"I've got that mountain music in me," sings the wry, eye patch-wearing Scottish expatriate Nick Currie, better known as Momus, "But not since I was born, I learned about it yesterday from a CD-ROM." Recorded at his own "Fakeways Institute" in New York, Folktronic sends up the whole notion of roots music in a rootless age.
Knowing Momus' humorous last album, Stars Forever, on which he wrote extremely funny portraits of individuals for $1,000 a pop, it isn't surprising that Folktronic is full of clever satire. Over synthetic music that sounds as if it sprung from a vintage Atari console, Momus bowdlerizes ballads about "Finnegan, the folk hero of HTML" and the "tape recorder man," the famous folk song collector Alan Lomax. He asks an "Appalachian mountain girl" to comfort him electronically, and imagines 21st-century commercial country singers as "robocowboys." A computer-generated voice surfaces to sing of the love of a Palm Pilot for its owner ("Handheld"). Momus references everyone from Bob Dylan and Beck to Meister Eckhart and Jean Michel Jarre. He even creates his own new genre of music, "Celtic tragedy disco," in the hilariously titled "Folk Me Amadeus."
All this makes listening to Folktronic a kind of highly-stylized intellectual wrestling match in which Momus body slams folk authenticity to the mat. It's folk music reduced to WWF Smackdown. All overblown play-acting, but it gets kind of shallow and boring after awhile. Unlike a fellow "folktronica" creator of recent years, Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields (or think of Prince Paul, DJ Spooky or Dr. Dre for that matter), who manages to infuse synthesizers and samples with a strange kind of emotional intensity, mingling them with real instruments and voices, Momus' music, like the blocky computer-graphic art on Folktronic's cover, is lifelessly synthesized (purposefully, I suppose). Meanwhile, as Momus himself points out in a series of essays (available at www.demon.co.uk/momus), electronic culture and folk culture grow more and more alike--you can no longer tell the electronic drummer from the man out on the corner banging on a can. Folktronic wants to celebrate the ironies of inauthenticity. But that requires the recognition of authenticity. Can we even tell the real from the fake any longer?