Mouth Trilogy Cross Talk
Dan Bachman ’17: Today we’re going to talk about a trilogy of mash-up albums by internet-genius Neil Cicierega. How would you describe Neil Cicierega?
Will McGhee ’17: I would describe him as fundamental to millennial internet culture.
W: This is the guy who did “Potter Puppet Pals,” this is the guy who did “Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.”
D: This is the guy who did “Animutations,” which could be argued to be the first internet memes.
W: And “Brodyquest.” He’s also known for his original music from his project “Lemon Demon.” But I think his biggest contribution in recent years, starting in 2014 was the first of a trilogy of albums (we did not know it was a trilogy at the time) called Mouth Sounds, which, if you’re not aware, probably started the trend of everyone mashing up “All Star” by Smash Mouth with everything else. The “Smash Ups,” if you will.
D: I definitely think that the starting period of that trend is Mouth Sounds, so called because around seven of its seventeen tracks (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but is) sample heavily from Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
W: The best description I’ve ever heard, and I think it was The AV Club who said this, is “Punishing 90s Nostalgia.”
D: Yes. And it starts out just about as punishing as it can possibly get. It takes every melody and countermelody in from Modest Mussgorsky’s “Promenade: Pictures at an Exhibition, and recreates it using clipped samples of Steve from Smash Mouth saying “Some” and saying “Hey Now” and nothing else, oh except for the whistle.
W: The iconic “All Star” whistle comes in many times, and will come in many times in future albums. I guess the best way to break down how the trilogy works is that there’s four types of mash-ups that Neil does. There’s the sheer audacity of bringing in songs like “All Star” or “One Week” (by The Barenaked Ladies) for the umpteenth time with something else, there’s another type that runs on the sheer audacity of putting together two songs that are very different pieces together like the track “Imma Let It Be.”
D: If you can’t tell from the name, “Imma Let It Be” is a mash up of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “Imma Be.” It does not work.
W: The third type is taking a song or multiple songs, and just utterly destroying them. He does that with Oasis’ “Wonderwall” multiple times.
D: The first of that kind, however, is on Mouth Sounds, and it’s called “No Credit Card.” I think it’s brilliant. He takes the one piece of culture that people remember, for example the line, “don’t need no credit card to ride this train” is the line people would know from (Huey Lewis and the News’s song) “The Power of Love.”
W: And so he only does that line.
D: Yeah, it’s just that line. For five minutes. And it’s actually a great remix.
W: It’s a great song! It just drives you mad. And type number four doesn’t happen until the next two albums, but it’s taking a weird piece of 90s culture and setting it to music, I’m thinking of “500MB” on the third album, which is this voice presenting the new trend of a 500 Megabyte hard drive set to The Proclaimers’ “500 Miles,” and it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.
D: It’s hilarious. I’d argue there’s also a fifth category, a thematic cut up. And the first example of this is the third track on Mouth Sounds, the album we’re starting with, which is simply titled “D’oh!” It features samples of Austin Powers saying “Yeah baby!,” Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” to the tune of the violin line in Dave Mathews Band’s “Ants Marching,” The “Doug” theme song, “Baby Got Back” is in there, and it ends with the famous existential monologue from The Talking Head’s “Once in a Lifetime.” And weirdly, it all gels. There’s something about it that feels thematically connected. I think it’s just Neil bridging together a collage of over exposed, and maybe over-celebrated 90s cultural touchstones, and putting them in the exact context that makes them hilarious and horrifying. It’s deconstructing that specific brand of 90s nostalgia.
W: This is the album that flows the best.
D: In my opinion, Mouth Sounds is the best complete album, but it is also Neil when he was the least skilled at doing this.
W: Yes, absolutely, but I still think the best sequence in this “trilogy” is going from “Full Mouth,” which is a mashup of “All Star” and the “Full House” theme into the song “Alanis” which is “You Oughtta Know,” first just Alanis Morissette’s isolated vocals, and then going back to the “Full House” theme, and it’s just brilliant.
