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Psychogeographical Sounds Momus releases Issyvoo

Psychogeographical Sounds

Momus releases Issyvoo

by John Robinson,
first published: February, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

There is a beauty and humanity to Momus' lyrics in these later albums, a genuine concern for the state of things

MOMUS
Issyvoo
(Darla Records)
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The 2023 album from Momus recorded last year is Issyvoo, again recorded using Garageband and composed using samples and loops from other recordings. It is another fascinating piece, lyrics reflecting aspects of politics, sexual politics and culture, against an astonishing range of musical styles and textures considering the limiting format of Garageband. If there is an overarching theme it seems to be a discussion of intersectional politics, personal and national identity, informed by his decision to leave England and his decision to continue to decide that.

The key song for me is called Queerness, inspired initially by insults flung at Momus by young male (of course) British tourists in Berlin, and leading to an expansion of what queerness can mean, not just as it relates to sexuality, but to an approach to life: many of us here on this site would append "queerness" to the way we are, in approach, mentality, life choices. As he responds (too late, of course) to the youths: "Queerness is our scenery, and ungreedy greenery, live and let live how we play the game, some of us have come here to escape, precisely, you". The song is an acoustic led piece similar to his Poison Boyfriend era work. Queerness as a concept is also addressed in the title track: named for Christopher Isherwood's pseudonym for himself in his book Goodbye to Berlin: the track is quiet, surreal, as it outlines the exploits of Issyvoo and Bertie the Heterosexual.

Bertie, by the way, gets another song to himself, an old piece rejigged for the intersectional world, leading via plodding electro pop to a pretty chorus, healthily hetero but plagued with doubt: "He's not too proud to make a fuss about, The rights he took from us, Queer with straight guilt".

The album open with Self Identity, a fast paced and amusing skiffle-like skit, in which Momus addresses the foolish notion that we are identified solely by what we claim to be, whereas in fact we have little control over how we are perceived: "We send our avatars into the world, and hope it treats them well, Boy or girl or...", and often end up in conflicts we do not deserve, "Battling creeps on Twitter ... With sharpened sticks". 

There's a cover of an early version of a Talking Heads song - In My Heart - calypso styled and a fascinating blend of his style with the vocal tics and musical flourishes of the Heads. Recomposed from elements of this is Pocket Apocalypse, which takes odd sayings and things which are just fun to say, like the title, and gives us an upbeat travel monologue with advice, referencing Brecht and Descartes.

Another favourite of mine, Safetyism, inspired by a visit to the craphole that the UK has become,  recalls the style of his Covid era album Vivid, with pulsing accordion, overlaid with minimalist, stately brass, an Asian folk chord structure, and lyrics mocking the culture of "safetyism" "See it, Say It, Sorted...".  and decrying the nanny state the British have allowed to flourish, at the expense of risk taking: "I want to take my baby steps one slip at a time".

DGAF, quick, aggressive, a feudalist Sham 69, samples a Terry Riley performance and the medieval sound of a psaltery, with unusual pitch shifted chord combinations to soundtrack his disinterest and disdain for royalty and celebrity, against and inspired by the dreadfulness of England: "Keep your little England let it sink into the sea", identifying the hypocrisy of removing religion just to "invent new forms of sin", a swipe at wokeism.

Details is a delicate, well arranged wonky-faux-acoustic arrangement of the Moonlight Sonata, inspired by hearing the same as the soundtrack to a Japanese porn film, and a little inspired by the Portsmouth Sinfonia. The lyric is a list of "safetyism" style recommendations from a loved one, afraid of the loss of control as the loved one asserts independence: a beautiful piece, with genuine sentiment. 

There is similar sentimentality in Monkey, as the singer addresses a loved one, illustrated in the video for the song by the Russian cartoon monkey Cheburashka, as things fall apart. “Monkey, my pretty little monkey, A pity there's no money in the bank” … “And the donkey's getting thin, And everything is going to the dogs, Monkey, I still love you!”.

My Wife Will Soon Forget Me is also porn inspired, this time by the name of a film, as the singer instructs his wife / friend / family before he is dead and gone: "For love is a decision, That can also be undone", counterpointed by the darkly comic backing track.

It's Incredible starts from Purcell's music for the death of Queen Mary, an arrangement of flat trumpets, and uses a dark sounding rap, electronics and a self-referential lyric, a love song which eats itself "You can steer my ship, you can steer my soul", acknowledging in the rap the "big crack lines appearing in the culture". Meanwhile, and in the near future dystopia of Lawyers intersectional politics turns everyone on everyone else until only the Lawyers survive, to a jaunty tune harking back to music hall songs past, and to Momus' own Belvedere, as parents and children turn on each other.

The Art Creep is Dead continues the story of self-lampooning track The Art Creep from 2015 album Glyptothek, similar to Bowie's continuation of Major Tom, which lyrically addresses Biennial art exhibitions laced with Western guilt, and the idea that borrowing ideas can be considered "cultural appropriation": "He stole that beat from the Shinto shrine, did a stupid dance and passed it off as his own". Whatever the conclusion you draw, Momus clearly demarcates: "He's just one of the horrible characters I play, Not me in any way". 

Kirchner tells the tale of German expressionist/primitivist influenced painter Ernst Kirchner, whom Momus came to through Bowie and whose tragic life ended in suicide. The song is very strong, an 80s sounding, warmly analogue piece with chords borrowed and re-sequenced from John Barry's best Bond theme.

There is a beauty and humanity to Momus’ lyrics in these later albums, a genuine concern for the state of things identified through personal meetings, relationships and experiences. His reflections on modern concerns and obsessions are fair, balanced and show more thought than one would ever find on social media. The musical arrangements are excellent, some are blissful, some beautiful, some rambunctious. Even the less engaging pieces at least engage some mental dialogue: recommended as always.

John Robinson

Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax
about John Robinson »»

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