Neil Cicierega: Mouth Dreams (self-released, 2020)

October 10, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Neil Cicierega: Mouth Dreams

I’ll be honest, I tend to avoid the majority of things that become hugely popular on the internet. I really can’t stand memes or most things that end up being described as viral hits, especially anything that’s supposed to be humorous. I’m not sure if it’s because I just don’t have a sense of humor anymore, or I chose to remain sober, or I don’t care for celebrities or pop culture or anything of the sort. I don’t understand why I’m like this, I don’t claim to be smarter than anyone or high brow or anything like that. Why should I act like I’m above watching cartoons or loving pop music? But with all that in mind, 20 years ago I was a high school student and I loved watching all of the weird Flash animations that ended up being staples of the pre-YouTube internet. All Your Base Are Belong to Us was a big one, of course, that dumb one with the squirrel that I still actually think about all the time, and the entire genre of Animutations that Neil Cicierega single-handedly invented with this masterpiece of culture-jamming absurdity. After a year or two I completely tuned out of this sort of thing, but my sister kept in touch with Neil and I’d occasionally hear about some of the things he did which ended up becoming huge online. For whatever reason, though, he didn’t cross my radar again until his mashup albums started doing the rounds, and getting WFMU airplay and all that. Since 2014’s Mouth Sounds, the arrival of each of these mixtapes has been a major event, and while a lot of the individual tracks on them can be hit-or-miss for me, I just find it jaw-dropping the way he draws connections between certain pop culture artifacts, and how elaborate his concepts and arrangements are. Mouth Dreams starts out by finding nuances in the Yahoo jingle that its creators likely never had considered. An early highlight is “Just a Baby”, which dices Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” lyrics over a freaking Hoobastank song, adds some Justin Bieber in the chorus, and strangely makes it sounds vaguely shoegazy. The lyrics gradually get more and more ridiculous (“stuck in baby prison”, “I shot a train, but that train was just a car” “Just a baby drinking coffee”, etc). It’s dumb, it’s blasphemy, it shouldn’t work, and it’s laugh out loud hysterical. “Psycho Killer” over “Superfreak” sounds like something that was probably done at least once during the Boom Selection blog era, but most mashup artists probably would’ve just done a simple A + B blend with maybe a few DSP tweaks here and there. This one has a lot of fun cutting up Byrne’s paranoid lyrics, especially the ones about his bed being on fire. And obviously it’s incredibly funky and would actually work at a party, and people might not even notice something’s fishy unless they were really paying attention. “Ribs” is almost painfully meta, seamlessly blending that Chili’s jingle with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and throwing Marilyn Manson in there because, well, do the math. Tracks like “Sleepin'” display Neil’s gift for making a dumb song sound even dumber through the power of repetition, as well as cutting in an awkward lyric as many times as possible (not Neil, but see also this classic for a similar example). “Cannibals” and “The Outsiders” demonstrate his deep fascination with production bumpers, stock sound effects, and voice-overs, and then “Whitehouse” grafts Jack White onto Raymond Scott’s perennial cartoon soundtrack favorite “Powerhouse” and scores a ton of Detroit-area music dork points. The classical mashups at the end are a bit of a stretch, but the modem squeal at the end is a nice touch, and ties in with the cover art… look closely. And WAKE UP.

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