quin's vocal are good but not great, her pronounciation of "alive" as "alife" bothers me. Could've been better with another vocalist, I think. JoCo's voice doesn't really cooperate with hers either, sounds like he has to contain himself. Don't get why this is the longest track on the album either.

    Want You Gone: Sounds pretty much like the original version, not exactly the same but alike enough that I don't really get why this version exists in the first place. Love the falsetto.

    The Stache: Loved this song ever since I heard it as the first live track from this album, the riff is genius. The sudden stop is a little weird, I think it'd be better if he didn't touch the riff.

    Always happy to discuss with other people, let me know what you think of my remarks and if you agree or don't. I'll definitely listen to it a lot more and probably come to some new realizations and change my mind on things. :)

    Now I *need* to go sleep.
  • edited September 2011
    The World Belongs To You: Sounds familiar, reminds me of another JoCo song, can't think of the title right now...
    [Song title redacted]
    ETA: That doesn't make sense... uh, Always the Moon? Idk lol.
  • The great thing about this new direction Coulton is going in is that, all these songs can be interpreted in several ways. Thus, everybody can have their own personal meaning for each song. Which is probably why Coulton's not giving specific descriptions about what he wrote them to mean. Below is my review of Artificial Heart (alternate title - Shop Vac: The Album), and then what each song means to me.

    Sticking It To Myself - This is the perfect opening to the record. It's a good indicator of the album to come. I dig the melody, this is the song that made me want to start covering the whole album a few months ago ( I love how (especially in the second verse) each line blends into the next. This song has some great bass riffs.

    This one is pretty obviously about someone in a high ranking position (possibly for a business or government) that's pretty paranoid about losing his power. Due to his fright over losing his power, he's taken to being a dick to all his underlings.

    Artificial Heart - I love how this one starts, and really the whole thing is pretty great. One of my favorite lines from the whole record: "I once was him but now he's me". I really enjoy the slow tempo of the beginning, but the moment the full beat comes in at the last verse is the best part (especially those three low piano notes).

    I think this one is about a guy who gets a procedure and becomes a completely different person. Though the new him is technically better, he misses the way he was before.

    Nemeses - The acoustics in this are killer. As mentioned before, really nice harmonies as well. I think John Roderick was a good choice for lead vocals on this. I love how that implies that Roderick is Coulton's nemesis. I really do like this, but it's the one I tend to skip the most on re-listens of the record.

    The storyline here is pretty straightforward. Some guy is plotting the demise of someone he thinks is his nemesis, even though the other has never heard of him. There's a certain air of passive aggressiveness here that's quite nice.

    The World Belongs to You - This is a great highlight of the record. The melody is fantastical, and the instrumentation is perfect (oddly so, with the obviously TMBG inspired synth noises). I love the EQ changes in the acoustic guitar during the bridge.

    This one seems to be about a couple (either married or just really serious) that is breaking up, due largely to the faults of one side. The angels appear to be a name given to their children, who also agree that the one spouse is mostly to blame.

    Today With Your Wife - This is one of my favorite Coulton songs, and one of the best on the a whole album. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that he didn't keep the guitar ballad aspect intact from the live shows, at first. However, having listened a whole lot over the past week, this really works. The piano and trombone are perfect accompaniments to this sentimental piece.

    There seems to be some debate about what this is about. To me, it seems to be about a man who is spending time with his best friend's widow as they both are still in denial of the friend's passing. Now, of course, it could be about a recently divorced couple or something (it never explicitly says the spouse is dead), or a guy who's just absent from the household a lot (perhaps having an affair?), I think the death aspect gives a whole layer of emotion beyond all those other options, however.

    Sucker Punch - Bring on the rock. It's such a Coulton move to put the hard rocking bar fight song right after the most emotional song on the track list. This one has a great tone to the guitars. It's odd to say, but I actually really enjoy how short this is. There's something nice about a short and concise rock tune. My favorite part is the harmony on the word 'feel' in the chorus.

    It's pretty obvious, I'd say, that this is about a group of drunk friends getting in fights at various bars throughout their town.

  • Glasses - I love the transition between Sucker Punch and this, they go very well together. They almost seem to go together lyrically too (this being the hangover from the Sucker Punch night). This is probably my favorite song on the album. The melody is perfect, and the harmonies and overall performance are very well done. This song, more than any other, displays the immense skill of Marty Beller. "The radiators and floorboards will argue while we sleep" is another great line. There's some great alliteration in this one.

