Momus: Hypnoprism

Hypnoprism, Nick Currie's latest Momus recording, is a bit of a head-scratcher: is its collection of bossa nova ballads and electro-pop songs to be taken at face value or is it an exercise in tongue-in-cheek perversity? It's probably both, though that's purely guesswork on my part. One thing, at least, we can be certain about: Hypnoprism is both a visual and audio project, as Currie created YouTube videos for every one of the album's thirteen tracks during the album's development.

He typically subverts whatever surface normalcy the songs flirt with by including strange instrumental touches and lyrics. After a Sade-like intro, the title song weaves a night-club orchestra's lulling dance rhythms under a gentle Currie vocal that resembles an Alan Stewart-meets-Chris DeBurgh fusion as it drawls mystifying lyrics (“And there's a scent of candlewax and pine cones / And you look a lot like Sylvia Kristel”). During “Mr Consistency,” his vocals alternate between two differently treated forms, one low-pitched and the other falsetto (“I say the opposite of what I say / They call me Mr Consistency”), while the macabre pop of “Death Ruins Everything” features the gleeful lines “Everybody wears this stupid grin / Worn by the skeleton underneath your skin / And he'll grin like that forever / He's already doing it now.” Instrumentally the album's as odd. “Evil Genius” pairs a skanky reggae rhythm with orchestral accents, while “Is There Sex in Marriage?” opts for a sing-song jazz style. During “Confiance Absolue” (written with Kumi Okamoto), Currie sings in French backed by wordless harmonies, strings, and acoustic bass. The dirge-driven “Datapanik,” by contrast, opts for a heavier brand of electronic pop song, with his treated vocal bemoaning his hard drive's data loss against a choir of bleeding electric guitars; “Deliverance” is likewise in a bleepy electro-pop style, in this case featuring drum machines and buzzing synthesizers. All told, the album amounts to a forty-seven-minute portrait of Currie's idiosyncratic world. From its Syd Barrett-lounge musical vibe to hot pink CD and inner sleeve photo of Maria Callas, Hypnoprism is an oddball outing, to say the least.

January 2011