April 4th 2001
Folktronic (Le Grand Magistery)
Most people just aren't prepared to "get" what Momus does. This has been true for almost a decade, and it appears that this smooth folk singer isn't about to relinquish his "unpop" ethic anytime soon. Yes, he's obnoxiously prolific when expressing his opinions, but what's so endearing is that he always has his eyes open and seems incapable of doing otherwise.
The barrage of wit involved in this electro-folk hybrid concept album immediately catches on without being typical in any sense of the word. However, we must issue a warning: it's not accessible to the ironically challenged. What else could we hope for from someone who penned such classics as "I Was a Maoist Intellectual," "Lucky Like St. Sebastian," and "Complete History of Sexual Jealousy"? If you don't know these tunes, get the – now.
Momus, a.k.a. Nick Currie is one of the most unbearably pop culture-obsessed people in this hemisphere – possibly in both. Though he takes pains to convey this to lovers and (player) haters alike, at times the thickness of his commentary can be a bit heavy-handed. Yes, "Protestant Art" is hilarious, but it also conveys the cool prejudices that the art world currently promotes – but this is off-topic. Folktronic might be the work of an obsessed madman, but Momus was never out to please anyone but himself. Usually when he's happy, his listeners and co-conspirators are also gleeful.
The best selections here are "Tape Recorder Man," a ballad celebrating Alan Lomax's efforts to chronicle indigenous American folk music, "Finnegan the Folk Hero," a very Celtic tale of a disgruntled, but gifted (modeled in his own image?) HTML wizard who gets even with his cheap boss in a punk rock folk twist – memorize this one and sing it at the bar to your techie friends – they'll get a kick out of it, "Handheld," a somewhat auto-erotic duet between a man and his object of love (a Palm Pilot). Yes, we love our gadgets these days – and this is nothing to be ashamed of, and "Penis Song" is another one to enjoy as our protaganist sings a silly rant about the joys and follies of his member.
Momus is ace, just as he always has been. Hark countrymen – this expatriate Scotsman's observations about you might be so true as to make you squirm in your high-backed chairs. What's worse, you might enjoy the feeling of transcendental perversity that Momus purveys to the point of red-cheeked embarrassment, but is that really a bad thing?
In fact, he may be more of an inventor than a "pop" artist, as he expresses in his "Unpop" essay on his Web site: "If you're cosmopolitan, eclectic, intelligent, you're likely to be unpop. Your appeal is limited to people like yourself. Which means your fans are cosmopolitan, eclectic, intelligent too. They resemble friends rather than consumers. This is very good news if you want to have anything to do with them. And you will, believe me. The Internet will bring you and your audience closer than ever."
This is a typical Momus record – much like a note passed between friends in high school – intelligent geeks like Mr. Currie will hoot and holler listen after listen to this marvelous addition to his illustrious catalog. Appreciating Momus is, and will always be, a sign of exemplary taste.
Riverfront Times (St Louis, Missouri)
April 4th 2001
Folktronic (Le Grand Magistery)
If, as some have argued, the computer is
the new guitar, Folktronic is the perfect
soundtrack for our technophiliac age.
Once upon a time, folk musicians lived
in mountain shanties and toiled in coal
mines, cotton fields, stone quarries and
factories; these days, they might very
well be crunching code for dot-coms or,
in the case of Momus (né Nick Currie),
making satiric synth-pop records. In one
of the many long and erudite essays on
his Web site, the NYC-based Scot and
self-proclaimed "minor god of mockery"
describes the concept behind the "plastic
folk" of his new CD: "What if folk
artists started emerging who sounded
more postmodern than Cornelius or Pole?... What if you could hear today the
country music of the year 2059? What about the Japanese music of 2049?"