    This, like most of the songs on the album, seems to deal with a marriage and having children. It's almost a combination of You Ruined Everything and Shop Vac.

    Je Suis Rick Springfield - I love how different this is from every other Coulton song we've ever heard. From the programmed drums to the dancy Hawaiian feel of the music, to the obvious different of it being in a whole other language. My favorite part is the tiny marimba break that takes place before every verse (that's a marimba, right?).

    Having Google translated this, I love the oddness of this idea. This song is about a dude in France trying to convince someone he is Rick Springfield (it never says if he is or isn't). I love the line about the tie not being like a man.

    Alone at Home - There's been a lot of moaning about the lack of slowness in this, but I think it works either way. If there's anything about this that bothers me, it's the lack of instrumentation. But even that works after a few listens. I love the passive aggressive bitchiness of the lyrics. I really dig the instrumentation in the bridge, to the contrary. Also, the drums are really well performed throughout.

    Again, a song about marriage and the annoyances therein.

    Fraud - That whirling bass is a win. I also really love the acoustics on the left and right channel. This one seems to be almost a companion piece to The World Belongs to You. The angels again seem to represent children.

    I'm starting to think this thing is a concept album. I think the it that might be described is marriage. Maybe a friend warning another friend about the dangers of marriage before he goes through with proposing? Yeah... there's really no evidence to that really. Just an idea.

    Good Morning Tucson - Ah, a straight forward JoCo song! This is feeling like classic Coulton. This one has some great piano work (especially in the latter part of the bridge). I too am amazed that I was born in the '90s.

    Another pretty easily understood premise. A morning show host pretends to be joyful on air, but really hates his job.

  • Now I Am an Arsonist - Suzanne Vega was the perfect choice for vocals on this song, she does an amazing job. I first heard this on YouTube from the cruise, I love it just as much as when I heard it there. The solitary guitar picking and melody really meld well together.

    I've heard some people say that this one's about a journey to space from the ships perspective. That seems to be a good fit to me. Other than that, I really have no idea what this about.

    Down Today - Here's another one that I was really looking forward to hearing based on live performances. The ukulele performance is great, and the electric piano is perfect, but the melody really makes the song. I wish that Coulton had put in the backing vocals that Paul and Storm did for it in live performances, though. Other than that, pretty perfect pop song.

    I believe this is another break-up song, about a hot air balloon operator that journeys off to get away from his ex-spouse.

    Dissolve - I think that weird keyboard thing in the beginning works way better as a opener than the mellow bass from the concerts. This one works really well. I dig the keyboards that come in at the end of the second verse and bridge (leading in to the chorus). They best part is in the second repetition of the chorus when they bring in the long A notes on the left channel).

    Uh... some sort of deadly box is given to an ex?

    Nobody Loves You Like Me - Here's another one that I'm extremely fond of. The acapella really works for this, it makes it about ten times more haunting than it would otherwise be with instruments. I was kind of expecting a lot more backing vocals at first, but this sparse arrangement, oddly, adds a lot more than a lot more would add.

    This seems to be about a man who either commits suicide due to his recent divorce, or kills his recently divorced spouse.

    Still Alive - Yay for theremins! This was a nice update from the legendary home recorded version from oh-so-long ago. It seems to employ a lot of the same instrumentation as the original, but I guess it worked before, so why change it. Sara Quinn does a fine job on vocals (though she seems to have a few odd breathing fits that are bothersome to the flow). Overall, pretty great.

    This song is irrefutably about Portal.

    Want You Gone - I was hoping Coulton would release a version with his vocals (though, it begs the question of why he didn't sing Still Alive if he was singing this). This version seems to be at a higher pitch than the original, which really works when it comes to the falsetto in the choruses. I also love the addition of all those drum noises.

    This song is irrefutably about Portal 2.

    The Stache - This was one of my favorite songs in the live performances (particularly because of that awesome main riff). I feel it doesn't quite reach it's full potential here in the recording, but it still is good. I feel like it should be about 20 percent higher in rockage. Also, see the past pages if you care to hear my thoughts on the break in the riff after the first chorus.

    This seems to be about, and correct me if I'm wrong, a guy who really digs his mustache. Also, he has fond memories of his life as they relate to the mustache. 

