Neil Cicierega makes magic out of nostalgic pop hits


By Cole Altmayer, entertainment editor
Oh, familiarity — you’re both the bane and the delicacy of a music fan.
If an album is too familiar sounding, if it wears its influences on its sleeves, there is usually a very polarizing reaction among listeners: you get one camp screaming that it’s derivative and another claiming it’s a welcome revival of whatever type of music it’s emulating.
But there is a certain comfort that comes with listening to music of yesteryear that not even the most groundbreaking modern music can replicate. And by the music of yesteryear, I’m not talking about the kind of stuff that my dad listens to; I’m talking about the kind of music that was playing on the radio way back in my middle school days.
I’m not implying, however, that that music is any good. In fact, most of it is schlock. But even schlock can have nostalgic value, and Neil Cicierega’s newest mash-up album effort “Mouth Moods” takes the worst offenders of nostalgia-pop and stitches them together to make energetic pop monstrosities. It’s something that feels totally new, but yet wholly familiar at the same time.
One of the most important things to understand about Cicierega’s music is that he is equal parts comedian and musician: he’s also known as the mastermind behind such Youtube classics as Potter Puppet Pals and the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. Many tracks off of “Mouth Moods,” as well as his previous mash-up albums “Mouth Sounds” and “Mouth Silence,” are presented as tongue-in-cheeks expeditions into how ridiculous a mash-up remix can get, almost as if Cicierega picked two one-hit-wonders out of a hat and created a masterpiece out of them.
The Doobie Brothers and Linkin Park are two bands on the complete opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but Cicierega combines them in such a way that can only be described as effortless in “The End,” hilariously juxtaposing teen angst melodrama with a sunshine pop piano melody. The aptly named “The Starting Line” kicks off the album with a medley of the most obnoxious opening lines from radio hits: everything from the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” to “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas.
“The Starting Line” is one of Cicierega’s most complex remixes and perfectly showcases the growth of musical confidence and mastery he has mustered since his last mash-up release, “Mouth Silence.” Out of these three albums, “Moods” is by far the most consistent, with the least amount of failed experiments or unnatural mash-ups.
Almost every song on “Moods” had me rolling, each with a special moment where the two (or more) songs being remixed together all click and sync up perfectly and unravel before my ears.
Wallspin” possibly has the most notable moment of triumph on the entire album, opening with the familiar chords of “Wonderwall” by Oasis. But before long, Cicierega pulls the tablecloth out from under it, and the gentle guitar morphs into the fierce synthesizer riff of “You Spin Me Right Round” by Dead or Alive.
The track “Bustin” isn’t even a mash-up, instead a reworking of the classic Ghostbusters theme song by Ray Parker Jr. that is a venture into the musical uncanny valley. Rather than completely gut the instrumentals, Cicierega elects to change the lyrics and melody ever so slightly; there are long awkward pauses without lyrics, and the classic synth line seems to go on for a weirdly long time. Also, lyrics are swapped around aggressively, turning a song that was once about ghost busting into the ravings of mad man “who ain’t afraid of no bed!” It’s probably the funniest song on “Moods,” in all of its surreal glory.
Despite the cohesion and consistency of the album compared to previous efforts, “Moods” does make a few missteps near the end of the album, with “Stand By Meme” being the only real stinker on the tracklist. It’s a pretty basic mash-up of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, but it feels more like a throwaway track than the rest of the remixes, especially since “One Week” was also used in its entirety in the far superior previous track, “Smooth.”
Cicierega is a master of this game at this point and has risen as one of the most prominent mash-up artists due to his “Mouth” series. “Mouth Moods” is only proof that he’s only honing his weirdly specific ear for harmony even further, and that he can quite literally take two wrongs and make something that feels so, so right.
Cole’s favorite tracks: The End, Wallspin, Wow Wow, Bustin, Dear Dinosaur