Mouth Dreams, as reviewed by the panic attacks it gave me

Posted by brilokuloj on Jun 10, 2023

Neil Cicierega, also known by his band name Lemon Demon, is an internet sensation. In my opinion, he’s the internet sensation, because he and his friends basically shaped the internet as we know it today.

It’s hard to avoid his influence online, whether your feelings are positive or negative. That’s why when he released Mouth Dreams in 2020, it changed the trajectory of my life – for the worse or the better, I cannot say.

Mouth Dreams is the newest in his series of inexplicably Shrek-themed mashup albums, alongside Mouth Sounds, Mouth Silence, and Mouth Moods. You may remember Mouth Dreams as a funny novelty, or if you have a sense of chronological linearity not marred by trauma, you might even remember it as one of the few enjoyable things to come out of 2020. Unfortunately, I remember it solely as one of the largest and longest panic attacks I have ever had.

Today, I am here to take you on a tour of exactly what happened to me on the evening of September 30, 2020.


1) Yahoo

Let me set the scene.

The year is 2020. It is the last day of September, only a mere day after the worst presidential debate ever aired on live television.

I have been dealing with panic attacks for a few weeks by now, though I don’t know that’s what they are. In June, I finally succumbed to trying Weed Marijuana Marijuana Weed as a potential treatment for my pandemic-worsened anxiety disorder, only to have a psychotic break so deep that I invented a new medical disorder – Exploding Knee Syndrome – based on a vivid delusion I was having that I had definitely absolutely seen the disorder listed as a lethal side effect of marijuana on Psychonaut Wiki.

In fact, I was just having panic attacks, and I had reached the age where having muscle spasms were also going to make my bad knee hurt. But I don’t know that yet. As far as I’m concerned, sometimes I am having a completely normal day, and then I am writhing on the bed in horrific agony for an hour, and then I sleep.

The news drops: Neil Cicierega has released a new mashup album. This one is ‘Mouth Dreams’.

I am a mental wreck, the living mental equivalent of a piece of soaked tissue paper being squozen and re-rinsed over and over. But hey, Neil is fun, right? And my wife wants to listen to it. So I’m listening to it with her and writing my thoughts on it over Discord.

Yahoo-oo!

The most I can bring myself to say is “Stranger Things theme song” and a pensive cowboy emoji.

2) Mouth Dreams (Intro)

I consider, briefly, if I am not feeling up to the task of listening to a full-length album by Neil fucking Cicierega. I had another panic attack just the other day, while trying to read the long-awaited 20020 by Jon Bois – I mean, 17776 was one of my favorite works of fiction ever, why would I not want to read the sequel? And why would I not want to listen to Neil Cicierega?

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Behind it is another door. This door is another dimension, a dimension of sound. A dimension of imagination. A dimension of doors. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas and substance of both shadow and ideas of things and…

I start to feel sick.

The recent presidential debate may have been one of the worst things I have ever witnessed on live television. Paula had insisted on tuning in, despite my apprehensions – something about the way they spoke to each other, frantically and cutting each other off, was enough to trigger a fragile part of my brain that was now convinced I was listening to my parents argue. I curled up on the bed and spasmed, blanket over my body, which now felt like it was freezing as my temperature rapidly dropped.

3) Spongerock

Things are already coming apart for me. The last time I had thought about SpongeBob was the last time I was hyperfixating on the fucking SpongeBob SquarePants musical, a time I enjoyed, but also one of the last times I had managed to get a group of friends together to do a single task. Am I having fun? I don’t know. Things sting.

“THE CHILDREN ARE BEING TORTURED,” I urgently message Paula. She disregards this message, but does admit that the album is already starting to get to her.

The debate would go on to be criticized by journalists everywhere. CNN called it “a shitshow”; “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”; “the single worst debate I have ever covered in my two decades of doing this job”. I wondered if I was the only person who hated it so much, so I found myself going to PTSD-related subreddits, just to see other people confirming they were also terrified and triggered.