  • I haven't had time to really think through my opinions on Artificial Heart, but I wanted to weigh in on Alone At Home. Nobody else seems to have noted that he's been playing the faster version in concert since at least February--I've seen him in concert four times since the cruise and that's always what he plays with the band. To be honest it's one of my least favourite of the new songs and I found it kind of dull at the original slower tempo. Mark down another in favour of the album version.

    @jodythebad - I always interpret "Artificial Heart" as metaphorical, but if I'm feeling literal I imagine the story to have close ties to  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    @dantes - The lyrics to "Je Suis Rick Springfield" are on the wiki. There's even a serviceable English translation!

    Isn't "Still Alive" the longest track on the album because of that intro? It's a solid minute of pure theramin. If your questioning was instead directed at why all the other songs tend to be short, I'd point to the Flansburgh influence. Jonathan mentioned in some interview or blog post that this was the first time he allowed himself to write short songs--he admits in Thing A Week Redux that some songs didn't have enough meat to them to sustain a full three minutes but he'd drag out an extra verse anyways, because that's how songs are "supposed" to be. TMBG aren't afraid to write short songs, and I think that influence really shows here.
  • @oddaustin - I find it amusing that you point out how the songs on Artificial Heart are very open to interpretation, then describe what "Sticking It To Myself" is "pretty obviously about"--my own interpretation of that song is completely different! (:

    (If you're curious: I've heard Jonathan introduce "Sticking It To Myself" with "this is a song about quitting" so often that it's the only lens I've ever viewed it through--a song about a guy who is only now coming to terms with the fact that he hates his job, his boss, and the man that he's become.)
  • 'Pretty obviously' to me, yes. Perhaps I didn't phrase it well, but yeah, it's all up for interpretation.
  • edited September 2011
    As far as Jonathan Coulton's record Artificial Heart by Jonathan Coulton from the Jonathan Coulton record Artificial Heart by Jonathan Coulton goes...

    My interpretation is something along the lines of a guy who's got his heart broken - or worn down or otherwise damaged. Possibly literally and metaphorically.
    And then, by the way of complicated medical science-procedures, he's given a new heart, an artificial robotic one which doesn't have to care (but which possibly simulates caring in a cardiovascular operating environment). "Now I can imagine how I'd feel," "I don't need to think at all if I don't care for you" and all.
    It's a song about killing your emotions, or destroying old feelings that you don't want to have anymore, and possibly destroying yourself a bit in the process.

    At least, that's how I hear it.

    In other news, The World Belongs To You, am I the only one who hears it as a searing indictment of celebrity-culture, especially of the X-Factor and Some Country's Got Talent variety?
    Starts out with, BOOM, someone becomes the center the world, angels sing their name, they're "who all the stars revolve around," then cut to the limousines and a world that's looking darker. I mean, they tend to do that through tinted windows, obviously, and also through the celebrity-fatigue that JoCo's covered before.
    Then "your time is almost through and even your angels think you're done," and the character in question is getting "bigger every day," as in going to seed or, well, pulling a classic Elvis.

    Again, that's just how I hear it.
  • I have two interpretations for The World Belongs to You - the more literal one - the subject of the song is an evangelist or a politician, and the song is a twin to TMBG's "Kiss Me, Son of God" (another favorite song of mine).  At first it does seem like general celebrity, but evangelist/political celebrities are more in the business of  telling us what to do, and are also more likely to do the bad things the song says they'll have to answer for.  (I guess there are a lot of celebrity scumballs, but they don't have as broad of an effect with their behavior/choices.

    When I'm in a more general mood I think of the song as being about a know-it-all who thinks very highly of themselves (obviously) and ends up pushing everyone away that once had a modicum of respect for them, and the limos are all metaphorical.

    Man, I love this album.  I've never looked forward to my long commute so much as I do these days.
  • When I hear the title 'The World Belongs to You' I really want it to be a sequel to You Ruined Everything. But when I listen to the actual song, I find it's more of a prequel to Tom Cruise Crazy. If I were to read too much into it (and I hate it when people infer things about me from the fiction that I write) I'd say that at least the beginning of it is about that little tear in reality that is created when people treat Jonathan as a famous person.

    I'll try to do a song-by-song review later, in which I will exclaim how much I love Suzanne Vega singing Now I Am an Arsonist, and explain why/how I want Paul and Storm to sing it.

