Picasso, so they say, had to learn to paint like an adult before he could start scrawling like a child. Maybe the same is true for indie veteran Momus, because on his new album "Ocky Milk" he's gone far beyond the literary singer-songwriter fare of his 90s records (think Tom Lehrer with a laptop). The new record is strange, twilit stuff. Pop songs get fed through Google translation engines then crooned underwater, absurd vaudeville numbers about death accompany a Bonnie Prince Charlie car commercial shot in Japan. The weirdest thing, though, is just how relaxing it ends up feeling. Like having your back scratched as you fall asleep. Ocky Milk is the new album from Momus. "I'm planning my next album, The Friendly Album," Momus wrote on his blog Click Opera back in March 2005. "And I want to make something as static, as friendly, as consensual, as self-effacing, as Japan itself. It will be a feminine record and a friendly record. It will -- it should -- contain the deep sensuality of Renaissance lute music, or bossa nova. You should be able to put it on and just let it hover in the background all the way through, structuring your contentment in a self-effacing, classical, cool and elegant way. I don't know if I'm capable of making music that serene and sensual, but I want to try. Perhaps it'll turn out terribly banal, 15 takes on Don't Worry, Be Happy! But that's a risk worth running. Because the values of pleasure and friendliness, modesty and elegance seem more important than ever to me right now. In a world dominated by "aggressive normality", perhaps evoking strange kindness is the most subversive, interesting and challenging thing an artist could do." By September 2005 that idea had evolved. The record was now codenamed The Shepherd and was going to contain elements of Torch, or rather, the sentimental drinking music known in Japan as Enka. "Pentatonic Bucolic Torch," Momus called it. "Something about the relaxed sensuality, combined with an undertone of aching hunger, appeals to me," he wrote. Torch would offset the pastoral friendliness of the original idea, make it more dynamic, yearning... and strange: "Torch tends to derive its emotional power from retreating always to familiar tricks, treading well-worn paths. But when we hear Torch in a foreign language using unfamiliar scales and chord sequences (and I'm also interested in Thai Torch, and Arabic Torch), it has this odd and interesting combination of weirdness and aggressive normality going on. How could you reproduce that fragile combination, give the listener the impression of padding along a well-worn path through an unfamiliar landscape?" With those two ideas in place, in November Momus flew Brooklyn producer Rusty Santos (he recorded Animal Collective's Sung Tongs) over to Berlin to start work on the album. For a month they recorded songs of all tempos, shapes, and sizes. After Rusty went back to New York, Momus continued on his own, completing the album during a two- month stay in Osaka, where he added the sound of real Enka singers recorded in the alleys of Shinsekai, the shabby but warm-hearted entertainment district around the Osaka Tower. The album was then extensively tweaked during a three-month stay in New York, where Momus was working as an Unreliable Tour Guide in the Whitney Biennial (an extension of the unreliable narrator device used in so many of his early songs). Throughout the spring John Talaga, the brilliant sound manipulator from Michigan, worked on electronic transitions, solos and structural alterations; split apart even as it was bound together, the record was suddenly wrapped in a subtle maelstrom of melting sound. Finally, in early summer 2006, Ocky Milk (named after Ocky the Milkman, a character in Dylan Thomas' radio play Under Milk Wood) was complete. The finished record has a hermetic, poetic feel, mysterious and serene, with surreal lyrics that sound like they've been misheard or mistranslated, and music that blurs idioms and cultures: a segue from permagasm to pleasantness. Ocky now takes its place as the third record in what you could call Momus' Berlin Trilogy, a sequence of albums that began with 2003's vaudeville Modernist "Oskar Tennis Champion" and contined with 2005's "Otto Spooky" (a sort of Shinto-inspired World Music). Please enjoy this friendly, mysterious album!
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