November 13th, 2008

operesque

More reviews, the Dracula song, and Kyoka

Sorry to be all Joemus all the time these days, but it is kind of exciting to be getting feedback from my first new album in two years. We now have the first two real reviews of Joemus, in the form of The Boston Phoenix and the Dusted musiczine. Dusted even has a Flash-streaming file of the entire Dracula song, my duet with Onpa Records artist Kyoka.

For Gustavo Turner at the Boston Phoenix I'm "the Harry Smith of Nintendo" (a phrase which rather pleases me, though it's Hisae who spends all day prospecting for talent in Animal Crossing):

"Joemus finds him collaborating with Joe Howe, the Glasgow breakbeat manipulator behind Germlin and Gay Against You. Howe here plays the same role Currie assigned to Fashion Flesh for his three previous records: adding several layers of distortion and assorted digital wobbling to the singer's urbane chansons. As in that recent trilogy, the results are mixed, though the usual lyrical puns and jokes have given way to Kool Keith–style nonsense ("Mr. Proctor") and a very noticeable melancholy. The one track where Momus doesn't hide behind the lo-tech electro wizardry of his collaborator, the possibly unironic "The Man You'll Never Be," reminds us of his deserved reputation as a master of traditional song form, a cosmopolitan Stephin Merritt. That track leads into the West End mimicry of "The Vaudevillian," which adds one last layer of greasepaint to Momus's polymorphous career."

Casey Rae-Hunter's Dusted review is worth quoting in its entirety:

"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 1998 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."

Listen to the Dracula track here. We really ought to make a video for this song of a vampire who'd rather "lie here in my coffin drinking coffee, doing nothing or watching TV" than bite the necks of naked girls. Oh, and there's now a page of Joemus lyrics and videos.