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Momus - Joemus

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Artist: Momus

Album: Joemus

Label: American Patchwork

Review date: Nov. 12, 2008

There was probably never any real hope of Momus getting famous, no matter how hard (and often) he crooned for it. Yet, for a brief flash in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Scot-born Nick Currie’s mischievous music might have wormed its way into the neo-libertine consciousness of a generation exploring novel chemical compounds. Alas, lad-rock trumped pan-global bohemia, and Momus became the cult figure he was probably always destined to be.

For those unfamiliar, Momus mostly makes DIY synth-pop with vaudeville-lullaby melodies and scathing wit. His best work is what Oscar Wilde might have sounded like if he had access to cheap synthesizers and Japanese fetish mags. Currie’s 1988 classic, The Little Red Songbook, is the gold standard Momus disc, full of droll sensuality, flagrant Orientalism and a song about transsexual composer Wendy Carlos traveling back in time to marry her pre-surgery self. (The latter put Currie in legal and financial straits; he bailed himself out by asking his friends and associates to give him a $1,000 each to be immortalized in a song on his next record.)

Currie – also a journalist and long-time blogger – has, in the last decade, resided in Tokyo, New York and Berlin. Having worked with artists around the world, Momus gets an assist from a fellow Scot for his latest release, Joemus. Recorded with breakcore producer Joe Howe, the album infuses Currie’s electro-vaudeville sensibilities with a scrappy, 8-bit aesthetic. Ultimately, it’s not all that different from early Momus productions, with the exception of some modern (and deliberate) Auto Tune abuse and longer noise passages.

There are a couple of covers, including Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Thatness and Thereness,” which now plays like a love song between the HAL 9000 computer and astronaut David Bowman. “Jahwise Hammer of the Babylon King” features Currie’s trademark whisper-croon, married to Nintendo-glam beats. I can’t grok what the tune is about, but I did catch a reference to David Bowie’s “pink monkey bird” (which now “squeals” rather than “squawks,” as it did on Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”).

According to Currie, “Ichabod Crane” is “the legend of Sleepy Hollow set to music that Howard Devoto’s Magazine might have made in 1979.” This describes it pretty well, but I’d add that the blip-hop breakdown sounds like Atari Teenage Riot commissioned to provide music for an episode of Voltron.

“Dracula,” a duet between Momus and Kyoka (who may have replaced Kahimi Karie as his Electro Girl Friday) is the most irresistible song on the disc. Momus is at his best as noble predator-cad – why not take it up a notch and play the Dark Prince of seduction? Except Dracula is too old to bite necks anymore, and Kyoko is “the kind of girl who does not take rejection lying down.” Flecked with spare acoustic guitar and thunderclaps that amplify the comic-tragic narrative, the song is everything you want in a Momus tune – opaque allegory and raw emotion combined with highbrow irreverence.

Now in his late 40s, you could say Momus has entered his “baroque” period – that is, if he hadn’t always been there. Currie’s paradise of lithe Japanese women pouring him champagne atop a techno-Mount Olympus is unlikely to ever manifest. But with plenty of wag left in his hoary tail, we can expect more whore-y tales. In 1991, Currie said that, “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people.” Count me among the elite.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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