AOTY: Neil Cicierega- Mouth Moods

I fought with myself on this decision for the past month but I couldn’t let it go. I had to make Mouth Moods my album of the year. I know this is going to be a controversial choice and this review is going to be as much in defence of my position as it is praise of the album. But before we get underway I would recommend you all to listen to it, as part of its joy is the surprise you get on the first listen. It’s completely free to download and available here on Neil’s website:

To summarise, Mouth Moods is a remix album of popular music/audio throughout history made for comedic effect. Comedy may not have the same critical weight to it as drama. You rarely see comedy films or TV shows being nominated for the highest esteemed awards. But this doesn’t stop the genre being hard to achieve, especially in music. On Mouth Moods, Neil succeeds in creating the near impossible, by making a piece of work that stays funny on repeat listens. The album came out in late January of this year and I still can’t help myself from laughing out loud whenever I hear it.

Music is the soundtrack to our lives. Hearing a particular tune can take you back to a point of joy or sadness. It acts as a form of time travel ,stirring up memories and emotions from your psyche and Neil plays this nostalgia with reverential abandon. It works effectively because his choice of samples are so mainstream and woven into our culture that anyone with even a passing interest in music will get enough of the references to find the work funny. On it’s most base and often puerile level, Mouth Moods repeatedly surprises you by mixing songs together from completely different styles and genre and making it work.

Every listen, I will get about three tracks into the album before I’m dumbfounded and at this point I no longer try to rationalise what I’m hearing and just go with it. I allow the constant joking of the album to just wash over me and at that point the album has won. Leaving me in a hysterical stupor, grinning from ear to ear, as song after song continues to confound, tease and toy with me.

On the album getting the laugh is all that matters and Neil is happy to get it as cheaply or stupidly as he can. From using Homer Simpsons burp as a percussive section, to the song Tiger where he edits the song Eye of the Tiger to change the lyrics so it becomes about a man and his Tiger; It’s stupidity is often baffling but the commitment to it continues and escalates until you have to find it funny.

If the album was all just cheap laughs it wouldn’t have the staying power that it has. Neil manages to go above and beyond, with a deep attention to detail that only gets picked up on repeat listens. Whether it be hearing new smaller samples peppered throughout, to getting the more cerebral jokes and references. The album does a fantastic job of surprising you every time you apply further examination.

The tracks themselves aren’t the only things that have been thought about thoroughly. The album is structured brilliantly, with a focus on taking the listener on a journey. Smaller “skit” style tracks provide great bridges between the larger tracks. For example Revolution #5 sends up the Beatles Revolution #9 using Lou Begas Mambo number 5 as its sample. It’s a funny small joke in its own right. But it also sets the listener up for the next track, which mixes Dear Prudence with lyrics from Walk the Dinosaur by Was (not Was). This structuring helps enhance a collection of tracks into a complete work that outdoes itself time and time again.

By this point you can tell that I love this album but I haven’t yet got to why it’s made it to my top spot. Before I do I would like to defend some of the arguments against it. I have read several responses and criticism about this album around the internet and I’m sure those people will roll their eyes when they see that I’ve made it my album of the year. These are the same type of people however who like remix albums by acts like Girl Talk or 2 many dj’s, praise Burial for his use of samples and hold DJ Shadows Endtroducing as a masterpiece. All of the techniques employed by those acts are the same as Neil Ciciergra uses on this album. He matches if not surpasses them. The only difference is the emotional response that he’s aiming for.

I believe the opening track Starting Line is a perfect retort to those people. In it he uses a large collection of opening lines from songs used in the rest of the album. In doing so, he manages to create something that is catchy, addictive, packed full of joyous creativity and a great track in its own right. If the album was made up of tracks like this one and less of the more overtly comical Neil would be being held up by everyone as a modern master of mix culture.

The way he blends tracks that shouldn’t go together into something that does is comical. But at its best points it goes beyond that. The equal reverence he has for music from the critically acclaimed to the down right cheesy is clear, and by mixing them together he at times makes us question our own love for the music we hold close.

The first time I felt this was on the track T.I.M.E. where the Time soundtrack from the film Inception by Hans Zimmer and Johnny Marr is mixed with the vocals from YMCA by the village people. At first listen this is a surreal comedic mix of stupidity. But by the mid point of the song the dramatic music enhances the lyrics about a man struggling in his life over his identity. It adds a weight that was always in the lyrics of the YMCA but left as a sideline to the disco beat. By putting it front and center Neil Cicierega changes the listeners perspective on a song we have all heard countless times.

It’s this changing in perspective that makes this album so special. Even if it wasn’t his intention, Mouth Moods has a subtext that asks a music fan some hard questions. Why do you like what you like and hate other things? Why shouldn’t all music be respected to the same level? And if that’s true what level should it be respected? By being serious about not taking music seriously he shows it, and all art, for what it really is; essential to the human existence and yet also completely useless.

It’s an album that could only exist in the modern day. Created with help from the internet, and distributed and influenced by it, Mouth Moods is a perfect reflection of it in all its creativity and sillynes. It can be profound and profoundly stupid. It reflects a meme culture which is becoming increasing prevalent and a generation of people who have grown up in a world where information and art is easily accessible.

By sampling music from across his life Neil Ciciergra has created a sounscape that will stay timeless to anyone growing up over the past 30 years. A nostalgic trip that both trolls and delights you in equal measure. I haven’t had more fun listening to an album this year and yet I’m still finding more things to like about it. The haters are deluded. This is the Album of 2017; maybe not the one you want but the one the year deserves.

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