4) Just a Baby

My stomach is hurting by now – the telltale sign of an oncoming panic attack.

I hear the train a comin’
I hear that railroad train
It's probably a good train
My mama was a train
But I'm stuck in baby prison
I know I can't be free
I hang my head and pee

At this point I reference a person we both happen to know, who is always insisting that his friends call him a baby for some reason. It’s an affectionate joke now, but it will become strained later, and I think we both already know it. We laugh – a stifled, uncomfortable laugh. The baby joke keeps going, and going, and going.

My panic disorder has already taken its toll on my friendships. I can’t do basic hangouts because I get terrified of movies. What will the next scene contain? I have become convinced that any work of media has the capacity to contain screamers.

5) Superkiller

I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me, 'cause my bed's on fire

The sentence mixing has already gotten under my skin. This is a song I know very well, but it is being systematically destroyed. I have no idea what the next word is going to be. I can’t sing along. My stomach hurts and my bed’s on fire.

I am trying to keep listening, because I happen to know at this point that my friends are watching a stream where some very popular Twitch person is listening to it, and therefore if I have to take a break, I am going to miss out on the experience of pretending that I was listening to it with them.

We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when their bed's on fire

Yeah, no, I can’t do this.


FIRST INTERMISSION

A toilet in a decrepit bathroom.

I go to the bathroom. I am very sick.

I scroll on my phone. Other people are talking about it. I have no idea what they are talking about. I close out of my apps. I shit furiously, like my stomach is trying to empty out the entire contents of my body in order to make me fast enough to outrun God.

I am in the bathroom for 22 minutes.

Later I will find it fascinating that this is the standardized average length of a cartoon episode. Imagine tuning into Bob’s Burgers and he’s just shitting, his knees pulled up to his chest, shivering and scrolling on his phone and occasionally dry heaving.


6) Get Happy

I stumble back to the computer. Paula asks me if I’m OK. I struggle to say, sure, whatever. It’s been half an hour and I’ve already missed out on whatever shared experience I could have possibly had but I know I’m going to have to get this stupid thing over with so we just do it.

Come on, get happy
We’ll make you happy
Come on, get happy
We’ll make you happy

How could I have known?

Come on, get happy
We’ll make you happy
Come on, get happy
We’ll make you happy

7) Ribs

The 2020 election, in retrospect, was genuinely one of the worst events of my life. I know it wasn’t the first panic attack I had that year – that honor would go to my first time smoking way too much weed – but it would go on to completely destroy my brain and leave me a husk of myself. I could not explain to any of my friends what was happening to me, for a great deal of them had become solipsistic navel-gazers, more obsessed with “self care” through Lush products than maintaining any of the community we had worked so hard to build. But who can blame them, really?

These are the thoughts my brain is having at this point. I have not realized yet that this is a song about Marilyn Manson sucking his own dick.

The beautiful people, the beautiful people
It's all relative to the size of your steeple
You can't see the forest for the trees
You can't smell your own knees... Chili's Baby Back Ribs!

Paula theorizes that babies are a subtheme of this album. I reluctantly agree.

8) My Mouth

My mouth is set on overdrive
My mouth is laughing in my face
A crooked spine
A crooked skull
Past the point of delirium

I love Green Day. This is the first one to get a not-uncomfortable laugh out of me. It’s funny!

9) Aerolong

Paula doesn’t recognize either songs here, so she’s completely lost. I recognize the vocals, but don’t care for it much. My lungs are letting me breathe again.

10) Sleepin'

Sleepin' with my clothes on
Sleepin' with my clothes on, and I'm
Sleepin' with my clothes on
Sleepin' with my clothes on

Sleepin’ with my clothes on. That’s something I can do.

Things start to feel okay. I think I can make it through, but at this point, I’ve already resigned to this being something I will have to merely survive.

