Tokyo time

They're quirky, they're cute, they're. . . big in Japan.

There's an African region where females, gathered in a circle, chomp on tapioca until it's a slushy, salivated slop, then unload their mouthfuls into communal bowls. While the tribespeople may find this colloquial dish palatable, it hasn't crossed many borders, which immediately sets it aside from Japanese superstar Kahimi Karie and Scottish intellectual pop star Momus, the former hitting US record shelves and shores for her first time this month. They might not taste better than that tapioca mush, but at least you don't need a bowl.

Nicholas Currie, a.k.a. Momus (his moniker refers to a sarcastic little Greek god who venomously insulted others), is a treasure finally creeping toward American popularity. With more than a dozen (mostly import) albums to his credit, ranging in style from ber-intellectual folk tunes to danceable electro-pop to deeply thoughtful trip-hop, Momus took a serious turn with 1997's Ping Pong, spawning a new musical genre: "futuristic vaudeville."

Portable Shibuya Tour: Momus, Kahimi Karie, Gilles Weinzaepflen, Tuesday, November 3

Now, merely one year later, he's tiptoed even further from the ledge of conventional contemporary songwriting with The Little Red Songbook's newborn genre, "analog baroque."

"'Nasty Lieder' and 'chamber pop' are two other terms I'm using for this," he said recently. "I think you'd have to force Tom Lehrer out of retirement, give him lots of Viagra, and force him at gunpoint to make a record with baroque transsexual Wendy Carlos to get anything remotely similar."

Tall, lanky, recently donning an eye patch due to a "fucked cornea," Currie speaks gently, a host of politely phrased explanations proffered when questions are aimed his way, and has no problem expounding the joys of rape, sexual jealousy, hatred, and the other immoralities within his catalog. Having once labeled himself "a sort of compulsive confessor, but to the extent that I confess even things I haven't done," his most recent confession involves the agenda of "having a new genre description each year. The aim's to force record stores to abandon those irritating arbitrary categories—'rap,' 'modern rock,' 'drum and bass'—and [allow] every artist to have their own genre, so that there are as many genre as artist dividers in stores, and ultimately it's all alphabetical."

Under K, you'll find Shibuya success story (like Pizzicato Five and ex-boyfriend Cornelius) Kahimi Karie, whose recent self-titled US debut (released by Minty Fresh) features some of her most popular tunes (the Japanese import K.K.K.K.K. is actually her most recent recording). Momus, having penned some of Karie's greatest hits including "I Am a Kitten" and "Good Morning World," has enjoyed more success in Japan with Karie than anywhere else solo. Short where Currie is tall, simple in inspiration where Currie is sophisticated, Karie's pairing with Momus may seem unlikely, but it works.

"Kahimi 'curated' me and turned my whole career around four years ago," Currie enthuses. "She's always treated me with the utmost respect and affection, and I've tried to do my best work for her. Karie is almost my Japanese Barbie doll, and I can tell her what dress she's gonna be wearing. It's a kind of psychic and cultural transvestism . . . having my fantasy endorsed by this person who goes along with it."

Karie, whose adolescent appearance belies the 30 years she's racked up, recalls their start as collaborators: "Six years ago, he came to Japan for his concert and found my record," she say via translator, occasionally playing peek-a-boo with direct, whispery English herself. "He became my fan, while I had been his fan since school, but we didn't know we were fans of each other yet."

Finally they met, which Karie feels was destined since all things Japanese fascinate Momus. "Momus once told me about the first song he did at 7 or 8, 'I Can See Japan' [a hidden track on Little Red Songbook]. He might have had something for Japan in his heart from the beginning. For me, I have a different kind of aspect—not just Japanese but something else.

Perhaps French. Both have lived in Paris (Currie no longer, Karie currently) and confess French intellectual sensibilities. And in between collaborating with Momus, Cornelius, and Beck, Karie has also worked with French pop star Katerine. Momus toured with Parisian quirkster Gilles Weinzaepflen last year, and Weinzaepflen will join Momus and Karie on their current go-round. "Gilles' lyrics are so calm, so quirky yet objective, they remind me of Paul Kl饠drawings," says Currie. There's one where he describes sitting in a bath and seeing, through the window, a pine tree and a crow. That's all! Very stylish, very European, but also somehow very Japanese."

Kind of like the Spice Girls? Currie won't have it. "No amount of popularity can make up for their mortal sin: lack of originality. Gilles and I may do a few of the dances onstage, though, and rename ourselves Baroque Momus and Minimalist Momus." At least until the next genre—or tapioca dish—emerges.

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