For answers to these questions, you need look no further than the 20 tracks on Folktronic, futuristic genre-fucks every one. "Appalachia" is a buzzy, baroque romp about an "electronic mountain girl." "Smooth Folk Singer" is a greasy blues shuffle ("the way you folk's gonna drive the world wild") propelled by a primitive drum machine and an obnoxious Casio. In "Mountain Music," banjos duke it out with synthesizers as the singer name-checks Johnny Cash, Dylan, Beck and Grand Ole Oprah Winfrey. "Finnegan the Folk Hero," which lifts the melody from Hank Williams' "Lost Highway," celebrates the heroic feats and untimely death of a Web designer, martyred like a latter-day John Henry, Steel-Driving Man. Elsewhere, we find a spirited defense of the teenage emperor Heliogabalus, a vaudevillian tribute to Momus' penis (recently immortalized by Cynthia Plaster Caster) and an imagined altercation with folk-music archivist Alan Lomax. Make no mistake: Like most concept albums, Folktronic is a profoundly geeky exercise.
Unlike his peer and sometime collaborator Stephin Merritt, Momus is seldom capital-R Romantic. His touch is clinical, not sentimental, and he tends to aim for the gray matter instead of the gut. Despite these brainiac tendencies, his songs can be quite moving in their own freakish way. On Folktronic's closest approximation to a love song, the strange and beautiful "Handheld," a Macintosh sings a tender ode to its "favorite human device" -- "Recharge this little cell, my heart," it trills, tentative, metallic, endearingly imperfect. According to Momus, "It took a whole day for me to get the computer to sing its one-verse cameo, but it's worth the work. For me, it's a song that marks the moment when we pass the baton to artificial life forms of our own making and salute them as our equals. And where there's equality, there can be love."
René Spencer Saller
Time Out (London, England)
March 21st 2001
Folktronic (Analog Baroque)
Momus, aka arch Scottish propagandist Nick Currie, has averaged an album a year in the 16 years since his first release. Since 1995's 'The Philosophy Of Momus' the more offbeat works have been the most immediately attractive, in the same way that director David Lynch's 'The Elephant Man' is atypical of his quirky output but accessible and affecting. Thus 'Slender Sherbet', Currie's reworkings of earlier tracks, '20 Vodka Jellies', a collection of rarities (not forgetting the 'patronage pop' of 'Stars Forever', whose subjects each paid 850 euros to be (im)mortalised -- all proceeds towards a legal bill).
Happily, 'Folktronic' is Momus' 'The Straight Story', his best 'proper' product in a long time. He mainly discards the confines of the Analog Baroque style -- 'harpsichords, brevity, analog synths, wit' -- for a mixed musical bag: 'Little Apples' is like 'Flashdance' played through a drainpipe and accompanied by yodelling, 'Robocowboys' is Gary Numan's best in a while, while the synth line from 'Folk Me Amadeus' is the ghost of 'The Final Countdown'.
Lyrically 'Folktronic', subtitled 'The Album Of The Nasdaq Crash At The End Of The Electronic Goldrush', establishes the waspish agit-popster as the e-laureate of the internet age. 'Finnegan the Folk Hero' celebrates the web designer, 'Jarre in Hicksville' has the synth hero captivating hillbillies with his son et lumiere show, 'Handheld' is a duet with a Palm Pilot. And David Lynch would love 'Psychopathia Sexualis', the catchiest song you'll hear about bondage, bestiality, paedophilia and necrophilia.
Q Magazine (UK)
Folktronic (Analog Baroque)
15 years on, Album Number 16 from Del Amitri's singer's cousin.
