Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow – Jonathan Coulton

Where_Tradition_Meets_TomorrowRelease Year: 2004

Rating: 8/10

Jonathan Coulton isn’t your average singer/songwriter. While his songs start off normal they soon delve into a world filled with giant squids, cyborgs, weird babies, and any other strange thing you can think of. He is the ultimate geeky musician who can spin tales about married life to Tom Cruise being crazy. This five song EP is a great introduction to the musician as all the songs are humorous, witty, and catchy.

The Future Soon” starts off with some light folk rock music and lyrics about a guy having trouble connecting with his crush. Seems normal enough until Coulton sings “Work through the daytime, spend my nights and weekends/Perfecting my warrior robot race/Building them one laser gun at a time.” This scientist just wants the ability to “engineer away” his less than favorable traits. As the song continues things get weirder as Coulton talks about robot wars, bionic eyes, and a robot bride. Mid-way through, robotic bleeps and boops begin playing bringing the mad scientist feel full circle. This has to be the ultimate geek anthem for those who wish to get rid of their awkwardness.

The mad scientist (or evil villain) concept comes back on “Skullcrusher Mountain.” While the lyrics here describe someone in their lair making their own monsters and even having their own servant, the music is very light and flowing creating this weird dynamic between the music and the lyrics. Even the way Coulton sings is calming and reassuring as if it wasn’t about a mad scientist. The best part comes when he’s trying to convince someone to visit his lair and says “The voices in my head that control me/say I shouldn’t kill you yet.” It’s one of those lines that makes you crack a smile every time you hear it. “I Crush Everything” is a somber track about a giant squid who can’t be with a woman because he would kill her. Told you his songs were weird. Though the mood is a little sad, the folky music is nice and relaxing matching perfectly with the odd track.

Coulton pulls off a country/bluegrass vibe on “Betty and Me.” While a twangy banjo plays away, Coulton sings about creating the perfect baby by handpicking the DNA to avoid all the traits Betty hates about him. He repeatedly sings “Betty says our baby will be better than me.” There’s also a funny part during the second verse where singer has his own ideas about the baby: “Betty was pretty firm about our baby being human/I said we should give him wings and a nice prehensile tail/He could travel with the circus making money, making friends with clowns.” When you think about it, the lyrics are bleak. The wife dislikes the husband so much she wants to make sure the baby is nothing like him. It’s also implied she is having an affair with her doctor later in the song. But this could also be a crude commentary on practices that let couples pick the sex of their child etc.

Mandelbrot Set” is in short a catchy history lesson. It’s a tribute to Beniot Mandelbrot and his fractal of the same name. The music here is more rock influenced and kind of bouncy. What’s great about this song is even if you have no idea what Coulton is singing about, you’ll still sing along with him because it gets lodged in your head. The part I like in particular is the pre-chorus that kind of sounds like a rhyme from the way he sings it; it really catches your ear. There also might be a nod to Nirvana in the line “You’re a heart-shaped box of springs and wire.” Whether you understand what he’s talking about or it goes right over your head, you can’t help bobbing along to this track.

Overall, the EP gets 8/10. This release is a great introduction to the quirky singer/songwriter. He combines his love of folk rock and geeky things to create really unique, humorous, and just flat out weird songs. It’s just amazing how he can make you feel sorry for a giant squid who only wants to love. Sometimes they’re silly, other times their bleak, but Coulton’s songs are always memorable and catchy.

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