‘Mouth Moods’ makes a nice critic out of the meanest
John Darr | Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Music critics must be miserable people; just look at the music they like. Concept record about Anne Frank? Certified classic. Concept record about a girl dying in hospice? Absolute masterpiece. Last year’s most critically-acclaimed records were about death, drug-fueled insanity or political upheaval. When Frank Ocean is the happy-go-lucky musician on your year-end list, you know you’re fun at parties.
In all seriousness, critically-acclaimed music is so consistently glum or serious that it pushes one to question if emotional darkness determines critical opinion more than musical quality. Yet every year or so, a record comes along that radiates so much joy that not even the gloomiest music nerd can resist. Just take a bite out of these lyrics:
“So many tigers, it happens to tigers / You trade your passion for glory / Don’t lose your grip on the tiger’s dreams / You must fight just to keep them alive.”
The magnificent “Tiger,” a real beast of a track on Neil Cicierega’s tasty new record “Mouth Moods,” relentlessly twists Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” into a song about owning, training and protecting tigers. As if replacing every other word of the track with “tiger” wasn’t enough, Cicierega also litters the track with kitty samples and snippets of Tony the Tiger purring a “meow-thful” of catchphrases. Of course, this is all done over the instrumental of INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” in case you weren’t “feline” the undercurrents of man-tiger love.
To those who are familiar with Neil Cicierega’s work — which includes the Harry Potter Puppet Pals video series that took the web by storm in the early ’00s — the technical mastery behind the track should not come as surprising. Cicierega’s knack for bizarre mash-ups blasted onto the scene two years ago with the back-to-back releases “Mouth Sounds” and “Mouth Silence.” Each record reframed meme-associated songs in unfathomable new contexts; “Mouth Sounds” smashed “All-Star” with tracks from John Lennon’s “Imagine” to Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” while “Mouth Silence” paired Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” with equally unreasonable tunes. Virtuosic production and an unflagging sense of humor kept the would-be train wrecks from falling off the rails.
“Mouth Moods” offers the same tongue-in-cheek lip of its predecessors while taking on a voice of its own. A rolling Doobie Brothers’ groove evaporates the weighty angst of Linkin Park’s “In the End,” Angus Young’s howls go from black to laugh track when paired with Vanessa Carlton’s “One Thousand Miles,” and “Floor Corn” pops all the steam out of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” by smothering it in the groove of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn.” The silliness of the record would wear thin on a listener’s ears if it didn’t sound so good; Cicierga’s already great production has evolved from great to masterful on his new record.
There’s even something for those who like their mood a little dimmer and their music a little: Zimmer. In the sonic space above “T.I.M.E.” from the “Inception” soundtrack, Cicierga masterfully unravels the vocals from The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” While this approach may on paper read like an odd and unfunny joke, the track manages to reveal a desperation and loneliness in The Village People’s lyrics that simply doesn’t come across in the original version. Of all the tracks on “Mouth Moods,” “T.I.M.E.” is most worth each minute spent listening.
Neil Cicierega’s mouth-related mash-up series is worthy both of sonic snacking and full-blown feasting. In a world where glum, humorless art is often declared the cream of the crop, “Mouth Moods” offers a healthy helping of tasteful, tantalizing treats. Music critics and casual listeners alike can gather round its table. As a free download, the fun is for everyone; thankfully, the music is too.
Artist: Neil Cicierega
Album: “Mouth Moods.”
Tracks: “ACVC,” “Tiger,” “T.I.M.E.,” “Wow Wow”
If you like: Fun