Release Date: Aug 19, 2016
Record label: Ghostly International
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Experimentalist and analogue fanatic Tobacco is back with a total melter: Sweatbox Dynasty is a beast to be feared. Electronic bruises recorded via casette and fucked with via a sampler, Thomas Fec's got a thing for musical brutality, and on his fourth solo work a sci-fi end-of-days vibe prevails. Songs like Fantasy Trash Wave and Home Invasionaries see muddy, messy waves of sound smashed together with the ruthless hand of a playful overlord.
Underneath the sticky throb and ambiguous menace of Tobacco’s pulverized electronic chops there is an ascetic aversion to indulgence. Time and repetition is, as always, at a premium, and the spasms and undulations of Sweatbox Dynasty happen under a watchful eye. Titles like “Human Om”, “Gods in Heat” and “Dimensional Hum” could allude to the notion that Sweatbox Dynasty is a subversive spin on a spiritual awakening.
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By the time ex-Black Moth Super Rainbow leader Tobacco released his fourth album, Sweatbox Dynasty, in 2016, anyone who had heard a single song by either his former band or his solo incarnation knew exactly what to expect: blown-out beats informed by hip-hop, goopy synths that sound serrated and sticky at the same time, and bubblegum-sweet and horror movie-spooky melodies with vocals fed through an overworked vocoder. That the sound hasn't worn out its welcome at all after being trotted out so often with only tiny tweaks here and there is a testament to Tobacco's singular vision. It's also proof that his initial idea for making music was a pretty darn good one.
Thomas Fec started his Tobacco alter ego to create music that ultimately feels darker, denser and more sinister than that of his main gig as vocalist of the psychedelic electro purveyors Black Moth Super Rainbow. As BMSR have slowed their output throughout this decade, Fec has seemingly melded their elements into his Tobacco project, and Sweatbox Dynasty comes off as his most accessible, pop-leaning release to date. With 12 tracks and a run time of just 30 minutes, much of Tobacco's fourth solo LP almost sounds incomplete at times, but Fec somehow makes it work to his advantage, as tracks like "Hong," "Fantasy Trash Wave" and "Let's Get Worn Away" deliberately sound broken, tampered with or just plain fucked up, much like a Tim and Eric sketch put to wax.
In both his solo work as Tobacco and as the frontman of Pittsburgh-based synth-psych outfit Black Moth Super Rainbow, Thomas Fec has trafficked over the years in the weird, the uncanny, the not-quite-right. He’s done so by taking human elements—often his own voice—and corroding them using filters like vocoder, talk box, and compressed synths that shudder like an atelectatic lung. Like filmmaker David Cronenberg, Fec sees, contained in technology, the most grotesque parts of ourselves.
Thomas Fec, better known by his stage name TOBACCO, makes music destined for abstract adjectives. Squishy, dirty, fuzzy, vibey, bouncy are each appropriate, if ultimately inadequate to describe the psychic dirge of his fourth solo record, Sweatbox Dynasty. Whatever strange non-musical term comes to mind when you hear it, there is that intangible thing that just makes it buzz with life and animation.
Tobacco is the stage name of Thomas Fec, the man the behind the vocoder-soaked psychedelic pop outfit Black Moth Super Rainbow. While his solo work could loosely be described as electronic music with hip hop beats, it takes a fairly fluid approach to genre and incorporates many different styles. Sweatbox Dynasty continues the Tobacco tradition of vocodered vocals and pre-digital sounds, even going one better.
Throughout his solo career as TOBACCO, Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Thomas Fec has experimented with varying degrees of ugliness, whether it’s running his percussion through cruddy old recording equipment or distorting his beats until they’re part of some clubland version of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Of course, beauty has always crept through the muck, too — he’s never been beyond interrupting the nightmare with some dreamy synth twinkles, allusions to vintage E.T. porn videos be damned.
On paper, the Pennsylvania producer Tobacco reads great: a blend of Animal Collective’s seven-dwarf work songs, Madlib’s distracted hip-hop production and John Maus’s outsider pop, all wrapped in the raunchy fuzz of psychedelic rock. There’s even the plod of 80s video-game soundtracks on Home Invasionaries, and neat production flourishes abound, such as the plumes of noise on Human Om or the blurts of another track taped over sections of Let’s Get Worn Away. But his constipated rhythms are built from funk-free blocks of fibre, and the songwriting is poor – melodies are like puppies at a training class, either irritatingly restive or wandering off entirely.