Scriv’s Favorite Albums of 2017: Neil Cicierega, Mouth Moods

Distinguished readers, here is the 2017 album that took BloodLetterPress by storm, the one that we’ve had playing at most of our in-person meetings this year, the latest offering from the man we’ve come to view as the voice of a generation. Neil Cicierega, perhaps best known as the creator of Lemon Demon, Potter Puppet Pals, and countless other internet follies, has graced us with a third mashup album.

Mashup artists toe a fine line in the current popular understanding of art. On the one hand, it takes a diverse knowledge base, a creative ear, a high degree of skill, and up to weeks of time in front of an audio workstation to produce an exciting mashup; it’s these reasons that artists like Girl Talk make the case that mashup music is an art form in and of itself, rather than just the sum of its parts or the logical conlusion to sampling. These efforts are often stymied by the fact that current copyright law makes it impossible to capitalize on most mashups, and the fact that it’s easy not only to make a bad mashup, but to flood the pool with bad mashups; these factors, along with persistent questions about the legitimacy of mashups as music, or art at all, have combined to relegate mashup music to the realm of novelty for the time being.

With the trio of mashup albums released under his own name (Mouth Moods and its 2014 predecessors, Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence), Neil Cicierega embraces all sides of the mashup argument. Listen to any single cut from Mouth Moods (particularly “Annoyed Grunt” or the album’s final track), and it’s immediately apparent that Cicierega is the sonic equivalent of a master quilter, stitching together carefully edited samples of incredibly strange bedfellows into a single patchwork design that perplexes, astounds, and delights. His transformative skill is also on display on album single “Bustin'”,  a saucy, vivacious remix of Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters theme (“Bustin'” isn’t technically a mashup until its last second), and on “T.I.M.E.”, which draws overwhelming emotional resonance out of a famous track by the Village People by pairing it with the work of Hans Zimmer, thereby reminding us of the original track’s historical context as an anthem for disenfranchised gay youth in the 80’s.  What’s more, Mouth Moods isn’t just twenty good tracks: it’s a well-composed album that flows from track to track, some ineffable but inescapable through-line connecting start to finish and providing a listen-through that feels not just enjoyable, but complete–a rare sensation on a mashup album.

But Cicierega’s source material, and his treatment thereof, also points straight to his sense of humor about the whole thing, to his Wonka-like desire to create joy and silliness with his talents. Songs from the childhood of every millenial interweave with classics from the 70’s and 80’s and sound effects from Mario Paint and commercials for Blockbuster on this album, making for a madcap experience that will have you rolling on the floor with laughter (I dare you to listen to “AC/VC” with a straight face). Mouth Moods‘ humor feels more accessible than that of its predecessors, which relied more heavily on memes and knowledge of the source material; to this listener, this accessibility feels like a refinement of Cicierega’s techniques, a more precise selection of tools from his toolbox.  Is “Revolution #5” going to be as funny to listeners who aren’t familiar with The White Album?  Maybe not, but it’s quick, and bizarre enough to elicit confused laughs from most listeners.  I’ll leave you to listen to the album rather than explain the rest of its jokes, but Cicierega’s comedy chops are blazing on Mouth Moods.

It’s albums like this that make you hope, one day, that some mashups will be recognized for the works of creative genius that they are–and that Neil Cicierega, in the midst of his myriad projects, will find the time to keep making mashups for years and years to come.  Or, dare I suggest it, play his work live.