[16 October 2013]
Demon Queen is a collaboration between Tobacco (of Black Moth Super Rainbow and, well, Tobacco) and Zackey Force Funk, a Tucson-based hip-hop dude with a penchant for falsetto vocals. Exorcise Tape, their debut album, ends up sounding like a grimy synth-funk / R&B / hip-hop with weird, catchy electronic backing tracks. Unfortunately, Zackey seems to drag the project down at nearly every turn. His falsetto is thin at best and often gets buried underneath the layers of synth, and, when he can be heard, he’s usually rambling on and on about pussy. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with a sleazy, strip club aesthetic, but “pussy” seems to literally be the only word Zackey knows when describing women. It shows up again and again on the album and by the time we get to track eight (called “Pussay Pussay” on the advance version of the album but apparently changed to “Puni Nani” on the official release), it’s gone from repetitive to tiresome.
But just because Zackey seems to drag the project down at every turn doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value on Exorcise Tape. Tobacco does a lot of fine production work here, turning in track after track of interesting electronic funk, and, whenever guest rappers show up, the songs improve. Opener “Lambourghini Meltdown” sets the stage appropriately for the rest of the album. A slow, simple hip-hop drumbeat is overlaid by a fat synth bass line and a couple layers of distorted, fuzzy melodic synths. Zackey comes in with his falsetto buried in the mix and starts talking about “making that pussy pop.” “El Camino 2” benefits from a hell of a bassline and beat, giving it some extra punch. The entire first half of the album is full of variations on these elements. Simple but interesting slow beats and piles of catchy synth lines that weave in and out of each other while Zackey quietly does his thing.
Exorcise Tape gets a much-needed energy infusion on the de facto title track “Demon Practice”. Rapper N8NOFACE takes center stage here, shouting about doing “10,000 push-ups / Before my breakfasses / Demon Queen go exercise / Demon Queen the exorcist” over a pulsing distorted bass. The tempo isn’t actually all that much faster than the rest of the songs on the album, but with N8’s energetic, aggressive delivery it feels lightning quick compared to Zackey’s languid singing. Tobacco and Zackey follow “Demon Practice” with the album’s true departure, “Love Bomb Zero”, a synth-pop love song through and through. For once, Zackey’s falsetto actually works as he sings over sweeping distortion-free synth melodies. “Love Bomb Zero” sounds like it has been dropped in from a completely different album by a completely different group, but it’s one of the most accomplished tracks on the record.
The album’s other highlight is “Rude Boy”, a song about a man shooting up a party. N8NOFACE returns to trade off verses with Zackey about exactly what happened at said party. The song actually has a vocal hook from Zackey, the simple statement “Rude boy shot the party” over a sparse drumbeat and synths that stay enough out of the way to let him be understood.
Exorcise Tape closes out with “Despise the Lie”, a hip-hop club track that works because of the interplay between Tobacco’s hard groove and rapper Isaiah Toothtaker’s fierce, high energy delivery. And that’s pretty much the story of the album. Whenever Zackey is the sole voice on a song, listeners essentially have to focus on the beats and music and treat him as part of the firmament, not the focus. The lone exception being “Love Bomb Zero”, of course, a complete aberration in context of the rest of Exorcise Tape. But the various rappers bring an energy to the proceedings that fit much better with the synth-funk / R&B music and they keep the record from being a total misfire. If Tobacco wants to continue making music as Demon Queen, he might be better off finding a different frontman.