11) Aammoorree

What the hell is this?

“Italian overdose,” Paula says.

“Okay, this is Animutation levels of stupid,” I say.

Bells

“BELLS?”

We go back and forth on this for a bit. BELLS?

That’s aammoorree…

Fear floods my body once again. What is happening? I genuinely begin to wonder if I am starting to hallucinate. This is, to my poor brain, unprecedented levels of audio fuckery from the Mouth series. It must be an invention of my mind. Maybe I’ve entered a dimension of doors, a dimension of Mouth.

Even Paula admits she’s uncomfortable. Does she mean that, or is she trying to placate me?

12) Where Is My Mom

Stop.

“Oh thangk god it stopped,” I sloppily type –

– only to be flung into a mashup of two songs from my preteen years. My stomach starts to hurt worse.

13) Fredhammer

“What is that instrumental?” I ask. “Sounds like… uh… I think I used to like this one.”

“It sounds familiar,” Paula agrees.

I don’t know that it’s Peter Gabriel. I have no idea that a year later I will get way too into Peter Gabriel, and this song will be to blame.

Fredhammer is a light in the darkness. In retrospect, I agree that the previous song is not as triggering as I was worried it would be, since it was just too stupid.

The usage of the word ‘cookie’ in this song tickles me for some reason. Paula and I go back and forth quoting a YouTube Poop we watched ages ago that had the word ‘cookie’ in it.

14) Limp Wicket

I have no idea what is happening in this one, but Paula does. She stops to explain to me the significance of Yub Nub, which she describes as “the first time Star Wars became stupid”.

“This is what nerds trying to talk to me about Star Wars sounds like to me,” I say.

It is funny. I laugh.

15) Cannibals

“Chillout music,” Paula says.

I’m enjoying myself. “I’ve always wanted an album full of that kind of sound.”

The THX theme starts.

Will: AHHHHHHH
Will: NO
Will: NO NO NO NO NO NO
Paula: BEING ATTACKED BY THE SCARIEST LOGOS IN HISTORY
Will: NO NO NO THIS IS A NIGHTMARE TO ME
Will: FUCK
Will: Okay panic may return
Paula: WE ARE IN THE THX HELL DOME
Will: I'm okay. I'm okay
Paula: You love it. You love THX. You love this.
Paula: HAPPY :)
Paula: I did not know you were scared of the THX theme.
Paula: You're gonna be okay.
Will: FUCK

SECOND INTERMISSION

The same toilet as before. There is a screaming skull edited into the corner.

I do not remember the path from my bedroom to the bathroom. I merely teleport directly in, back on my phone, watching my friends have fun behind a glass barrier I cannot break.

I begin to wonder if I have ever had solace, a moment of peace, even once in my life. Will things ever get easier for me? Or will they continue to get harder and harder, scarier and scarier, until the scariness completely engulfs me, and I become a creature of fear, a shrew cowering and beeping in a corner?

I have no idea how bad things will get.

I cannot guess how low my body temperature is. I grow paranoid that I am going to freeze to death. The contents of my stomach are doing a pirouette. I want it to end. I can do no more of this.

I am in the bathroom for 40 minutes.


16) The Outsiders

I stumble back into the bedroom. My brain is completely wiped.

“What is even going on at this point?” Paula asks.

“Gonna assume they’re already listing fake things,” I say as soon as he lists Sodapop, a real character from The Outsiders.

Clamshell particularly amuses me.

17) Johnny

We both boo this one.

18) Closerflies

“It’s fucking Closer,” I say. The vocals kick in – “OH MY GOD.”

“He read your brain and put the ekg into the machine and this came out,” Paula says, knowing fully well these are two songs I enjoy on completely opposite ends of some sort of binary. (Rollercloser is one of my favorite songs, period.)

“God, this does NOT work. I’m sure that’s the joke.” I admit to myself that I’m mildly disappointed by this one, as if I expected more quality from a mashup of Nine Inch Nails and Owl City.