    By the way, @oddaustin, someone on Twitter (possibly even you; I don't remember) asked whether Glasses was a spiritual successor to Shop Vac, and he replied that in many ways the entire album is. I can't link to it because I'm using Internet Explorer right now, which has a stack overflow if I try to visit the Twitter website.

  • SusSus
    edited September 2011
    Hurraaaaaaah new album! If there's a better thing to return to after a leave of absence from the internets... I'll need a *lot* of convincing.

    First impression: lovely. Pretty much all of it. Right now, though, I'm looping my current favourites (Sticking it to myself, Artificial Heart, Nemeses and Good Morning Tuscon) because work is nasty and full of terror - I need bouncy stuff.

    I've declared myself the nemesis of my postman - dude keeps hiding my stuff in unlikely, spider-infested "safe" places. Not cool. He does not know this yet. How surprised is he going to be!

    Suzanne Vega is STILL awesome.

    Question: Do the first few words of Je suis Rick Springfield sound Russian to anyone else, or is that just me? I almost went into a tree when I heard it the first time. Soon as you get to avec un chien it's obviously French, of course, but what on EARTH are the first couple of words? Any French speakers around?

  • edited September 2011
    The lyrics:

    I had made out most of it while listening to it before, but didn't get it completely, my French isn't great. But whenever I listen to it I'm just amazed at the ridiculous premise of this song, Rick Springfield hanging out in a bar in France and trying to tell people he's a superstar. First off, most (sane) stars want some rest and quiet when they're somewhere they won't be recognized and idolized constantly, right? So why would he be saying/singing he's Rick Springfield, a superstar, anyway. But more laughable is that nobody in France or anywhere in Europe knows Rick Springfield at all, if you ask someone around here who Rick Springfield is they'll ask "who?", some might know him from "Jessie's Girl" but apart from that he's unknown over here and I doubt many would recognize him even from that song, it's not very popular over here.
  • @dantes Aha! Thank you for the link. My google-fu is weak today.

    I did, however, successfully google Rick Springfield, because, as you say - never heard of him. I thought the song was a piss-take - maybe Rick has a reputation for hanging out in bars trying to get people to recognise him? Or something...?
  • edited September 2011

    Never heard of Rick Springfield?! Geez, even I'd heard of him. Of course, I'd only heard of him because JoCo covered one of his songs, and since I was only subscribed to the podcast, I didn't realise that was a cover until a while later, but still. :D

    JoCo did say when he played the song at PAX that he doesn't know whether the protagonist really is Rick Springfield, or is just some guy pretending to be Rick Springfield in order to pick up French chicks. It has a chance of working precisely because the French chicks probably don't know what Rick Springfield looks like. Or it could be the real Rick Springfield, who was at first happy to get some peace and quiet in France, but is now a little annoyed that nobody knows who he is, and he's having a little self-esteem problem because back home everyone idolised him, and all of a sudden he's just some sad guy in a bar who the girls won't even talk to, so he's trying to convince them that in the US, he's actually a superstar. (BTW, have you heard the way francophones pronounce 'superstar'? It's nothing like how JoCo does it.)

    Of his two French songs, I have to say I prefer Re : Vos cerveaux, and I greatly admire J'eauQu'eau for singing that all the way through that on stage despite not really knowing it very well and not having the 'I'm Rick Springfield, I'm not supposed to be good at French' premise to fall back on (I probably know more French than he does but I don't have a lot of confidence speaking it in front of people, let alone singing.) I still find Je suis Rick Springfield amusing and catchy, and I am happy that he dared to write a song in a foreign language. Though of course a lot of songwriters, especially those who are not native English speakers (to pick an example at random: @dantes) do that.

  • It's weird, one of the things I found disappointing about the album cover initially is the fact that it *is* a real artificial heart on the front. And then the next time I listened to the track I realised that it *sounds* like an artificial heart too. So for me, there's a guy in there who got an artificial heart. And then he realises that he was tied down to his relationship by his heart failure but now he can be free of both ("the walls go clear") because his physical heart is fixed. Or something anyway. There's gotta be a real artificial heart in there somewhere though. :-)
  • I find all of this Rick Springfield talk very amusing, considering his recent acting stint on the Showtime television show Californication.  Anyone else? :)
  • I find this talk of Showtime and television very amusing, considering I'm from the internet. Anyone else? :)

  • I find all this. Um. ANYWAY, clearly Rick wasn't big in Germany. It can't have anything to do with me living under a rock or nothing. Anyone else? ;)
  • If anyone's interested, my take on Artificial Heart is here: Short version: I really like it!
  • edited September 2011

    Oh my lawd. Half a million dollars in 2010. JoCo, will you ever stop amazing us? How do you make us give you all our money?

