Return to N.Y.

(Hidden Agenda; 2005)

By David Greenwald | 8 June 2005

Nbody ever talks about noir records. AK-MOMO’s debut, Return To N.Y., is a black-and-white 1940s film of an album if there ever was one, complete with the obligatory stunning dame. Singer AK von Malmborg is the coy, winsome half of AK-MOMO, playful in one moment and breathless the next. Accompanying her are the grainy 8-millimeter soundscapes of her partner in crime, Mattias Olsson. His instruments include the optigan, the mellotron, and the ochestran (Megatron must’ve had the week off), which, in English, translates roughly to a drum machine and fuzzy keyboards playing through an old-time radio.

The group’s Swedish status is blissfully ignored on Return To N.Y., especially on the irresistible title track. Imagine a sexier, subtler Joanna Newsom singing about engaging in a torrid romance upon her return to the Big Apple; that is, she winks, “if you remember.” The album works best when AK-MOMO sticks with this flair for the melodramatic. The band goes cross-country to “Hollywood” in pursuit of another flirtatious relationship; “to find true love for you will be very hard to do,” Malmborg croons as a reminder before the song fades out.

Like the most intriguing screen sirens, Malmborg is unapologetically independent. The soaring “Women To Control” is a velvet-tipped stab at the opposite sex, while “World Traveler” uses a submerged male “ba da da da da” vocal loop to usher Malmborg onto a particularly adventurous voyage. Thankfully, Return To N.Y.’s heroine is also believably three-dimensional. “Only The Stars” shows off AK-MOMO’s tender side with a chorus melody oddly reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter’s Night,” and opener “Greasy Spoon” finds its narrator offering comfort as well.

The hallmark of a classic film is the dynamite finish, but here the script seems to be missing a page. AK-MOMO, who wrote and recorded the album over a few days, follows in the tradition of Casablanca a little too literally: the movie’s production famously had scripts rushed to the actors just before filming, with dialogue and events up in the air. Casablanca managed to tie everything up for the last reel, but AK-MOMO doesn’t fare quite as well. Closer “Boys And Girls,” despite the potential of a line about “boys and girls with brave haircuts,” retreats into layers of crackling vinyl, and its turgid pace is an unwelcome slowdown from the carefree rhythms of the rest of the album. Noir or not, even the most unexpected ending needs a foundation to build on, and “Boys And Girls” dangles hopelessly out of place.

In this day and age, the smoky revelry of Return To N.Y. might be called a lounge album; that would be quite the misnomer for the soundtrack to an era we only know from the movies. Play it again, AK.