There are several notable exceptions, but much of the time, once a solo identity sidles up to a touring, multi-member band, you start to notice changes to the homebase. Tobacco, as the focal point of multi-headed beast Black Moth Super Rainbow, broke out in a big way — indie-wise — with BMSR’s Dandelion Gum in 2007, and since then he’s began to cultivate a parallel solo identity, releasing Fucked Up Friends in 2008 and, now, Maniac Meat in 2010. (I’ll get to 2009’s Eating Us in a moment.)
Let’s be straight: The differences between Black Moth Super Rainbow and T-cco’s solo work are extremely negligible. And you’re right; Fucked Up Friends had a guest rapper — that seemed to be the one shift, seemingly planted there so both Tobacco and fans could point to a specific difference — but it was all synth swirls, mid-tempo beats, and vocoder. It was BMSR with a haircut or a new mustache; you’d still recognize it in an alley, trenchcoat or no, as the enigmatic work of one Tobacco, an idiosyncratic, deceivingly talented musician/bandleader.
Then came Eating Us in 2009, and it just didn’t stick quite as well (despite the craziness of the hair-covered CD packaging). Some of the songs sounded like those annoying, organ-led soundtrack cuts you hear in movies like Old School (seriously, make the comparison; you’ll be shocked). Putting Eating Us, then, in context with past solo-vs.-band-o experiences (I’m having a similar crisis with Department Of Eagles vs. Grizzly Bear as I write this), I figured Tobacco was saving his best stuff for his next solo record. I know, I know, it’s not that simple, blah-blah-blah, but I’m a Results reviewer, and the results point to increasing attention being focused on Tobacco goin’ all-solo.
In comes Maniac Meat, the annoyingly titled — not to mention the cover art; HOLY GOD avert thy EYes, children — follow-up to Fucked Up Friends, and a sign that, again, solo’s where the heart is. Tobacco’s going to have to progress in a huge way if he ever wants to outgrow the vivid, vintage video-game sound that has become his trademark (and interviews with the guy point to a strong yearning on his part for just that). But employing the same template he’s been using since BMSR came to prominence, he has succeeded in squeezing a few last cherries off the branches of a tree that, logically, just can’t live forever (not that I wouldn’t enjoy being proven wrong). The good news amid all this is that Tobacco most certainly isn’t against moving onward and upward — seemingly, it’s more that he’s having trouble figuring out how to do it consistently rather than sporadically.
The track that stands out the most is the Beck guest cut “Fresh Hex,” a DEAD ringer for Fucked Up Friends’ “Backwoods Altar” (which is a good thing) that works vocals into the mix of the electronic production SUCCESSFULLY (take note RJD2, Tarwater, DFA hacks), to the point where the vox, not the layered synths, grab your attention and subsequently pop up in your mind later like Mario mushrooms. Aside from this forward-thinking triumph and a new shiny ribbon every so often — “Unholy Demon” adds a prog-ish, poly-synth swipe; the other Beck guest cut, “Grape Aerosmith,” also toys/tinkers — there’s not a ton of growin’ goin’ on. The solid foundation — and the good economic sense of 15 full, fleshed-out songs — of classic Tobacco remains; as a listener, one has only to decide if it’s Enough.
It will be ’nuff if you’re a longtime Tobacco addict. Songs like “Mexican Ice Cream” and “Motorlicker” will fill your prescription for future-funk-hop-as-played-by-some-strange-modern-incarnation-of-the-Ice-Cream-Man twice over, and hey, if you’re happy to hear T-cco back in battle, more power to you. As a critic, however, the one point that keeps presenting itself in my mind is thus: Maniac Meat births a few new wrinkles, but it’s the same old Linus blanket: comforting, yes, but worn and approaching threadbare status. How much longer can Tobacco wear his vocoder on his sleeve like a metal dude’s arm-cloaking tat-job? It’ll be fun waiting to find out, if nothing else.