As popular music becomes increasingly electronic, it's also aided the rise of the computer as an instrument, along with digital instruments and interfaces. Whilst this is a prevalent trend there are always those acts who go against the tide. Eschewing modern equipment for analog synthesizers, tape machines and old drum machines, Tobacco would be one of them.
Tobacco is an offshoot of cult act Black Moth Super Rainbow allowing frontman Thomas Fec to take the BMSR aesthetic into a stranger and often darker place with his primitive bedroom hip-hop and no computer in sight. I became familiar with Black Moth Super Rainbow's 2009 album Dandelion Gum, an album full of sunny and pastoral electronic music. Tobacco seems like an outlet for a completely different side of Fec. He has provided beats for rappers like Aesop Rock, Beans and The Hood Internet and his last album Maniac Meat also featured Beck on two tracks, an artist who also made his own oddball take on hip-hop on his breakout album Odelay.
His third album under the Tobacco moniker Ultima II Massage sounds like a seedy video game title and it mostly lives up to that as opener Streaker begins with all the tact of a grubby adolescent. There is none of the perfect EQing and over-laboured sound that you can find in a lot of modern music, the bass drums thud clumsily like a drunken madman. When Tobacco does take a step back into something a little more chilled out it often sound like a Boards of Canada demo, like on Self Tanner with its hazy and slightly-off synth lines or the stoned beats of Beast Sting and Creaming For Beginners. The slinky and funky Lipstick Destroyer is the music Daft Punk might make if they were locked up in a basement after making Homework with an 4-track and some early hip hop records as a vocoder and a disco beat fight through fuzzy guitars whilst album closer Bronze Hogan could be the theme from a long forgotten 1980s straight to VHS film as a big guitar riff and keys jostle around.
Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut at the End of the Summer) has some of the more obvious vocal hooks (and some of the most discernible lines) like “Twist it like a pigtail/I can make your heart fail” along with a synth sound that is just gloopy. The song finds Tobacco liberally dropping “Motherfucker” like a teenager playing tough and reinforces a teenage viewpoint seems to come through a lot of this music, capturing an age where nothing is over thought and the world is still a strange place that you haven't quite figured out yet. There are a few tracks like Good Complexion that are a little closer to the sunnier psychedelia of Black Moth but for the most part Ultima will leave you feeling like you've taken a swim in a sewer.
It's a journey into a strange and grimy place, in fact if you have Chromesthesia I imagine you'd see the music as the yellow-brown stain left by tobacco, it's that dirty sounding. Whilst the retro and vocoder sound may seem to make Tobacco a one trick pony, there is a pretty surprising amount of variation and ideas in the lo-fi tunes that make up Ultima II Massage. It's gleefully strange, with song titles like Dipsmack, Spitlord and Video Warning Attempts that only seem to aid the oddness and make it all the more indecipherable. If you like your music a little on the weird side then it may well be worth taking a trip down this particular rabbit hole.