Tobacco to break down Iron Horse Thursday

By Garth Brody

Tom Fec, better known as Tobacco, is coming to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton this Thursday. Tobacco is the principle songwriter and “singer” for the psychedelic electro-pop band Black Moth Super Rainbow. Tobacco exclusively “sings” through a vocoder.

His signature vocals build a great deal of the haunting atmosphere found in both Black Moth and his solo work. Hunched over the bizarre-looking vocoder, Tobacco generates surprisingly lush harmonic textures where there would otherwise be the voice of a puny human.

In Black Moth Super Rainbow, the vocoder vocals take on a character of childlike pop whimsy, but they tend to sound a little more frantic in Tobacco’s solo work. Against skittering saccharine synth riffs, chunky hip-hop beats and bass-lines fuzzed out almost to the point of being incomprehensible, his psychotic electronic whispers become creepily engaging. On “Heavy Makeup,” he repeats to the listener: “You got sick from a lolly lolly lollipop. You feel free when you’re killing me.” The darkly absurd tone of Tobacco’s solo work is what distinguishes it from his work with the band.

He released his first solo LP, “F*cked Up Friends,” in October of 2008, featuring the likes of Aesop Rock on an outstanding rap track entitled “Dirt.” Earlier this year, he followed up with the similarly alliterative “Maniac Meat.”

Like the first album, it is largely comprised of scratchy industrial beats, piercing sirens, creepy/catchy synth hooks and robotic ramblings strained through atonal chromatic crescendos. It also features Beck on two tracks, which provides enough nonsense to keep up with the insanity in the music. The feeling that the machines being used to generate the sounds on the album are constantly breaking down pervades the listening experience. Notes cut out, tones bend awkwardly, melodies flicker on and off – it sounds as though Tobacco himself is malfunctioning.

He released two visual projects based on his “F*cked Up Friends” album – the “F*cked Up Friends” DVD and the “F*cked Up Friends 2” DVD/Blu-ray set, which is curiously self-described as “the first ever low resolution, Lo-Fi BlueRay video.” Primarily scrapped together out of obscure 1980s VHS and Betamax, the visuals of “F*cked Up Friends” reflect Tobacco’s artistic ethic. Like the video, he thrives on taking outdated technology and reusing it in bold, often frightening new ways.

Doors open at 10 p.m. and Tobacco features openers Junk Culture and Dreamend. Keep an eye out for his garishly named Black Moth bandmate, The Seven Fields of Aphelion, backing him up on synthesizers.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]