D: “You Oughtta Know” was famously written about her ugly breakup with “Full House” star David Coulier. Her singing those lyrics over the theme to that show, that is ironic, which adds another layer to the joke because Alanis’ “Ironic” is arguably one of her most famous songs, and this is a situation more ironic than anything mentioned in it. It’s a ridiculous tapestry made from two simple samples. That’s the brilliance here, there aren’t a lot of samples used, but they’re all used to maximum effect.
W: I love the idea in this one that the further you get into the album the more punishing it is. For me, the low point is the track “The Sharpest Tool,” which is just “All Star” taken so far into oblivion that it’s screaming at you. Then the final tracks mellow into this reprieve built off of Santana’s “Smooth” and an Enya sample. The go together very well!
D: Of course, the album ends the only way it can, with the whistle from “All Star.”
Will’s Favorite Track: “Smooth Flow”
Will’s Least Favorite Track: “Like Tears in the Chocolate Rain”
Dan’s Favorite Track: “D’oh!”
Dan’s Least Favorite Track: “Mullet With Butterfly Wings”
D: Mouth Silence almost like a B-side collection, but somehow it still is pretty cohesive, and virtuosic.
W: It’s called “Silence” because none of the tracks feature Smash Mouth, except if you speed up the album dramatically, and then a low, windy sound over some of the tracks becomes “All Star.”
D: On the last track, “Piss,” there’s a synthesizer line that turns out to spell out “somebody once told me” in Morse Code.
W: The mash ups get…bolder here.
D: Bolder, and more interesting.
W: I think my favorite in terms of “how did he come up with that?” is “Love Psych.” Which is “Love Shack” set to this instrumental, that I first didn’t recognize, and then realized is the score from “Psycho.” The music from the famous shower stabbing scene happens just as “Love Shack” comes to the line “bang bang bang on the door baby.”
D: It’s pants shittingly terrifying, and I think it might be the best track on any of these three albums. He also doubles down on a lot of what he did in the last album. Like “Orgonon Gurlz,” which, I believe it was you who told me that this is a mash up of Neil’s favorite song…
W: And his least favorite song.
D: Yeah, so it’s Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” and Katy Perry’s “California Girls” and it’s genuinely really great!
W: It’s certainly something. And there’s another song that introduces the trend of setting 90s nostalgia to music, in this case news clips of people talking about “Pokemon,” some people just describing it and others warning about how dangerous it is.
D: There’s also “Space Monkey Mafia” where he takes the isolated vocals of “It’s the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine)” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” are played over, effectively, a polka.
W: This is where the thematic songs really come into their own, like “Numbers” which just mashes up a lot of songs about phone numbers, from “Call Me Maybe.” The “Ghostbusters” theme is here too.
D: That comes back later.
W: There’s also “Best” which is just a song that puts together every song about being the best. “You’re the Best Around,” “Best Song Ever,” and the Folgers jingle, “Best of You.”
D: Some of the songs that I’m reading here in that track I don’t recognize. Gonna have to find them later.
W: Yeah, you’re never going to catch everything on this album. It’s the gift that keeps on (brutally) giving. The only other highlight I’d have to say is “Wndrwll.” It breaks the Oasis song down. It starts with phrases from the song over and over again. There’s also a reprise of the Full House theme, which works here like “Smooth” did as a respite out of all of this bleakness.
Will’s Favorite: “Sexual Lion King” for a particular moment, halfway into the song, where you hear Scar whisper ‘long live the king’ and I die every time.
Will’s Least Favorite: “Orgonon Gurlz”
Dan’s Favorite: “Wndrwll” (With a special commendation for “Love Psych”)
Dan’s Least Favorite: “Close to the Sun”
D: So we had these albums within a span of two months, and then nothing, nothing for years.
W: He would upload a few things to his youtube channel, but nothing album-length.
D: But then…
W: On January 24, literally out of nowhere, tweeted ‘is everyone awake’ and then shared the link to Mouth Moods.