    Those people at NPR don't get it at ALL. Well, the guy who organised the JoCo interview did, but the co-hosts from the NPR Music division didn't. Old model people for the lose. Sigh. Actually ask him how he did it and be open to his ideas and suggestions, please?
  • edited September 2011
    <message redacted>
  • edited September 2011
    <message redacted>
  • By having sleeves! And also by doing things we like and offering things we want in exchange for money. He was horribly embarrassed about revealing that number.

    I don't give JoCo money because I think he needs it. There are many other artists I support because they have sleeves a real heart, they do things I like, they offer things I want and I think they need it, but I don't think JoCo is going to resort to burning his guitar for warmth any time soon.
  • edited September 2011
    I think I remember reading that, but I'd completely forgotten about that blog post. It's pretty sad that Jonathan can analyse this so much better than people who are implied to be music industry experts.
  • I've read the blog post, and left stupid uninformed comments on it, but still haven't got around to listening to the original podcast, despite two people I actually spoke to in real life in this very city mentioning it to me unprompted (wow, so many people have heard of JoCo these days! And they didn't hear about him from me!)
  • You don't need to listen to the podcast, I just did and it's a waste of time, just one guy trying to convince two others and his audience that JoCo is awesome and his success can be recreateable and the two others refusing to believe it whatsoever. And I'm glad others found out about JoCo and talked about him to you without you introducing him, I haven't encountered that with anyone I know irl yet.
  • Long-time (well, since '07ish) JoCo fan, mostly-lurker on the forum here. Been terribly excited about "Artificial Heart" since it was announced, and especially after the involvement of Messrs. Flansburgh and Beller were revealed, as I'm a huuuuuge TMBG fan.

    I've listened through the album about a dozen times now, enough that I've started fiddling around with the guitar parts on my own, but not enough that I feel like I have a great handle on the lyrics yet. I am really enjoying how this album marries JoCo's usual unique lyrical sensibility with a more oblique (I guess "traditional"?) style of writing. Less zombies and vampires and evil geniuses, more first-person confessionals. But still that same underlying knack for turns of phrase and getting into the heads of offbeat characters. It's a JoCo album, for sure, even if it's not quite as overtly "geeky" as the Thing A Week stuff.

    Some rough thoughts, song-by-song, follow. Mostly about the music, like I said - I'm still digesting the words, and I'm generally hesitant to say too much about my interpretations of lyrics before I feel like I fully "get" them. I'm enjoying reading everyone else's impressions!

    Sticking It To Myself: As others have noted before me, very latter-day TMBGesque. Especially in the horn arrangements. I'd be shocked if Flans didn't have a hand in those. I've enjoyed this song since I saw it performed in Somerville last year. Just ridiculously catchy, and you gotta love the marriage of danceable power pop with depressing lyrics.

    Artificial Heart: This is actually the most Ben Folds-ish song on the album, IMO. From the chord progression to the eighth note hammered piano chords (especially when everything drops out except the low notes at 1:47), it sounds like a lost outtake from one of Ben's earlier solo records. Good stuff, although I must admit to some ambivalence about how abruptly the song ends. Would've liked an instrumental outro of some kind, maybe.

    Nemeses: I wasn't a huge fan of this song from hearing it at Somerville and via bootlegs, but I feel like Roderick's performance gives it that extra something it had been missing live. I also dig the slightly more sedate feel you get from the layered acoustic and just-barely-overdriven electric guitars, versus the single distorted guitar sound JoCo uses live. Really love the song now.

    The World Belongs to You: Very "Always the Moon," and the song stylistically most similar in my mind to the music JoCo was making between "Thing A Week" and "Artificial Heart." Still processing the lyrics, as I'm not sure who the narrator are the person to whom he is singing are supposed to be. This was a song that didn't make much impression at first listen, but which I'm growing to like more and more with each successive spin.

