Mystery is making a comeback. In the last two years, the inevitable backlash to Internet demystification has swept forth bands for which the unknown was their biggest selling points. Acts that have taken advantage of the difficulty of digging up information on them include jj (no relation), iamamiwhoami, and oOoOO. While I’d be the last person to call for returning to the apotheosis of the pop star, I certainly think removing the artist from the art can produce salutary returns.
Case in point: Tobacco. Outside your standard assortment of press-release biography — the mad genius behind Black Moth Super Rainbow, given name Tom Fec, maybe he lives in Pennsylvania somewhere — I’ve kept myself purposefully unaware of the band’s real-world background. Consider a testament to the immersive sonic world he’s crafted over several BMSR records and now two solo efforts: The mental image I’ve painted for myself fits the music too well. Surrounded by dully glowing neon, snorting nutmeg and ingesting datura, blasting breakbeat records in one corner of the room and Radiophonic Workshop LPs in the other, playing 8-bit videogames while knocking back a six-pack of cough syrup. I can’t imagine a more conventional individual would be capable of music so loopy and wired, so blown-out and studded with small details, so wonderfully idiosyncratic.
The material on Maniac Meat is both a refinement of what came before on Fucked Up Friends and a rebuttal of the desiccated, sanitized sound of Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Eating Us. As soon as “Constellation Dirtbike Head” hits, you are right back in Tom Fec’s wheelhouse. A driving arcade beat carries Fec’s giddily hallucinatory vocals right into the first refrain, whence the dirty siren synths and live drums kick you right in the face. It kicks off Maniac Meat’s impressive opening stretch, all basement sweat and body-movement, working the purely intuitive areas of the musical brain that are so prime for this kind of music. Fec moves things along at a tidy pace through the first seven cuts, drawing equally from hip-hop grooves and videogame sonics, first leaning more toward one and then back toward the other. This stretch also boasts some of the record’s highest highs, from Beck’s brilliant speaking-in-tongues cameo on “Fresh Hex” to the unnerving Boom Bap horror of “Sweatmother.” (The latter track is at the fore of a host of cuts on Maniac Meat that absolutely scream for an MC to rhyme over. It comes as no surprise that rumor has Tobacco‘s next release as an all hip-hop affair replete with many an indie-rap guest-star.)
Things hit a bit of bump when “Heavy Makeup” overstays its welcome by about two minutes, and it’s only then that it hits you that Maniac Meat is 16 tracks long. So lengthy a record will almost always contain some duds, and while the second half of the record isn’t as winning as the first, it’s hardly a slog. “TV All Greasy” is one of the album’s best matchups of killer beat with mind-melting synths, and “Overheater” contains one of the finer examples of Fec’s delirious, world-defining lyrical style: “Put me into your milkshake/ Smash my eyes out/ Flush my head out.”
Would I enjoy the music on Maniac Meat less were I to know that Tom Fec worked days in advertising, drove a sensibly fuel-efficient car, was a Phillies fan? In the final analysis: Unlikely. The songs are too determinedly distinctive to gainsay. But that mental sonic world that the music creates would be less intense, less encompassing, and listening would be less a transportive experience in the Tom Fec Dimension. Thankfully, this is Tobacco’s world, and you can’t trust your brain to determine mystery from madness.