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.