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New York Cool - Music

Tobacco's New CD
Maniac Meat

Reviewed by John Hashop

If one is to grow as a person, one must step outside of one's comfort zone every now and then - take a yoga class, go skydiving, become a big celebrity and get caught having multiple simultaneous affairs. Or, if you're me, try reviewing an album in a genre of music about which you know very, very, very little.

A quick scan of my music library plainly reveals that I'm really not that into electronic music. Yes, there's some Sasha + Digweed left over from some rave I went to in 1997 and some ambient stuff like Four Tet and even some more out there bands like Mouse on Mars, but, come on, maybe 80 tracks total (and that's counting Moby).

Not exactly confidence-inspiring stuff for an electronica album review lead-in, is it? I mean, you might as well be reading the semi-coherent ramblings of some sub-literate blogger who runs a site called “Musings from the Dark Pheonix,” right? (By the way, I'm not checking to see if that site exists, so apologies to you if it's yours. Oh, and learn to spell.) After putting off writing this for the past two weeks, however, I finally feel like I am up for the challenge.

Tom Fec aka Tobacco's sophomore release Maniac Meat is definitely a challenge – and a compelling listen. In a field swamped with sampling and digital precision, his featured use of analog synths and tape machines jump out immediately. The sixteen tracks are a lot of fuzziness to take at once, especially when paired with his eye-twitchingly syncopated rhythms, but the fuzz thankfully enhances Tobacco's complex melodies rather than making up for their absence. These melodies range from the dark and insistent “Sweatmother,” which sounds like someone threw an unreleased track off of Check Your Head and Ray Manzarek down a stairwell, to the repetitive and annoying “Mexican Icecream,” which sounds like a programmer made a coding error on the score of a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

The analog synthesizer's pitch controls lead Tobacco into a predilection towards sliding attacks into notes and swooping down off the dismounts. As distinctive as his instruments' timbre can be because of this, tracks like “Overheater,” in turn, suffer primarily due to this, turning the main riff into a sloppy mess. When used sparingly, though, like in the evocatively named “New Juices from the Hot Tub Freaks,” they give the song punch and, to use a technical term, rock my face off.
Now, to the crux: there are two standout tracks on the album; Tobacco teams up with Beck on two tracks on the album. Five points if you can guess which are the two standouts. “Fresh Hex” and “Grape Aerosmith” both feature vocals by Beck Hansen and they are both excellent, especially the former with its escalator-like background track and its strong and forceful lead synth. The problem is – and I'm not even sure this is a problem – “Fresh Hex” doesn't feel so much like a Tobacco feat/Beck song as it feels like, well, a Beck song. And this is strange because Tobacco's voice is definitely present, and the song fits squarely into the frame of the rest of the tracks. In the end, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was listening to Beck's latest album, on which, for some reason, he only sings two songs.

I suppose if Tobacco doesn't have a problem with this, then I won't either.

Recommended with reservations.


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