Arts & Culture

Mouth Dreams: Internet Pranks Elevated to Art

Danny Reinan, news editor

If you’ve ever been on the internet, chances are you’ve seen one of Neil Cicierega’s creations. Although he often isn’t acknowledged by name, he’s been posting wild art and comedic works online for nearly 20 years, ranging from quirky – like his Spirit Phone and View-Monster albums – to unapologetically off-the-wall – like Potter Puppet Pals and The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

Cicierega’s Mouth mashup albums fall into the latter category. Their tracks give listeners whiplash, beginning with a familiar song and then pulling a bait-and-switch by mashing it up with an unexpected source. Cicierega somehow makes certified bangers out of ludicrous combinations like Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” or The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and a ‘90s news voiceover warning of the dangers of Pokemon. It seems like listeners should be privy to Cicierega’s tricks after hearing him reinvent Smash Mouth’s “All Star” for the tenth time, but he manages to keep each song fresh, and this holds true in his most recent release, Mouth Dreams, which dropped in September.

Although Cicierega tends towards the same bait-and-switch tactics that he used in previous Mouth albums, he’s refined his craft in the three years since Mouth Moods. One area of growth in Mouth Dreams is his seamless sentence mixing. In some tracks, the sentence mixing adds to the feeling of the song being “familiar but wrong” – like in “Mouth Dreams (Intro),” which disarms with the opening notes to the Twilight Zone opening, only for the narrator to tell listeners that they are moving into “A dimension of sound, a dimension of mouth, a dimension of another dimension.” In others, it contributes to the humor of a song, like in “Aammoorree,” where Dean Martin’s increasingly slurred and distorted words reveal that he has “had too much wine.” Each mixed up sentence sounds like it was uttered from the person it was sourced from, which only adds to their unnerving feeling.

One of the most standout tracks on Mouth Dreams, “Ribs,” revels in the absurdity of its disparate components. The song begins with the Chili’s “Baby Back Ribs” jingle, before laying the instrumental from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” underneath it. Just when listeners get accustomed to this strange combination, Marilyn Manson’s scratchy growls off of “The Beautiful People” kick in, granting the song a sinister edge – before that, too, is undercut by the wails off of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” creating a combination that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. I could break down every song’s elements in this way, but to reveal more of the album’s secrets would be spoiling the surprise. 

The first listen of Mouth Dreams is unforgettable, keeping listeners oscillating between joy, bewilderment and frustration as they wait to see what sorts of classic songs Cicierega will turn into punchlines. Because the album is so reliant on surprises, you can never have quite the same experience of raucous whiplash on repeat listens, but you can always relive that first listen by sending it to an unsuspecting friend and basking in the sentiment of “Thanks, I hate it.” 

Mouth Dreams is a brilliant shake-up to the monotony of quarantine, keeping listeners on their toes and waiting for each wild twist, whether they’re new to Cicierega’s work or familiar with his tricks.