AK-Momo's debut album, Return to N.Y., derives most of its otherworldly beauty from two elements. One is the duo's reliance on Mattias Olsson's collection of vintage electronics, including the Mellotron, the mighty Optigan (which is fast becoming the new hip old-school electronic instrument), and its cousin, the Orchestran. Most Optigan fans will rejoice upon hearing Return to N.Y., since the keyboard hasn't been featured this prominently on an album since Optiganally Yours' Exclusively Talentmaker in 2000; songs such as "Return to N.Y." itself are terrific showcases for the Optigan's unmistakable, dreamy, but playful sound. AK-Momo's other special ingredient is AK von Malmborg's voice: sweet, high-pitched, and more than a little eerie, it warrants comparisons to Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom. However, von Malmborg's singing isn't quite as much of an acquired taste as either of those artists' voices, and her delivery is more refined and mannered, sometimes suggesting (in the best possible way) a long-lost lounge chanteuse from the '50s or early '60s. The loungy feel is underscored on tracks like "Your Mother's Faith," where Martin Denny-esque "jungle" percussion and bird and monkey noises turn the song into an exotica fantasy. On "Cold War of the Hearts" and "Women to Control," AK-Momo exhibit a flair for the filmic, but in a more playful, whimsical way than how predecessors like Portishead or Goldfrapp explored their inner John Barrys. The push-pull between drama and childlike wonder on Return to N.Y. works best on pretty idylls like the lovely "Only in the Stars," "Boys & Girls," and "World Traveller." Attempts at an edgier sound such as "Human Clones" don't work quite as well, though lyrics like "Time for the Muse"'s "I feel like white trash when I wake up with you" do pack a punch, especially when contrasted with their soft surroundings. The album feels like it peters out as it reaches its end, but that could just be due to the fact that AK-Momo's music is so striking at first. Nevertheless, Return to N.Y. is a strong debut that shows that, even within the sphere of artists that they are similar to, AK-Momo still have their own distinctive, and often very charming, sound.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares