Whether or not you know Neil Cicierega by name, you almost definitely know his work in some way. His Potter Puppet Pals series was once basically the most popular thing on the internet, the most famous episode “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” having now amassed over 150 million views. He also invented the bizarre dadaist “Animutation” genre of online video, a nonsensical and indecipherable style that could only have worked as it did in the pre-YouTube days of Flash animation. And he’s also released over a dozen albums worth of music under the names Deporitaz and Lemon Demon, including the song “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.” Essentially, Cicierega is one of the great renaissance men of the Web 1.0 era, creating content that shouldn’t be good or popular but instead is both.
And now he continues the tradition with two mashup albums released earlier this year, for the first time under his own name, Mouth Sounds and its “prequel” Mouth Silence. Whether there’s a modicum of actual musical talent in these releases is questionable, and it’s likely that your initial reaction to this music will be one of repulsion. But there’s no other album released so far this year that so demands your attention and your fascination.
The cover to Mouth Sounds advertises the variety of artists it samples, from Paul McCartney to The Black Eyed Peas (who, by the way, show up on the same song). But it doesn’t mention the titular artist, Smash Mouth, who appears on nearly every song. Take the second track, “Modest Mouth,” for instance: Cicierega has removed the lyrics from Modest Mouse’s classic song “Float On” and replaced them with the vocals from “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Otherwise, the song appears to be untouched – everything from the rhythm to the key to the song structure just synchs up perfectly. The results are baffling, challenging of everything you know about quality music – and strangely alluring. Get used to it, because this will be your reaction to just about everything on these albums.
And that’s just the beginning. If that wasn’t a big enough monument to tasteless for you, the next track is “D’oh,” in which Cicierega modulates the pitch of Homer Simpson’s famous exclamation to exactly follow the melody of Dave Matthew’s Band’s “Ants Marching,” with Austin Powers popping up here and there to exclaim “Yeah, baby!” Soon the song morphs to accommodate for the appearance of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and even Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime”. But you’ll never go for more than a couple tracks on Mouth Sounds without hearing “All Star,” whether it’s on top of Santana’s “Smooth” on “Melt Everything” or Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger” on “Daft Mouth” (which also samples Smash Mouth’s “Walking On The Sun”).
And if it’s not Smash Mouth, it’s another, even stranger, equally surprising musical combination. Mouth Silence is “All Star”-free, hence the title, meaning that the mashups are even more scattered and eclectic. Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” becomes a boogie song; the vocals of System of A Down’s “Chop Suey” are slowed to a crawl and then perfectly synched with the music of “Crocodile Rock;” “Numbers” compiles just about every song and advertisement ever written about phone numbers into one track, from “Call Me Maybe” to “Ghostbusters.” The highlight, however, is “Wndrwll,” a reimagining of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” that defies description.
Between the two albums, not all 36 attempts work, and when they don’t they’re pretty awful – “Imma Let It Be” is almost unlistenable. But around every corner on these albums is something surprising and fascinating. I haven’t even gotten into how “Love Shack” mixed with the Psycho theme is pretty much the most terrifying thing ever, or Cicierega’s consistently hilarious use of the Full House theme, or just what form of musical blasphemy he commits against John Lennon’s “Imagine.” That’s for you to discover yourself.
It’s impossible to say whether Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence are good comedy, let alone good music. All I know is that I can’t stop listening to them. Both albums are free on Cicierega’s website, but download at your own risk. No other album will generate such a wide range of emotions this year as these, and quickly you’ll be on your 20th listen of “Mullet With Butterfly Wings” or “Space Monkey Mafia” or “Bills Like Jean Spirit,” with you still wondering why you like them so much and your friends now wondering why they started hanging out with you.