Monday, November 3, 2008

what about innovation, man? what about art and sex?

back when i was young and impressionable (as opposed to not-so-young but still quite impressionable) i was introduced to a whole cadre of what might be described as art-rudeboys. most of them aren't self-described as such, (and really, many of them are now dead or otherwise incapable of self-description,) but that's beside the point. ween, karleinz stockhausen, the boredoms and momus more or less define my awareness of the dawn of the 21st century.

the best of the best of these, to my taste, was momus' 2001 release, folktronic.

popmatters reviewed this album saying "for the smarty-pants listeners who gobble up high-concept art pieces, folktronic is a 'fake folk' masterpiece."

i disagree. it's not for smarty-pants listeners. i mean, sure, smarty-pants listeners included. but i kind of believe that this album is for everyone who understands that making fun of something doesn't mean you hate it.

momus, for those who aren't familiar, is a performance artist, a journalist, a social critic and a japan-obsessed post-modernist. that's all well and good. but above all that, he's fun. after all, he named himself after the greek god of mockery - he has a sense of the ridiculous.

in earlier albums, such as ping pong, he explored personal identity and a whole lot of sex. ("my pervert doppelganger," "professor shaftenberg," "hairstyle of the devil.") but in folktronic, he took on america. inspired by predecessors who visited appalachia and recorded their folk songs for posterity, momus twisted that information through his usual filters and created plastic folk. plastic folk is described thus:

hideously pompous baroque keyboard licks of 80s synthpop climb into bed with fakely traditional ballads, jigs and sea shanties; mock prog epics full of tempo and key changes collide with neo-vaudeville numbers on the subject of the penis; eulogies to decadent roman emperors rub shoulders with passages of bach played by cartoon fiddle yokels through massive ring modulation. it's those prolific medieval songwriters trad. and anon. finding the missing link between unicorns and unix.

this is an america you may have never noticed, and that's what makes it so fascinating. this is america as viewed by a postmodernist scot with identity issues. when he sings "smooth folk singer," it's disturbingly familiar, for all its strangeness:

more heavy than leadbelly, more hooky than hooker
(smooth folk singer)
not sleepy like estes, a rambler and a looker
(smooth folk singer)
not a rocker like richard, baby I'm a folker
(smooth folk singer)
and around my neck I wear a velvet choker
(one time, two times)

and "folk me, amadeus" offers us yet another view of our america, the one that we forget to consider:

my children were fair and wore stars in their hair
now they're bald, watch tv, and buy new age cds
the unicorn's a horse on whom some sad bastard
has superglued a horn of plastic
in this post-everything world it still pains me, girl, to spell it out for you
the celtic skirl of alan stivell might as well be 'cotton eye joe'
put it flat on the floor with a 4/4 beat, add monsieur oiseau

i accept that momus is not for everyone. my sister listened to two cuts from folktronic, made a face and turned it off.

but if you listen to music with a wink, and are aware that the world is a thoroughly ridiculous place, and you're fond of such wacky things as art, angels, devils, history and sex, momus might be for you. and folktronic might be the place to start.


TK said...

"if you listen to music with a wink"

I try to listen to everything that way.

kelsi said...

that's because you are wise, friend.