(American Patchwork/Darla Records)
Last year’s Momus album, Vivid, was an exploration of lockdown and pandemic, recorded while isolated and influenced by separation from his girlfriend and from public performance. As lockdown has eased, he has travelled again, and Athenian sees him wintering in Greece, revisiting haunts of his youth. Momus spent time in Athens as a teenager while his father worked for the British Council. In Athens he is reunited with his girlfriend. As such the album explores the lighter aspects of the current situation as we emerge from darkness. The album uses samples from Frankie Howerd and other comedians of the era, and is influenced by Ted Ray, Marty Feldman as well as Leonard Cohen, Wyndham Lewis and George Moustaki, along with the Greek folk and pop music he heard as a youth. The sound is equally built from folk samples, from the accordion sound that has been integrated into the last two albums, and the vocal samples used, wrapping this around his soft spoken delivery.
Although optimistic, he still notes on Swansong that “You cannot make a better world until everybody plays along”, and Greyland pokes fun at middle-Englanders and their dreary world-view: “Let’s keep Greyland for the Grey”: which provokes further shameful realisation that I still live in post-Brexit England. Censorship and the rise of cancel culture are targeted throughout, for example in Chatternooga where “...more fool you if you don’t use / the personal pronouns we approve”. Another modern curse is comically discussed in Zooming, where the narrator seems to have accidentally appeared nude in a meeting, with Frankie Howerd ooh-err-ing in sympathy. The video for Zooming includes an accidentally generated and very creepy effect as a beautifying filter attempts to optimise Momus’ left eye, which is, of course, not there, resulting in a jittery cartoon-like animation from the more nightmarish end of Pixar.
Technology and its negative psychological impact are explored in Doomscrolling, which jokes about the futility of our electronic addictions from the viewpoint of Karl Kraus, “liveblogging the apocalypse, as though the world needed us to end”. After sliding into a list of personal nightmares as if it were a warm bath in Horrorworld, a cheery presence reminds Momus in Coco the Clown that “...if things are nice, do the things twice”, and that real people actually exist. My Moriarty is a song that could have been on Vivid, perhaps he is talking to Covid, perhaps to some other enemy, perhaps to himself, as he says, “...one of us must pay, and the other go away”. The album also includes moving tributes to both Francoise Cactus of Stereo Total (who sadly passed away in February) and to his own girlfriend, along with a beautiful cover version of Aguas de Marco called The Drizzle of March. A tribute to Wyndham Lewis’ creation The Tyro explores what can emerge from the aftermath of a dreadful event: Lewis burst out of WWI with the energetic character of the Tyro. The album ends with Athenian, a lovely travelogue and description of the hi-jinx Momus got up to/gets up to in this centre of beauty and the birthplace of direct democracy, in order to be “...more Athenian than you”.
Athenian is a beautiful album, a bright and welcoming listen in these transitional times, a call to creativity as we slowly regain our freedoms, Athens beckoning here as the antithesis of Vivid’s isolation and depression, the centre of democratic liberty and the opposite of Anglo-Saxon attitudes. I recommend a visit immediately, but don’t forget your avatar mask.
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