Momus: Ocky Milk
American Patchwork

Listeners new to Momus' (Nick Currie) music can be easily waylaid by Ocky Milk's serene, easy-listening surface and miss altogether the surreal lyrical depths lurking beneath the surface (the disco-lounge pop of “The Birdcatcher” includes the line “The headless horse was talking on the kitten's telephone”). Worked on in Berlin, Osaka, and New York, Ocky Milk (named after Ocky the Milkman, a character in Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood) completes a trilogy begun with 2003's Oskar Tennis Champion and 2005's Otto Spooky.

The album's string-kissed bossa novas, vaudeville songs, and cabaret folk-pop are generally anything but off-putting, and his singing voice is appealing too; Momus often doubles his voice, with an octave separating the higher pitch and the subtly vocodered lower. “Moop Bears” opens the disc with a cabaret-folk jamboree that resembles Animal Collective jamming with Daedelus, “Frilly Military,” a Beatlesque romp in the musical spirit of “Martha My Dear,” features near-whispered references to a “strawberry kazoo” and the couplet “You can pull on my pony tail / But you'll have to spend your life in jail,” and “Devil Mask, Buddha Mind” suggests what might come from a merger of Hawaiian chant and Chinese instrumentation (bamboo flute, pipa). In “Pleasantness,” Momus' vocal style recalls David Sylvian's, perhaps due to the aura of dramatic theatricality that's present in both. Three songs in particular stand out: the entrancing madrigal ballad “Zanzibar,” “Hang Low,” gently swinging folk pop with a strong chorus hook (“Hang low/ Hang low/ And do no evil / Like airplanes on snow”), and “Nervous Heartbeat,” whose declaration d'amour may be tongue-in-cheek, but is nonetheless affecting on account of the strings' emotive swoop.

Unfortunately the album works less well during its self-indulgent final third, where “Count Ossie In China” argues that Momus should leave ragga-dub in others' hands, and “7000 BC” teeters on psychedelic excess. Despite that late-inning drop, Ocky Milk earns its recommendation for being so unashamedly idiosyncratic. How many other releases can one characterize as surrealistic poetry masquerading as conventional folk-pop?

January 2007