D: I think Mouth Moods is by far the most impressive of the three. It has the most sounds and the highest highs, but it’s also his least cohesive. The transitions from insane song to insane song are not as good. But it’s almost irrelevant.
D: The first song “The Starting Line” had me doubled over. The title is both a reference to the Cake song “Going the Distance” and the fact that this entire song is made of opening lines from other songs. There are sixteen opening lines to sixteen songs.
W: Many of these songs are callbacks to past albums like “All Star” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” but many are new, and it’s just this massive wall of nostalgic pop. And still, you can actually enjoy this one without feeling pain. It’s funny without putting you off.
D: But what does put you off is the third track, which I lost my mind listening to the first time, it’s called “AC/VC.” It begins with the familiar piano riff of Vanessa Carlton’s “1000 Miles,” and then suddenly, you hear Brian Johnson’s beagle yawp from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and it does not work, and it is so funny.
W: He brings The Beatles back in this one with “Dear Dinosaur,” which is “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Dear Prudence” with an introduction sample from the film “Super Mario Bros,” because of course.
D: What makes this work is that all of these are connections that no one else would ever think to do.
W: I think the best example of that is “T.I.M.E.” which is “Time,” the closing track to Inception and the isolated vocals from “Y.M.C.A” and it sounds like a funeral dirge. And it ends with the whistle from “All Star!”
D: Of course. After I’m surprisingly moved by the banal lyrics of “Y.M.C.A.” he has to come in with that whistle. So that’s the perfect execution of Neil’s quest to take two wildly different things and make something amazing out of them.
W: And he perfects breaking down songs too. Twice, actually, there’s another version of “Wonderwall” here called “Wallspin” which is the song set to the melody of “Right Round,” and that one is really fun, but you also have “Bustin’.”
D: Yeah, which takes Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” theme and makes it…sort of about semen.
W: And it ends with a quick Gorrilaz shout out, too.
D: The music video, which he made when he first released this song two years ago, it needs to be seen. It’s amazing. And there’s also the perfect version of the thematic mashup with “Annoyed Grunt,” which takes its name from all the weird vocal sounds and interjections, and lyric-less melodies that make up the song, most specifically Tim Allen’s grunts in the show “Home Improvement,” but there’s Homer Simpson in there, there’s the famous screaming from “Down With the Sickness.”
W: Yeah, he brings that one out multiple times; here he mashes it with Anne Lennox’s “No More I Love Yous,” which works very well.
D: Also a sample platter, the final track, “Shit.”
W: Which is a response to the final track of Mouth Silence, “Piss,” of course. It starts with “Kiss From A Rose,” which never referenced again for the rest of the song.
D: Later it takes the lyrics of Limp Bizkit’s “My Way” and twists them to be about pooping. “Wannabe,” “Hollaback Girl,” there’s just so much going on here. That being said, I don’t know if this album is as well sequenced or cohesive as what came before.
W: It isn’t, but I will say that the last third of this album just keeps getting better and better, it’s great track before a better track, before a better, track, all culminating with “Shit.” I’d like to give special attention to the song “Wow Wow,” which is a remix to Will Smith’s “Men in Black” theme. It starts with All Star and then it goes quickly into Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker,” mixed in with Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West,” and it’s legitimately enjoyable. It’s one of the least painful tracks on the album.
Will’s Favorite: “300 MB.”
Will’s Least Favorite: “Stand By Meme.”
Dan’s Favorite: “The Starting Line.”
Dan’s Least Favorite: “The End.”
D: I am a different person because these albums are in my life, and I am grateful for that. They’ve helped change and define my sense of humor, particularly musically, and I’m glad we have content creators like Neil Cicierega in the world.
W: I won’t say I’m fundamentally changed, but I will say he’s tapped into a style of joke telling and humor that I’ve never seen anywhere else and he’s perfected his own brand of it. I also think his ability to do divine sacrilege and elevate these otherwise cast aside songs from another era in a new way is very interesting to look out, and I’m curious to see if he continues this.
D: I hope he does.
W: I’m always terrified of where it will go next.