"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, a.k.a. nutty old popster Momus, in one of the passionate and literate essays exploring the world in general and his craft in particular on his Website (www.demon.co.uk/momus).
The essay quoted above, titled "Folktronic," concerns Currie's 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's 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 what comes first -- art or concept. He hardly seems capable of creating 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," "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?
It's a problem that Momus's stateside labelmates, Stars, don't have. If anything the band's eponymous debut album is the reverse of Momus's cerebralism: It is so deeply conventional that there's practically nothing to focus on but its plaintive passions and longings, and the delicious melancholia of the pop stardom the group seems destined to achieve. Made up of minor actor Torquil Campbell, his long-time friend Chris Seligman, and a host of guest divas and dreamers, the combo inhabits its end of the synth-pop spectrum with a grace and charm that has critics pronouncing it the band for the new year.
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It may be. Certainly Stars are easy to listen to; even the band members can joke that the FM remix of their song "My Radio" is nice "in a Banana Republic kind of way." To be fair the group is better than that, as shining tracks like "On Peak Hill" demonstrate. But Stars' name to the contrary, we'll see who remembers them come December.