    Today With Your Wife: My favorite song from the Somerville show, and gorgeously rendered on the record. Love the subtle horns that come in during the second chorus and bridge. Love that the lyrics can apply equally well to a poignant story about a dead man's widow and his best friend or bittersweet bonding between a man and a woman whose husband left her.

    Sucker Punch: If "Shop Vac" was JoCo's take on Fountains of Wayne, this is his take on the teenage pop punk anthems of the 90s. It's wonderfully unlike anything he's done before, and a great example of how genre-savvy JoCo can be.

    Glasses: Great transition from "Sucker Punch," to the point that it took until my fourth listen for me to realize they were two different songs. Another power pop gem, with some of the best harmonies on the record. Marty gets his chance to let loose on this one, and it's fantastic.

    Je Suis Rick Springfield: If "World Belongs To You" is this album's take on "Always the Moon," this is JoCo's callback to "Thing A Week." I could see this fitting in nicely with "Mr. Fancy Pants" and "Creepy Doll" as songs that began as wacky ideas, ultimately taken to their (il)logical extreme.

    (cont'd in next post)
  • edited September 2011
    Alone At Home: I'm one of those people that prefers the slow version, although I admit that's colored heavily (again) by the fact that I first heard the song that way at the Somerville show. It worked beautifully as a comedy piece in the slow arrangement, as the lyrics were more distinguishable to the first-time listener and the slow tempo gives it built-in "laugh" spaces. That being said, I loves me some punk rawk and I'm coming around to the album arrangement as well. I can see myself enjoying the fast version live now that I'm already familiar with the song - it's danceable as hell, that's for sure.

    Fraud: Still working out my feelings on this one, as I haven't the faintest clue what it's about. I really love the arrangement with the intertwined keys and guitars, though. And I dig the overlapping vocals in the bridge. Until I figure out the lyrics, I'm content to enjoy it as a well-written and well-performed piece of music.

    Good Morning Tucson: Another song I didn't quite "get" from the live performances. In this case, it's the addition of piano that elevates the song for me. Overall, this song feels more classic-JoCo to me than any other song on the album. Maybe it's the acoustic guitar. Or the direct storytelling mode of the lyrics. Or the melody. Or all those things.

    Now I Am An Arsonist: May be my favorite song on the album. Whoever pegged it as Decemberists-esque was spot on - and not just for the folky female vocals and acoustic arrangement. The lyrics strike me as something Colin Meloy might write, as well. Beautiful words, set to a beautiful melody. I like the subtle vocal distortion layered under JoCo's lead on the third verse, as it gives his voice a brittle delicacy that fits Suzanne Vega's. Coulton's normal singing voice is a little too "warm" for this song, I think. I love, love, love this song.

    Down Today: I'll be honest. Haven't quite figured out this one yet. Nice fingerpicking, though.

    Dissolve: Awesome rendition of one of my favorite Somerville songs. I like the MacGuffin of the box, and how the song isn't about what it could be, but rather how it affects the main character. I was pleasantly surprised by the new spiky guitar intro, as I actually felt like the original live arrangement was missing some necessary variation to keep things interesting. The jagged riffs that open the song pushes the power pop of the rest of the song back 30 seconds, giving it just enough extra "oomph" that the latter half of the song doesn't drag. Great production decision (whether it came from JoCo or Flans or whoever), IMO.

    Nobody Loves You Like Me: I agree that I would've put this song after "The Stache" (or just swapped them in the sequencing). It feels like a perfect album closer. Then again, it comes right before the two Portal songs, so maybe we can think of it at the end of the album proper, with the Portal songs and "The Stache" as "bonus tracks"? I have to say, I really like how sparse some of the songs on this album are. JoCo has never needed massive power chords to sound great, and some of his best past work has been his most minimalist. I'm glad he hasn't dropped this element of his sound.

    Still Alive (w/ Sara Quin): I'm a huge Tegan and Sara fan, so I was enormously excited to find out that Sara would be guesting on this album. And on "Still Alive," no less - be still, my heart! She fills the role ably, giving GLaDOS more of a cute, pixieish sound. As much as I love the original, and as much as nobody could ever out-GLaDOS Ellen McLain, I really love this new version. It's not a replacement of the original, but it's a lovely alternate. I do prefer the new bridge arrangement over the original. And that theremin intro... SO. AWESOME.

