Music

Looking at: Neil Cicierega’s Mouth Moods

You might not be familiar with Neil Ciciegera’s name but if you spent any time on the internet through the mid to late 00’s then you’ll probably be familiar with some of his projects. The Potter Puppet Pals was one of his. The surreal Animutations series which, along with Don Hertzfeldt’s Rejected, we can track the clear influence of on the viral videos produced in the years following. He also got a band, Lemon Demon, whose music falls into that same offbeat territory as the rest of his work. He is, in his own quiet way, one of the founders of the modern internet, his work embodying and capitalising upon the internet’s specific talent in media propagation.

On January 23rd he released the third full length mashup album under his own name: Mouth Moods, the successor to his 2012 releases, Mouth Sounds and it’s prequel Mouth Silence. These aren’t really traditional mashups, traditional mashups don’t have the obsession with Smash Mouth’s All Star that these records exhibit. Over a third of the tracks in Mouth Moods sample the track in some way. Cicierga is bringing to the table his background as an internet comedian to inform the creation of these albums.

I’m going to use internet comedy here as a specific term outside of traditional comedy. Bear in mind that traditional comedy can exist in an internet setting. Traditional forms, sitcoms, sketch comedy, stand up, satire all are produced for internet audiences, however they are not defined by their presence online. Internet comedy is defined by its possession of a contradictory nature that is inherently irreducible in other forms of comedy. Namely, the fact that a subject possesses a permanent nature while simultaneously being easily reproducible and alterable without any form of monetary commitment. Once an artefact is on the internet, the information that it is comprised of is forever captured. So, an altered work can easily be created without affecting the composition of the original in any way.

This leads to a culture of infinite reproducible, this then becomes a culture that finds itself adept at demolishing meaning. This can be seen in the ever decreasing lifetime of specific instances of jokes, take 2016’s Fish Meme, a still from an episode of the television show Spongebob Squarepants showing a a fish giving a disapproving look while eating a burger. Important to the context of this joke is that it propagated on a subforum of the popular internet website called me_irl. The rules of the forum allow the joke teller to post any picture, however, it has to be titled ‘me_irl’ (a contraction of the phrase, ‘me, in real life’). The picture then, becomes the punchline to the setup that the content of the picture supposedly represents the true nature of its creator.

Fish Meme was a popular fixture of the forum for just over two months, over which time an original punchline became increasingly elusive as the number of emotional states that had not been conveyed by the image narrowed. Eventually, Fish Meme became so all consuming that, the image was utilised to comment on its own popularity. By the end whatever intention the image was intended to convey had been lost in a mire of repetition and self-reference. You are unlikely to see the Fish Meme on the forum today.

bitch im da best
Fish Meme (with caption)

With Mouth Moods, Ciciergea takes this as his baseline. Mashup as a musical tradition takes the meaning implied by music’s signifiers, the genre, artist, tone and lyrical content; and, through the interpolation and juxtaposition of the tracks sampled creates new meaning. Mouth Moods explores what becomes of mashup when the sampled tracks are the equivalent of the joke repeated into meaninglessness. To do this, Cicierega chooses to sample almost exclusively from extremely popular tracks, radio hits of the late nineties and early 2000s, those which would have been listened to a lot by his target audience.

Those which occur throughout the album most often, the aforementioned All Star, Oasis’ Wonderwall and Barenaked Ladies’ One Week are all tracks that have in recent years been the butt of jokes regarding their overexposure. All are played in their entirety (One Week, twice, in a row, on two consecutive tracks.) The result of this is that rather than containing an inherent meaning, the samples are defined by the listener’s relationship to the original work.

In this sense then, in disassembling and rearranging the stems of music defined by its popularity the act of the remix represents not a creation of meaning, but instead its destruction. Tracks instead of forming collaborative statements become deliberately oppositional ones. Album opener, The Starting Line liberalises this conflict by being comprised of only the opening musical phrases of over a dozen songs, each vying for attention. Later tracks do this too on a more direct level: Busta layers the lyrics of TLC’s No Scrubs over the instrumental of Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven, Mouth Pressure does the same with All Star and Queen & David Bowie’s Under Pressure.

The compositions here are bare, often the sampled tracks are played in their entirety, Cicierega choosing to deliberately augment his statement on meaningless repetition by inviting the listener to once again listen to the sampled work. This is taken even further on Bustin’ which exclusively samples Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters, if only to make a series of ghost sex jokes. Alternately, his mixes are filled with the endless repetition of non-art, an infomercial about a computer with a 300MB hard drive, TV and advert theme songs, structured to emphasise the undermine the compositions they play against.

Fun, and funny, Mouth Moods is a great meditation on the meaninglessness borne out by repetition. It’s a great listen too, find it here: 

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