Folk You

Pirating music: Momus

Momus is notoriously deviant--at least in his songs. Over the years, the British musician (who is also known as Nick Curie) has created an unpredictable repertoire. On 1997's Ping Pong, he sang sad and sadistic "love songs" that contained great lines like "I lick you/I'd like you to let me lick you." With 1998's The Little Red Songbook, he made an electronic album that was inspired by a piece of baroque music found on the Encarta electronic encyclopedia. And his singles have ranged from electric-guitar-heavy ballads about heroin to kitschy songs about single women desperate to get pregnant. If that weren't enough, he is also responsible for writing a good chunk of the backing music for Japanese TV commercials, most notably for the makeup company Menard.

So while Momus's newest release, Folktronic (Le Grande Magistery)--his voyage into American folk music--comes as a surprise to many familiar with his discography, it shouldn't: The real surprise would have been if he had released consecutive albums that sounded more than passingly similar.

"I guess I'd just arrived in New York City--I moved to America [from London] in March of 2000," Momus explains about the album's concept by phone from his home in New York. "Everybody downtown or across the Williamsburg in Brooklyn was having these weird parties for their friends, sort of contests where they were wearing handmade costumes and singing songs about superheroes. It struck me that this was a new form of folk art. A lot
of these people were working in, say, Web design, but they were making this weird folk artiness in their spare time. So it seemed to me that you could juxtapose that cutting-edge technology with the really primitive, funky kind of mountain music--or perhaps it's more proper to call it skyscraper music, since it's from Manhattan."

The final result, set to an electronic beat and casino-act keyboard whine, consists of 20 tracks of witty observations about Protestantism, small-town psychopaths, the omnipresence of laptop computers in America, and...Momus's penis--a subject that finds its way into just about every album he has ever released. Of course, Folktronic also wouldn't be a true Momus album without the beautiful interweaving of historical reference into these modern tales: In "Heliogabalus," the narrator sews together a story quilt that depicts the life of the titular 15-year-old Roman emperor, while in "Folk Me Amadeus," a parent mourns the loss of his children's youth, innocence, and hair, trading all for an addiction to video games and cynicism.

So what do Americans think of seeing their cultural heritage veering toward novelty music? "Nobody was fascist enough to say I had no right to mess with these formulas, because that's what America is all about. I believe quite strongly that fakeness is a truly American virtue--this whole notion that you can just arrive here from anywhere in the world and reinvent yourself. Just like all the diners here that are pretending to be authentically Mexican, or Chinese, or whatever. That's why I think the album's gone down so well: It's continuing that tradition of the immigrant claiming these false roots."

In addition to his typically incendiary comments, Momus has recently gained notoriety with the release of the film Plaster Caster. The documentary is about sculptor Cynthia Plaster Caster, who has won a sliver of fame by making sculptures out of important rock stars' manhoods over the past few decades. Momus was one of her models.

"I wasn't even very excited by the experience," confesses Momus, although he sounds excited to speak about his member, um, at length. "I know you should be excited, putting your penis into a thermos flask full of lukewarm putty. But for some obscure reason, I didn't find it a great turn-on, so I was only sort of moderately hard, and the resulting cast isn't that impressive. But it was a nice symbol of rock 'n' roll declining into self-parody and tongue-in-cheek decadence 30 years on from, say, Jimi Hendrix, who obviously meant it and was very...firm in his resolution."

So what does Momus's own cast say about the current state of music? "Can rock 'n' roll still get a hard-on?" Momus ponders. "That's the real question."

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