Museum Mouth - Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Museum Mouth

Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig (2016)

Rory Records

                The latest release from Museum Mouth, Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig, comes after vocalist and lyricist Karl Kueken’s father passed away following the band’s appearance at FEST and he moved back home to a small town in North Carolina. The album progresses their sound, finding them writing some of the louder and more intricate songs of their career. Lyrically it focuses on the revelations Kueken would arrive at after moving back home again at age twenty-four.

The album opener, “Bugeyed,” is a fairly soft acoustic number that bring to mind the calmer moments of Daniel Johnston’s early nineties output if only in its stylistic approach. As someone who lives in a mid-sized Midwestern city and grew up in a decent sized outlying suburb of that city, when Kueken sang, “Don’t worry about your fiction life,” it was a relatable moment for me. Two years ago at my ten year high school reunion, people were far more concerned about tangible accomplishments related to things like benefits at work and other quantifiable measures of success. It’s not the place you talk about writing for a music website, and it will assumedly not be the place I talk about my time as a member of the local slam poetry scene when it comes time for the twenty year reunion. Those things are what I would consider a “fiction life” because they aren’t readily explained to people you grew up with. And even when they are, you’re more likely to be met with questions concerning financial compensation for your work, rather than a genuine interest in where they can see your work.

The band does have the ability to write catchy riffs too, as evidenced on “Riff from My Head” where you’re sucked in by mid-tempo pop punk guitar melody before the vocals even kick in. With Keuken using lines like “you were my dream boy, my straight crush from hell” and “I used to want to ride my bike off a cliff, now I just want to smash some shit,” it becomes instantly obvious he’s not one to utilize a mind bending metaphor if he can just say what is on his mind. While I love deep lyrics, there’s a lot to be said for taking a more direct approach. Especially, when it succeeds as well as it does on this track.

One of the strengths of this album, is the band’s ability to utilize changes in volume, speed, and stylistic approaches to pop punk and what’s best described as rock heavily influenced by early nineties alternative without changing the overall mood and tone of the album. This is best seen in songs like “Failure’s Hall of Fame” where the punch up in volume and energy during the bridge add a lot to the song dynamically speaking. It also finds another of the many great lyrics on this album when Keuken sings, “There’s no 401K at your mom’s house, just cheap champagne. You christen the couch, your final resting place.” Once again, lyrics like this aren’t going to find him listed among John Darnielle or Craig Finn anytime soon, but dammit they’re relatable for someone who lived at home until he was twenty-six.

The song “Lacquer” along with “I Scream at You When you’re not in the Room” are the most developed songs on the album. While the overall simplicity found throughout the rest of the songs is welcome and endearing, it’s always good to see a band open up and show off their chops in the fashion they do on these songs as well. While never diving into full on punk rock, the band’s loudest moments are here too, and they present an interesting stylistic departure from the rest of the album. In saying that, these tracks also made me wonder how the other songs could have been developed further. Not that they need be in order to work, but it certainly made me think of ways other songs could have been more developed.

I really enjoyed this album topically, perhaps because I can relate to the feeling of being under a microscope when you live in your hometown. I also felt like I was listening to an album released in the early nineties when the lines between punk, alternative, and indie were less defined than they are now. While there is moments on this album that lull just a bit, there are also many successes. And those shine through quite nicely. This is by no means a classic album; it’s an honest album though. Honesty is way more vital to music being good than multi-tracked studio recordings that are wrought with a songwriter overthinking ever note they and their bandmates play. Hopefully gaining the attention of Say Anything’s Max Bemis gives them the ability to continue growing their sound on future albums. In doing so, I also hope they don’t lose any of the confessional style lyrics and straight forward vocals. Because they work, and it would be a shame if they lost that as they continue to mature as a band.