A compulsive wind-up merchant, Nicholas Currie's also such a smart-ass he based this album on his New York art show that imagined a fictional mountain country where electronic instruments are the natural medium for folk music. The plinking, banjo-bouncing music that results sounds like John Shuttleworth borrowing a Moog for the weekend, but Currie's talent to amuse doesn't falter. Songs such as Protestant Art and Folk Me Amadeus are hillbilly technopop rich in perplexity and deadpan mirth (as is The Penis Song, a self-deprecating portrait of the artist as subject of Cynthia Plaster Caster). As with everything he does, it's as authentic as a Japanese pearly king. Hooray for his decadent art. (***)
March 2nd 2001
Analog Baroque / Cherry Red
Nick "Momus" Currie is the combined Coward, Lehrer, Flanders & Swann of pop, a self-styled "minor god of mockery" whose vast back catalogue offers witty, trenchant -- and often profound -- commentary on the passing show of popular culture and lifestyle options.
Folktronic features his speculative musings about a parallel culture in which synthesiser pop performs the function of folk music -- one where "Johnny Cash meets Casio"; where roots-music archivist Alan Lomax bristles at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival being invaded not by folk-rock but by "folk musique concrete "; and where an "electronic mountain-girl" is serenaded in alternating passages of synth pop and Walter Carlos-style electro-classicism.
Momus's restless imagination adds extra layers of absurd speculation and arcane reference. Thus, alongside droll pastiches of prog-rock bombast, Numanoid cyber-pop and the epic trance of Jean-Michel Jarre, one gets little song-lectures about Heliogabalus, website designers, US knitwear retailing, Protestant attitudes to art, and "everything you didn't want to know about [Momus's] penis", before ending with his treatment of artificial intelligence in terms of Pygmalion.
February 2nd 2001
[Le Grand Magistery]
Momus, avant-creep and master of the gimmick album, decides it's time there
was a record that both Arlo Guthrie and Autechre fans could enjoy. Didn't make
These days, it seems the inhuman aspect of technology
is approaching status as a central theme within rock
music. It's pretty logical, too-- music and technology
have always been closely intertwined, from the
development of the pianoforte in the early 18th century
to the work of 20th century pioneers like Karlheinz
Stockhausen and Robert Moog. Though technology has
certainly allowed musicians to expand their sonic
palettes, it seems many are eager to turn on it in varying capacities, ranging from
the all-out attack of shitty industrial music to more subtle protests, such as the
insistence on using crusty old recording equipment.
But Momus (aka Nick Currie) has never been a follower. Over the course of his
career, he's gone from guitar-based folk music to unadulterated synth-pop to
"analog baroque." And through all this, he's still found time to have a plaster cast of
his penis made for display at a New York gallery, and write top-selling songs for
Japan's favorite kinky little girl, Kahimi Karie.
With his latest album, Momus seems to have brewed together all the elements of his
musical history-- including his oft-discussed member-- into the crazy, glitchy
electro-folk record that he has christened Folktronic. And while, at times, Momus
constructs a bitingly clever post-modern take on folk music, Folktronic has an
unfortunate tendency to choke on its own concept, rendering the album a bit hard to
"Finnegan the Folk Hero" is the greatest success on the album-- a witty, entertaining
update of a classic theme. The song presents the tale of Finnegan, an HTML wiz
who's forced into obscurity by lack of pay, set against a backdrop of cheap Casio
keyboards and drum machines. Musically, as well as lyrically, the song has roots in
folk music; it's part western, part sea shanty. Momus' cheesy instrumentation
somehow compliments the music perfectly, and the result is just the kind of clever
enhanced-folk Momus was aiming for.