The extended ‘jar’ prompts us both to make a Rainbow Dash joke. Sorry.

19) Nightmovin'

NIGHTMARE

I fucking love Avenged Sevenfold. I am enjoying myself a little bit.

20) Whitehouse

I am already mad that the last song ended too soon, so I am quietly fuming.

I spend most of this song explaining to Paula some theories about the causes of my panic attacks – which, again, I don’t know what they are. My leading theory at this moment is that I have some sort of stomach disorder. This is a vast improvement over my previous theory, which was that my brain was trying to commit suicide by shutting down all of my basic functions.

As for the THX sound, I have no idea what to make of that. I didn’t think the THX sound was a trigger for me. I mean, it used to scare me as a kid, because I was really sensitive to loud noises. But it doesn’t scare me now. Or maybe I’m just overcompensating for that I am scared of it, by pretending that I’m not? I have no idea anymore.

21) Wah

“THIS IS ASSAULT,” I say.

22) Pee Wee Inc

“I AM TRAPPED ON A ROLLERCOASTER, LET ME OFF,” I say with newfound urgency.

Paula and I start sending “HAPPY :)” back and forth again, something we were doing during Get Happy. We will continue to do this for the rest of our lives whenever we are stressed, another one of Mouth Dreams’ lasting imprints on my life. I send her another cry for help, one which is sadly relevant to the album’s themes: “2020 is a dream, I want to wake up.”

23) 10,000 Spoons

“Less than 10 minutes to go,” Paula says.

It brings me a small amount of comfort. “Oh thank God, I’m so close to being off of this nightmare.”

Neither of us are sure: “WHAT IS A CIGARETTE WIFE?”

We send another round of “HAPPY :)” to each other.

24) Mouth Dreams (Extro)

“And so begins the end.”

“Ohh God. Genuinely afraid.”

25) Birthoven

“Like what the fuck, is he just throwing a bunch of random shit at the end here?”

26) Ain't

“Wrestle with Jimmy,” I say, feeling the last of my soul leave my body – like stench escaping a Tupperware full of rotting lasagna. It’s ending.

The End

I send no more messages to the Discord. My brain begins to shut itself off in a last-minute effort to save myself from any further poison. It’s over. I am flooded with a sickening sense of relief.

I tell my friends that I listened to it. They are already discussing the easter eggs, pulling it apart. People are discussing the instrumental of Nightmovin’, which I guess was the most obscure reference for whatever reason.

One of my friends mentions that he was having fun watching it on that Twitch stream run by the popular person. They had formed some sort of in-joke with a baby emoji. I feel crushed like a fucking soda can, profoundly upset that I couldn’t have gotten my intestines to settle down for 60 fucking minutes just to be a part of something with my friends. I do not know yet that part of the reason I am so upset is because I have a crush on him, and that I am profoundly touch-starved, and that later we will enter a committed relationship. I think I am crying.

Later, I will find myself wondering, why? Why was this the only form of companionship we had left for ourselves in 2020? This wasn’t Neil Cicierega’s fault, Mouth Dreams was hardly unique in this way; every single work of media released was another round of pretending that media consumption is a meaningful substitute for friendship, excluding people on the basis of if they had consumed the work fast enough within the literally minutes-long window of time that it was relevant.

I will have to unpack 2020 for probably the rest of my entire life. And sometimes, it will feel like I am the only one who feels this way, that everyone else was having fun listening to podcasts and watching streamers or whatever the hell it is that normal people do, while I was busy shitting and crying. But truthfully, I have to choose to imagine that everyone felt that way, that everyone had their own personal toilet hellscape they chose not to talk about for it was simply too humiliating to share.

But for now, I have woken up from my terrible, terrible Mouth Nightmare.

Categories: music life

Tagged: 2020 adulting anxiety mouth dreams neil cicierega