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.

AOTY: Farther John Misty_Pure Comedy

With a large collection of music that all resonated with me, this years runners-up list was hard to finalise. But Pure Comedy by Father John Misty became a must on repeat listens.

The album starts with the birth of a human being and continues with these high aspirations as Joshua Michael Tillmans lyrics reflect on the current world and our place in it. With a mix of wry cutting satire, these songs show us the world of 2017 better than any other album this year. At times they bring a smile to your face with their quick-witted joviality but can just as quickly turn into biting critiques of our current society that at times are so close to the bone they hurt.

The feeling that things are slowly spiraling out of control and we’re hapless to stop it may be a key element of the album but it never wades into the depths of despair. Instead it decides to point and poke fun at the world; both at the society at large and also closer to home, as the personal life and career of the artist are held with the same mix of self-deprecation and humor.

Without the comedy and elements of self-reference the album would end up sounding preachy. Instead Father John Misty sounds less like a prophet pointing out our flaws and more like a hapless observer caught up in all the chaos with us. When he does put himself in an authoritarian position it is often in defense of the people or to reflect some of the hypocrisy in his own beliefs, and that helps bolster the songs even further.

The lyrics may be the driving force in this album and are treated as such, but that doesn’t stop the arrangements and production from enhancing the experience. Traditional singer song writer instrumentation of guitar or piano often underpin each track, yet crescendo with full band instrumentation to lush orchestral accompaniment with great effect.

On Pure Comedy Father John Misty has continued to put forward a pleasing sound with quick-witted lyrics that provide both a reflection and a stark relief to the world of 2017. For that it deserves its place on my list.



AOTY: Ryuichi Sakamoto-async

Ryuichi Sakamotos’ career is a long and influential one. Over 40 years he has been either a driving force or at the forefront of many electronic music genre including techno, house, ambient, experimental and syth-pop. He’s also written classical music and composed for video games and films, winning him nominations and awards around the world. Async shows that he still has the ability to create personal artistic expressions that resonate with the audience.

The first solo album since his throat cancer diagnosis in 2014. Async clearly reflects the affect it has had on the composer. The minimal instrumentation on this album is often degrading either structurally or aesthetically, creating a constant development in the sound pallet. After several decades working with both electronic and classical composition he can blend the two flawlessly and without loosing the characteristics recognisable to his work.

Most tracks feature a single melody that will then be accompanied by sparse mixes of instrumentation and experimental sound design to enhance its mood. Although often somber and introspective, the music always has a restrained elegance. The emotions portrayed aren’t abrasive but reveal themselves slowly, They create a mood which you succumb to over each track’s play time; moods that stick with you long after the album finishes.

This album is never forceful or instructive. Subtlety is its strength. A masterwork in expressing Ryuici Sakamoto’s mood during its creation. Reflecting on his life and his previous works with his choice of instrumentation and composition. Async creates a strong connection between you the listener and the creator and by its conclusion you really feel like you understand his aims and feelings during its process of creation. Proof that there’s still new and interesting things to be said by a prolific and influential figure. Let’s hope it continues.

AOTY: Talaboman- The Night Land

Talaboman is a collaboration between acts Axel Boman and John Talabot, who’s album fin, released in 2012, is still one of my favorites to this day. Its mix of field recordings with deep house, which favors sound design and atmosphere over dance floor vibes, makes for a fantastic listen and comes highly recommend. Since 2012 I have anticipated a sequel to this album and The Night Land is the closest to it yet.

The album shows its hand on the opening track Midnattssol. It broods with unusual organic instrumentation, especially the percussion, which bubbles underneath the drones, pads and recordings from around the world. It hints at the dancefloor, providing space for the a power and drive that never arrives. It’s a style that continues throughout the album creating tracks that hold your attention through anticipation until they become hypnotic fluid soundtracks to dark nights. A musical comedown to harder club music.

This style of dance music can be hard to do because it doesn’t have the abrasive push that forces people to sit up and listen. Without talent it can easily disappear into the background but Talaboman manage to keep it fresh with a mix of interesting design that blends original and traditional sounds associated with dance music. These sounds continually evolve throughout the tracks allowing the repetitive rhythms and melodies to anchor the track without getting stale.

Whether The Night Land will have the same effect on me as fin does five years later is still to be seen. However it has held its place in regular play for me for the past nine months making it a must as one of my favorites for the year.


AOTY: Oh Sees_ Orc

Oh Sees under many different names and members have a prolific portfolio of albums over the past 15 years. Their dedication to making and playing music shows for all the right reasons on their latest album Orc.

They have always had a garage rock sound but rather than becoming a stereotype of the genre they treat it more as an aesthetic. A fairly traditional rock band set up is then stretched to its very limits over the playtime of Orc as they skip across many genre with ease. The reason the band can go from prog to punk in 16 bars before switching to metal is because the sound design and choice of instrumentation provide the glue that holds the experimentation in place. It’s done so skilfully that on first listen you may miss its creativity completely, but take a minute to analyse the tracks and you’ll soon be amazed by how many styles and genre they play with throughout the albums ten tracks.

Of course this would only be an interesting intellectual exercise if it wasn’t backed up with great music to prove its worth. Orc has it in spades. Catchy, instantly recognisable guitar melodies fill this album with massive blues riffs and intricate fast soloing. These are accompanied by a verity of keys and synths to provide texture and tight precise bass, mixed with a unique double drum section, creating drive and direction.

On Orc, Oh Sees are showing a band with years of experience using the same equipment. Equipment that punches way above its weight with the skills involved. In a musical world where it’s so easy to buy new, cheep equipment to solve issues, this is no mean feat. You can hear the craftsmanship. The hours of training, blood, sweat and tears put into wringing every last potential out of their existing instruments and effects. It goes to show that elbow grease and learning your tools is always more effective than a bigger toolbox and for that they have to be applauded. Creating an album that shows what hard work can achieve and one of the best albums of the year.

Albums OF The Year 2017

I was a little apprehensive at the start of picking my favorite 5 albums this year. At the beginning of last month I was struggling to think about 5 albums that really resonated with me. However once I started to look back on the year in music and listen to a few albums that I had missed it became the exact opposite.

The level of quality in music this year has been really exiting as acts have merged genre and pushed styles and sounds in more experimental ways across the board. From the most mainstream pop to the avant-gaurde, music is being more effected by the Internet age. A world where anyone can hear almost anything ever recorded and be influenced by it. This leads to more diversity and creativity across all forms of music.

I have boiled down the list to the five albums that have had the most effect on me personally throughout the year. However there are many albums that I could be persuaded to swap on the list with passionate discussion. The acts that I have left out but still love will work their way into my Track Of The Week segment so hopefully they will get the fair shake in the long run:

Visit tomorrow to find out the first runner up in my list. This will continue each day until the announcement of my album of the year on new years eve.

Hope you’ve all had a merry Christmas and great music can continue on into the new year.