"Appalachia" is another, more eclectic example of Folktronic at its best, taking the
timeless subject of the "Appalachian mountain girl," and placing her in a world of
hyperactive drum machines, digital fuzz, and distorted baroque synthesizers. The
lyrics are not quite as clever as those of "Finnegan," but are none the less palatable,
and fit the Folktronic theme nicely. Further kudos go to Momus for the closing the
album with three songs written for Kahimi Karie's Journey to the Centre of Me EP:
"Lady of Shallot," "Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan," and the awesomely
fucked-up Brechtian "Pygmalism." Not only are these perhaps the strongest songs
Momus has ever penned, but they also seem to fit into the record's conceptual mold
Sadly, many of Momus' other stabs at the "Folktronic" genre fall flat. "Mountain
Music," a song based on a comment made by Johnny Cash about Beck having "that
mountain music in him," wants to be a clever commentary on the way technology has
changed access to different genres of music. Here, though, Momus gets a bit caught
up in the idea, incessantly dropping names of persons (Massive Attack, Beck, and
the late electronic innovator Bruce Haack, among others), and devices (the Rio MP3
player) alike. Though for the majority of the track, Momus pummels you over the
head with his concept, he makes sure to include a few genuinely witty, amusing lyrics,
such as "'Moon of Alabama' is my favorite country tune/ With lyrics by a communist
and music by a Jew."
The rest of Folktronic is similarly mixed. Songs like "Tape Recorder Man" and "The
Penis Song" pair clever, funny lyrics with crap music. And much of the rest of the
album totters the line between simply mediocrity and forgettability with a few
particularly obnoxious flaws like the '80s-inspired "Robocowboys" and the awkward,
bluesy "Smooth Folk Singer."
Still, when taken as a whole, Folktronic's plusses certainly outweigh its minuses. This
is Momus being Momus; he still sounds like Donovan, and he's still as quirky,
arrogant, and witty as ever. Though the record is far from the genre-defining
landmark Momus likely intended to be, it certainly ranks among his better works. My
advice to diehard Momus fans: log off littlejapanesegirls.com, zip up your pants, and
get your ass to the record store. The rest of you can take a hint from the man
himself: put technology to use for you and pull a few tracks off Napster to see if it's
Other Music Website
January 31st 2001
(Le Grand Magistery)
RealAudio Extract 1
RealAudio Extract 2
What would Click Folk or Glitch Folk sound like? What would
Alan Lomax have said if, in 1965, the Newport Folk Festival
had been invaded by geeks playing modular Moogs? On
"Folktronic" Momus gives us an idea of what traditional folk
music might sound like when married with modern-day
electronics. The result is like nothing you've heard before.
Many call Momus, clever and wordy in his lyrics, 'pretentious'.
But pretension is posturing not backed up by ideas, and Momus
has ideas coming out of his pores. "Folktronic" deals with (in no
particular order) the death of oral history, how technology
invades daily life, and the ways we're starting to be pulled from
the physical world into the virtual.
Twenty years ago, a popular theme of New Wave music was the whole idea of man becoming
machine -- and now Momus is doing new New Wave. "Folktronic"
combines old-timey bluegrass, technopop and electronics, with
bumpy moog/banjo and fiddle/synth pairings. Though his wordiness
sometimes conceals how excellent and catchy and just plain unusual
his sound is now, without this approach we wouldn't have songs
like 'Finnegan the Folk Hero', a sea chantey-ish tune about ghosts,
labor politics, retribution and Web site management, which made me
laugh out loud!
Other topics: an imaginary tale of Jean Michel Jarre
captivating a hick town, a love duet by a man and his Palm Pilot, and
the self- explanatory 'Folk me Amadeus'. But his rah-rah futurism only
extends so far: though he's trying to be the most avant-garde
musician ever, he relies almost entirely on text to communicate.
New Times, Los Angeles
January 18th - 24th 2001
Live Show Preview
From his home in suburban Detroit, Matthew Jacobson runs a small record company in the mold of late, lamented boutique labels like Creation and el. His fanciful imprint, Le Grand Magistery, offers shelter from the storm of ugly, disposable pop music with releases that share a sensibility if not a sound. This show serves as an LGM showcase of sorts, headlined by the label's best-known artist, Momus (aka Nick Currie), a dazzlingly prolific musical prankster who's put on more personas than Madonna. Blessed with a disconcerting ability to turn a three minute ditty into a theoretical minefield, Momus has authored Japanese smash hits for songstress Kahimi Karie, and on his own records has tried his hand at everything from ambient to reggae to acid house. His few US releases have mostly worked with a vein of light chamber pop. On the latest, 1999's Stars Forever, a surface of sprightly melodies and witty lyrics coats a high-concept examination of art and commerce: 30 Momus fans (including Japanese pop star Cornelius, artist Jeff Koons, and the staff of NYC record store Other Music) each paid $1000 to be immortalised in a custom-made song portrait.
The clever Scot's next album, Folktronic (due January 30th) explores pop music's romance with authenticity in a sort of backhanded homage to Beck and his pomo ilk. Poking out from amid the pastiche is the link between global capitalism and cultural co-optation. In tunes like 'Electronic Mountain Girl' and 'Finnegan The Folk Hero' (the tale of a mythic HTML wrangler), Momus concocts a folk music for the Internet age, inspired by questions like "What if the oral tradition is coming back thanks to open source programming and the death of copyright?" If this sounds like conceptual art, that's because it is -- but it's also lots of fun.
San Fransisco Weekly
January 17th - 23rd, 2001
(Le Grand Magistery)
"Have I been tarred with the brush of Dylan, Beck and Harmony Korine, who all used down-home imagery ironically to amuse sophisticated urban audiences? Am I a craven and opportunistic rootless charlatan posturing, when it suits me, as a Scot?" These musings come courtesy of Nick Currie, aka nutty old popster Momus, in one of the passionate and literate essays exploring the world in general and his craft in particular on his Web site.
The essay quoted above, titled "Folktronic", concerns his forthcoming album of the same name, a collection of "fake" folk -- mountain and Gypsy music, songs in the Celtic mode, and even a comedic lecture/song in the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition, all filtered through a MIDI/Casio/Moog synth-pop sensibility. Or maybe it's that sensibility filtered through Momus' ancestral folk past. With this master of the studiously absurd, whose latest "Thought for the Day" essay concerns today's Lego-like personality elements, it's hard to tell which comes first -- art or concept. He hardly seems capable of producing music he can't later explain, which, in turn, often robs the tunes of emotional resonance. Even though he writes riotously funny lyrics (see "Finnegan the Folk Hero" of HTML, and "The Penis Song") and concocts ingenious and intricate arrangements, his online travelogues, copious self-explications, and personal snapshots offer little insight into the "real" Momus. Is it enough to have so many ideas, or must they also resonate?
San Fransisco Bay Guardian
January 17th 2001
Lyrical super-genius Momus headlines a night of urbane pop bliss, introducing songs from his forthcoming album, Folktronic, a 20-track Stephin Merrit-style tour de force of "synthetic Americana" packed with witty references and conceptual head trips. Folktronic veers through twisted doo-wop, Appalachian ballads, bleak country, and fiddle jigs, all of which clash jarringly and brilliantly. Thematically rich, it touches on the dichotomy between sacred art and disposable pop, our conflicted romanticization of the pastoral and the anonymity of classic folk versus the star system of rock. Laid-off dot commers might especially appreciate the labor song "Finnegan the Folk Hero of HTML" who is ground down by the boss man and, in death, comes back to sabotage his Web site.
West Virginia Grafitti
After helping bail out his financially-ailing record company with his 1999 album, Stars Forever -- where he wrote songs about 30 everyday folks, charging them a grand apiece for the privilege -- the
smartest man in pop music has turned his attention to our own neck of the woods. Of course, if you
know anything about Scottish pop provacateur Nick Currie, aka Momus, you'll have guessed that his
take on Appalachian music is slightly less than reverent. Instead, he's blended the fiddle tunes and
reels of yesteryear with '80s synth-pop, creating an indescribable hybrid he's dubbed "fake folk,"
further explaning it as "the country music of 2049." If this all sounds like one of Beck's smart-aleck
cut-and-paste escapades, though, think again: there's actually quite a bit of thought behind the
primitive futurism of tunes like the giddy "Appalachia."
