[5 November 2008]
Safariing through the psychedelic wilderness while wearing Black Moth Super Rainbow’s hazy Technicolor goggles is a bit like drinking strawberry wine (a la My Bloody Valentine) with bubblegum (a la pop radio). They’re two sugary flavors that don’t seem to match but have an oddly synergistic and synesthetic reaction when combined. In their world, Boards of Canda is a party band and the mass-marketed non-professional Casiotone is an electric guitar. It’s a world where hits are tested in roller rinks rather than dance clubs and a vocoder is like a second tongue.
Black Moth Super Rainbow have always had a knack for isolating the most glacially cool phrases an analogue synth can make and taking them out for spin. Yet, while their music is full of good ideas, they rarely riff on those good ideas, resulting in music that you’d really want to like if it didn’t sound so flat and uninvolved. The sole exception in their discography is last year’s excellent Dandelion Gum (whose titled invokes an ‘80s electro-glorious recitation of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine), which kept the momentum of the half-baked sketches up to such a pace as to feign a stroboscopic dance through the liminal space between prepubescent joy and psychotropic wonder.
While the music on Dandelion Gum never seemed shallow, it was still stripped, relying on the most concise combination of simple oscillating loops and big busted-headphone beats. So, when you take away four of BMSR’s five contributing members, as principal songwriter Tobacco has done on his solo outing Fucked Up Friends, one might speculate that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of music left.
So what’s the difference between a Tobacco album and a Black Moth Super Rainbow album?
No, I’m not asking rhetorically. I really don’t know that there is any. Perhaps if Dandelion Gum‘s song titles evoked summer sun and candy (“Sun Lips”, “Lollipopsichord”), Fucked Up Friends’ names conjure stank and silly putty (“Hair Candy”, “Gross Magik”, “Truck Sweat”, “Grease Wizard”—those friends do sound pretty fucked up) instead. However, as the ridiculous nom du plume Black Moth Super Rainbow suggests, and the nonsensical lyrics on Fucked Up Friends reinforce (“You and me melt away/ Forever holding hands”), words in Tobacco and company’s world are superfluous and ornamental. Communication for them is best handled in sonic phrases, and writing about them becomes a chore when having to wrack one’s brains for exactly what thaumaturgical indicators make their breed of retro-fitted mechanics transcendent rather than tacky. Tobacco uses the same laid-back, almost flippantly one-take methodology as he did in his other band, but the same kind of strange magic occurs in those sessions as did on Dandelion Gum.
Fucked Up Friends is both Komische and camp, coddling its warm M83-esque full-bodied buzzes next to impatient old school lo-fi breakbeats. The album’s nostalgia for proto-prog otherworldliness defines outer space, inner space, and virtual arcade Galaga space as homologous. It’s a place where progressive childhood longing and regressive adult fantasy can meet and exchange slap bracelets.
Perhaps the most character-building aspect of this neon-tinted capaciousness is its production aesthetic. Fucked Up Friends is as retro in its recording methods as it is in its instrumentation. Take “Side 8 (Big Gums Version)” for example. Building off a chiptune-sounding square wave bassline, the song’s decidedly uncloaked sound-clipping gives the song a live/ basement jam vibe. The album weds a healthy mixing board’s worth of C90, Four-Track, and studio recordings. We’ve seen this kind of calculated aging effect before in every one from Ariel Pink to William Basinski, but Tobacco makes it rawk with emphasis on the “raw”, particularly on songs like “Hawker Boat”, a cut whose music video matches its tinny pitch-bent opening breaks to footage of Richard Simmons doing mouth exercises.
The album’s brightest view of a divergent future comes in the form of “Dirt”, a collaboration with Aesop Rock where the Def Jux MC’s stream-of-consciousness flow juxtaposes delectably against Tobacco’s wayward synthlogues and arbitrary word vomit. The fact that Tobacco’s debut solo LP is being released on Anticon seems to be no mistake. On “Dirt” Tobacco’s brand of uncomplicated and occasionally puerile anodic exuberance makes for a challenging and full-sounding hip-hop backing track. Hopefully, he’ll continue in this vein with other collaborators on future releases.
Overall though, the combinations concocted continue successfully towards a more reconcilable consolidation of the grander “good idea”, marching in step with Dandelion Gum‘s footsteps. There’s even some recurring verses and choruses to be found amidst the jams. And though the ideas can start to redundantly plod by the album’s finale, Tobacco’s quality control remains high throughout.