    Want You Gone (JoCo version): JoCo's now 2-for-2 in reinterpretations of his own songs. Although the basic structure of the song is the same, it's evidently a different recording - Marty's drums sound very different (although maybe this is just the un-processsed track?). Whatever. The point of this version is that we get to hear JoCo's vocal track, and he does a lovely job, especially with the falsettos in the chorus. I also like the new backing CoultonChorus and the skittery kettledrum noises in the bridge.

    The Stache: Great riff, instantly memorable tune, hilarious lyrics. Pretty much classic Jonathan Coulton. Not much else to say except that I personally like the little pause during the breakdown. It's the little keyboard flick on the upbeat that makes it work, I think.

    Overall, I really love the album. Between "Artificial Heart" and "Join Us," it's been a great few months for geek rock.
  • I've been listening to this over and over for the past few days, and I have to say that somehow JoCo exceeded my expectations (not easy, since my expectations for him are pretty high, you know?).  A few notes:

    Most Pleasant Surprise:  Still Alive.  For some reason I was assuming this would just be filler, a throw-away track on an album of new material.  I should have known better!  New life for an old classic.  Love the theremin.

    Another Pleasant Surprise:  The World Belongs to You.  Wow!  I wouldn't have expected a song that he never even bothered to play live to steal the show like this...  Classic JoCo, can't get it out of my head.

    Way Better than I Thought They'd Be:  Artificial Heart and The Stache.  Neither ever grabbed me, live or on Youtube.  But I wouldn't consider skipping either of them on the album.

    Song I Might Consider Skipping:  Hate to say it, but Je Suis Rick Springfield isn't working for me yet.  I don't speak French, so whatever the joke is, is lost on me.  Not skipping yet, I'll give it a chance.

    Alone at Home, Fast or Slow?  Put me firmly in the "fast" column!

    The Infamous Stache-pause:  A non-issue.  Couldn't believe there was so much discussion of it. 

    Listen in Order, or on Shuffle?  Definitely in order.  JoCo put thought into the order, and if he thinks it's best this way, who am I to argue?

    Best Guest Vocalist:  Sorry John and Sara, but Suzanne Vega wins this one....  Now I Am an Arsonist is amazing.

    Best Song:  I dunno, I've got too many favorites right now.  Just can't decide.  Better listen again!
  • edited September 2011
    Most Likely To Obsessively Listen To Over and Over: Sticking It To Myself, Artificial Heart, Nemeses, Good Morning Tucson, Now I Am An Arsonist, Down Today

    Most Likely To Like(ly Like): The World Belongs to You, Sucker Punch, Glasses, Je Suis Rick Springfield, Alone At Home, Dissolve, Nobody Loves You Like Me, Want You Gone, The Stache

    Most Likely To Be Uncertain of: Today With Your Wife, Fraud

    Most Likely To Skip: Still Alive (like the theremin intro but else meh)
  • Since others are posting their Artificial Heart thoughts, song-by-song, I'm going to do it too. 

    Sticking it to Myself. A song about self doubt. Apparently, JoCo knows something about this. 

    Artificial Heart. A cry for help from a man who eats way too much road food and is worried about his cholesterol level. He knows he should be a vegan but can't resist the Call of the Dorito. Heart surgery is just a matter of time...

    Nemeses. This song is about being a JoCo fan. "Now that you're here, I don't seem that crazy, do I?" Think about it.

    The World Belongs To You. This song is actually about Rick Springfield.

    Today With Your Wife. An adultery love song. Possibly about an affair JoCo had with Rick Springfield's wife. But probably not. 

    Sucker Punch. A song about getting into trouble. But not with Rick Springfield's wife. This sounds just like an Elvis Costello song. So maybe it's about JoCo and Elvis Costello getting into trouble together? "I can see the bottom and the bottom's okay" is probably not about somebody's tushie, given the context. 

    Glasses. A song celebrating the subtle joys of married life that JoCo realized he'd better write after the first time he played Alone At Home for his wife.  Also song number two in the "Shop Vac Trilogy." (Working title of song number 3: "Now I Am An Altacocker." My favorite song on the album.

    Je Suis Rick Springfield. This song is not about Rick Springfield. 

     Alone At Home: A song about a happy marriage. 

    Fraud: A song about the awful pressure JoCo is under to write new songs that are as good as Skullcrusher Mountain. And his fear that nothing on Artificial Heart can top the stuff he wrote when he was so young he can't even remember being that guy. Lucky for him, Artificl Heart is totally fucking awesome. 
  • continued.