Rebelling against the idea of "authenticity" in
folk or any music -- which, he rightly points out, is often a tool of snobs -- Momus gives himself the
freedom to remake history in his own image, whether it's turning the folk hero Finnegan into a web
page designer or arguing the merits of one-hit wonders like Falco and Rednex on the ridiculous and
sharp "Folk Me Amadeus."
The centerpiece of the disc is the digital hoedown "Mountain Music,"
where our hero asserts that old-time folk "never was so simple/it never was so pure/the folks who
made it never were so ignorant and poor," knocking down the myth of the noble savage that West
Virginians have long held dear.
Crammed to the gills with literature, pop culture, humor and a
genuine appreciation for the legends pissed on, Folktronic might indeed qualify for that honor
mistakenly awarded many times over: the first great album of the new millennium.
March 7th 2001
The difference between Momus' career as a musician and his career as an Internet essayist has never seemed narrower than on Folktronic, a collection of self-described "plastic folk." Over the course of 20 tracks, the singer, songwriter, and wit also known as Nick Currie examines the meaning of folk music in the digital age, most often by recasting folk forms in synthesized settings with lyrics that serve as a kind of audio commentary on the process. The best, most insightful songs (and here there's no difference) come early. ''Moon Of Alabama' is my favorite country tune," Momus sings on "Mountain Music," adding, "It's got lyrics by a Communist and music by a Jew." Momus' point--that the search for authentic folk music only reveals its bastard origins--is made throughout Folktronic, but his concern with the state of the traditional and the modern is just as prominent. In "Finnegan The Folk Hero," he crafts an ode to a renegade HTML programmer, suggesting one way in which the old and new might coexist, but on "Folk Me Amadeus," the sound of Rednex's cornpone techno novelty "Cotton Eyed Joe" has him in tears. It's all so clever and thought-provoking that it's almost possible to overlook that, in most other respects, it's not especially good. Momus' last album, the fan-commissioned Stars Forever, found him stretching out musically in a way that suggested his music might someday match his wit. Here, the electro-folk tires itself out in a hurry, despite the inclusion of highlights like "Handheld," a touching exchange between an electronic device and its owner. It might be the definitive moment for a performer who has assumed an unassailable position as the "Weird Al" Yankovic of the grad-school set.
The Philadelphia Weekly
Historically, the words "Momus" and "sincerity" have not been merry bedfellows. The impish synth-playing Scot (who shed his birth name,Nick Currie, in the mid-'80s) has spent the last 15 years introducing a string of poison boyfriends with such smirk and
swagger, it has become roundly accepted that his trademark eye patch is concealing a perennial wink. So there's reason to suspect that his latest opus, a collection of "Appa-lachian New Wave" dubbed Folktronic, is little more than puckish gimmickry--and for the most part, it is. The combination of Momus' Moogs with plucked banjo and square-dance fiddle sounds self-consciously witty, the equivalent of a mountain-music minstrel show. It unfortunately renders the record a limited novelty--a problem that has plagued each of Momus' recent outings. Yet it's difficult to deny the cleverness of the record's central conceit: the use of pre-20th-century music to comment on post-20th-century existence. When Momus employs this concept (instead of exploiting it), the results are borderline-brilliant. Witness "Finnegan the Folk Hero," a Davey Crockett myth that casts a Web designer as its protagonist. "Handheld" finds Momus crooning lovingly to his Palm Pilot--only to have the Palm Pilot croon merrily back in the second verse. "The Penis Song" bounces and bobs like an excerpt from a blue musical, and "Smooth Folk Singer" is a woozy Sun Records send-up. Would that there were more moments like this and less like the woefully academic "Protestant Art" or the lugubrious, belching "Heliogabalus." While it may be too much to ask the tender pervert to suddenly play it straight, it would help if his jibes weren't so studied, his smile a little less forced. C+
J. Edward Keyes