Out May 26 on Needlejuice Records, Retinal Bloom is the latest disquieting transmission from the Scary Jokes, the solo vehicle for Pennsylvania-based queer musician, activist and visual artist Liz Lehman. Inspired by the likes of Kate Bush and Brian Eno, Lehman peppers her hazy, dreamy, synth-based sound with brooding, painfully personal lyrics. We hit up Lehman for her take on Retinal Bloom and “Riptide”:
“My original concept for Retinal Bloom was to make it a sort of horror album. It’s an idea I want to return to at some point, but I gradually phased that out and made it more of an aesthetic choice rather than a storytelling one. A lot of the horror elements did end up in the final project though, including a song I wrote about Jennifer’s Body, one of the many horror films I watched while I was writing Retinal Bloom. It’s a really fun movie, but it’s impossible to think of Megan Fox and the way she was treated around the time Jennifer’s Body came out. I made the mistake of reading reviews from back then, and I found it really frustrating how many critics refused to engage with the film in any serious way, instead focusing their attention on objectifying and insulting Megan Fox.
“I wanted to write a song about the film because I found the themes of female friendship to be really sweet and heartfelt. But the song inevitably began morphing into an indictment of those critics and our culture of misogyny in general. The whole idea of the ‘riptide’ was taken from the film, which uses bodies of water as a motif—the serene lake Jennifer glides through after her first kill, the swimming pool where the main characters try to drown each other during the breakdown of their relationship, the mysterious whirlpool that threatens to tear them apart and pull them under. One of the main themes of Retinal Bloom is solidarity between oppressed groups in the face of a dangerous, hateful world. That idea is front-and-center on this track.
“With all this in mind, I really wanted the video to be like a short horror movie—the main inspirations being films like It Follows and Blair Witch, as well as early internet creepypasta creatures. I got a selfie stick and filmed myself for a few days, as if I was trying to covertly capture something behind me on film. The idea was to have this inscrutable, predatory thing stalking me, forcing me to be constantly vigilant and on the move. We incorporated into that footage some videos I took last year from Amtrak’s Silver Star line, which I think gave the video a really effective sense of motion and scope.
“Nathan Wheeler/Fantishow was a terrific collaborator on this project. I knew it was a great fit as soon as he sent me his mockups of the monster pursuing me. I loved how strange and alien he made the creature look. It has hardly any human traits to latch on to. To me, it really captured the feeling of dread that I was going for with both the video and the track—of this faceless but very real threat that feels impossible to avoid. But I also wanted to have this somewhat unbothered demeanor throughout, since that’s sort of in line with the message I want to send—that it’s vital we survive this, and that, through our love for one another, maybe we can.”
We’re proud to premiere the video for the Scary Jokes’ “Riptide.”