    Good Morning Tucson. A morning drive guy cracks up. And why wouldn't he?

    Now I Am An Arsonist. This song is brought to you by the letter "A." It's either about doomed love or unrequited love. Maybe a little of both. This is also my favorite song on the album. And  JoCo -- if you're going to continue to record love songs with women who are almost old enough to be your mom (and as a fan who is almost old enough to be your mom, I DEFINITELY think you should...) can I put in a request for a duet with Dar Williams?

    Down Today. This is about JoCo's having a crush on a ukelele player. It's either Molly Lewis or Kristen Shirts. Or some other ukelele player. (But definitely not Tiny Tim.) The song is about the dream of trading in a dysfunctional relationship for another (probably also dysfunctional) relationship. It's a very pretty song. I love this song.

    Dissolve. This is Creepy Doll except with a box instead of a doll. It's also the Marine Corps song with just enough changes so they won't be able to sue him. I look forward to seeing what Paul and Storm do to it in concert. 

    Nobody Loves You Like Me. This is either another song about a fucked up relationship or another song about being a JoCo fan. Maybe both.

    Still Alive. A perfect sing-a-long which was written for a game I've never played. Apparently cake is involved.

    Want you Gone. Also written for a game I've never played. But it could be about a fucked-up relationship. So I can relate. 

    Stashe. If the dude in The Future Soon had lived in the early 19th century, before there was scifi and the dream of being able to piece-by-piece replace himself, all he'd be able to fantasize about doing to impress girls would be growing impressive facial hair. That's what this song is about -- what if the Future Soon dude had lived in the 19th century, the age of Over The Top Facial Hair? 

  • Musical question: The chord JoCo opens Dissolve with... It's obviously some description of an F, but what're those variations going on on it? Something like 132213 or... ?
  • I've now listened to the album a lot, and come to the conclusion that the pause in The Stache, which I hadn't actually noticed until yesterday, is utterly perfect and entirely musically justified. That slight interruption in the riff, or rather somebody hitting the mute button because song progress continues, creates tension and keeps the listener interested.

    At least, that's what it does to me.
  • MaWMaW
    edited September 2011
    @librarian: yes, Want You Gone is definitely about a fucked-up relationship, even in its original context in the game. I really love the version on the album.

    Not so fond of this version of Still Alive, although I do like the theremin solo.

    What else do I like? The Stache is growing on me rapidly, that's Angelastic's fault because she kept going on about the pause in it so I listened to it a lot. I am tempted to learn it and perform it somewhere wearing a false moustache. For Angelastic's records, I had not really heard the live version very much although I see no reason why the pause shouldn't be in that too.

    I still do not think Alone At Home is as good as the acoustic version.

    Now I Am An Arsonist is great.

    Nobody Loves You Like Me is a song I fell in love with at the last London show, and I am pleased to hear the album version which retains all the good bits and just polishes it off a little with those almost hints of instruments, and of course it not being live and thus having absolute perfection pieced together from what was probably a lot of takes and coffee.

    I also like Glasses. I need to study the lyrics, but my initial feeling is that it's sort of a follow-up to You Ruined Everything. And it has a totally awesome guitar part at the end.

    Today With Your Wife is good, but a little whiny on the vocals which is a shame.

    I have no idea what Je Suis Rick Springfield is about. It's pleasant enough to listen to though. I should check to see if anybody's translated the gist of it on the wiki shouldn't I.

    Nemeses is awesome, I was hooked from "even the suit has teeth".

    Sucker Punch bores me, unfortunately.

    Overall I think it's a good album, slightly uneven in that some of the songs are a little generic, as my friend pointed out last night on hearing it he thought it'd lost some of the JoCo quirkiness. There's a lot there in the lyrics, but the production method has kept some of it out of the arrangement, which is probably why I like The Stache so much now, and Artificial Heart, both of which are weird weird weird quite explicitly.
  • "Whiny on the Vocals" is the name of my Linkin Park cover-band.
  • @skyen -- thanks for making me laugh!
  • @Spiff, if you're reading these comments, I'd have to say that the Artificial Heart song I'd most want to see you create your WoW music videos for would be Je Suis Rick Springfield. That would amuse me to no end.
Sign In or Register to comment.