The Undertow: ‘The Scary Jokes’ deserve to be taken seriously 


The artist defines it as “a dizzying kaleidoscope of neurosis as an entertainment journalist is left in solitude to tend to her movie star girlfriend’s country home.” The opening track starts, “Full disclosure, I am a monster.” It’s “BURN PYGMALION!!! A Better Guide to Romance,” and it’s one of the best pop albums of the year, all thanks to its quirky yet sentimental performer, “The Scary Jokes,” one of the best up-and-coming pop artists out there.  

Released on the first day of 2019, “Burn Pygmalion” bubbled under the surface of the alternative landscape, with some content breaking through. The first track, the Louie Zong-assisted single “Community Gardens,” has recently passed a quarter million listens on Spotify. That said, an album of this emotional magnitude and orchestral brilliance deserves much more than that. Through some act of wizardry, “Burn Pygmalion” captures the aforementioned journalist/movie star romance in a bottle and turns it into a fluid, complex listening experience. I’m a sucker for albums with romantic continuity (shout-out “Hospice” by “The Antlers”), but I don’t remember the last time it’s been done this cleanly.  

A folly many synthpop bands fall into is a distinct lack of substance. Your glossy chords can only carry you so far, and at some point your audience is going to peer into what you’re actually saying. That’s what makes “The Scary Jokes” so special – my intrigue for the band only strengthened when I sat down and peered into their lyricism, and they’ve been doing it from day one.  

“Icicles,” the sixth song off their 2016 sophomore project “April Fools,” brings you into its world with a crescendo of synths, piano and choir, before cutting it all out to a retro boom-bap beat that leaves you rocking your head before you realize you’re doing it.  

 The first time I heard it, I added it to my “Liked Songs” based on the intro alone, but the reason I’ve returned to it at a ritualistic pace the past year or two is because the words behind the instrumentation hit hard.  

“My world has turned so cold but I won’t cry/’Cause icicles don’t soften when they die, so why should I?” rings the bridge, lightly over a back-and-forth piano pattern. Then, just as suddenly as it cut out, the beat pounces back in as the chorus finally arrives after three verses. “Oh, icicles don’t soften when they die/They sharpen into sabers and they stab you in the eye.”   

“The Scary Jokes” also bring levity into their brand of pop in great fashion. “Bad at Math,” the title track from their 2014 debut album, brings a relatability to life with a bubbly bop about, well, why some people choose lined over graph paper. “Physics was too confusing for me, and I don’t get chemistry/I almost failed geometry/Which is funny, ‘cause I’m really good at art, but that only goes so far, ‘cause all the people around me are.” Relatable! 

“The Scary Jokes” deserve to be taken seriously. Each one of their three albums is nothing less than great, and their emotional depth is something rare even in mainstream pop music. They deserve to be up there with Grimes and Charli XCX, with artists pushing pop into the future at breakneck speed. They deserve to be the best media invention of northern New Jersey since Bruce Springsteen or The Sopranos. 

Whenever their fourth project hits the airwaves, catch me searching electronic keyboards on Amazon in envy.  

Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

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