Black Moth Super Rainbow Cobra Juicy(Rad Cult) Buy it from Insound
Black Moth Super Rainbow couldn’t have picked a better name for a label to self-release their latest album under than “Rad Cult.” The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synth freaks - with their bizarre, masked identities, an enigmatic front man with a fetish for vocoders, and an overwhelmingly supportive and dedicated fan base (one worth over 120K on Kickstarter) - have discreetly taken on a more than cultish presence in the music world over the past few years. More important, however, is the first word in their labels name, which goes to explain why this cult exists in the first place: Black Moth Super Rainbow is one “rad” band.
Since their 2007 breakthrough, the brilliantly warped Dandelion Gum, BMSR’s “rad” approach to psychedelic pop has helped them stand out amongst their peers with their Saturday-morning-cartoon-on-acid presence and use of warm, classic sounding walls of synth slime. Never ones to try and go over the listeners head, BMSR’s sound and lyrics recall a simple, groovier kind of psychedelic strangeness, the kind you would find in tie-dye shirts, scratch-n-sniff stickers, and inappropriately-colored foods (remember green ketchup?), all prepared with the mad-scientist mentality of a child baking his action figures in his sisters E-Z Bake oven just to watch them turn into a soupy, hyper-colorful mess. This does not mean that the group is too juvenile to take their music seriously, however, as recent years and releases, including 2009’s Eating Us, have revealed legitimate efforts by the band to refine their sound without compromising their unique personality. Three years and one Kickstarter account later, they’re back with Cobra Juicy, the bands most refined effort yet. Though it occasionally lacks the off-the-wall, spontaneous feeling that came with earlier releases, Cobra Juicy’s eleven varied tracks show distinct signs of warmth and maturity, yet glow with a radioactive kind of ooze which suggests that Black Moth Super Rainbows brand of hijinks is not in short supply.
Though Cobra Juicy is a Black Moth Super Rainbow album through and through, the band introduces some fresh sounds throughout the album that blend in perfectly with the group’s already distinctly offbeat sound. The sputtering, stomping beats and chunky guitar riffs featured in tracks like opener Windshield Smasher, Hairspray Heart, and Gangs in the Garden perfectly capture the sticky surrealism that has been BMSR’s calling card. However, these elements still feel ultimately new to the group, and help these tracks stand out as the more surprising and exciting moments on the album. These tracks also prove to capture the groups charming sense of macabre delinquency, with front man Tom Fec’s (aka Tobacco’s) croaks of “hairspray, gasoline, and roller-skates” in Windshield Smasher painting the band as a group of misfit Muppets terrorizing Sesame Street with cans of spray paint and Halloween masks.
Lyrics, however, are a tough thing to measure when talking about Black Moth Super Rainbow, seeing as how Tobacco’s electrically blow-dried vocals are only half-discernible in the first place, but they seem worth mentioning now more-so than ever. Tobacco has stated that Cobra Juicy is the most “lyric heavy” album the band has released yet, and while the album does feature some of the groups most potent lyrics, don’t expect any winding narratives or detailed story lines. In fact, the lyrics of Cobra Juicy have mostly grown heavier on grotesque and mysterious imagery, with vivid lines like, “Peelin’ like a sunburn / Microwave my smile” suggesting Tobacco’s reluctance to express himself without passing up the opportunity to gross people out in the process. Many tracks, however, do a clearer job at hinting at some darker truths. Deep-fried track I Think I’m Evil, with a chorus that goes, “You make me paranoid / But I love being thought about / You made the sun go down / But I sparkle every night,” hints at some sort of appealing yet ultimately destructive dependency, whether it’s a person or a substance, that you know is destroying you yet leaves you clawing for more. Revealing moments like these, as inexplicit as they may be sometimes, show that BMSR are about much more than childish mischief and acid freak-outs.
In fact, much of Cobra Juicy finds itself operating more on the sensitive side of their distinct weirdness, with the album sporting some of the bands gentlest, breeziest, and most romantic sounding tracks yet. For every bullfrog-throated snapper, there’s at least one or two smooth operators to combat them, complete with sun-soaked synths, laid back percussion, and vocals that gently ride on electromagnetic waves rather than abuse them. These moments, however, work both for and against the group, with some songs, like We Burn and Dreamsicle Bomb, left struggling to find a balance between their more structured sensibilities and oddball personality. However, there are many other examples, like the wonderfully dreamy The Healing Power of Nothing, that accomplishing this task with little to no trouble, and stand out as some of the albums finest moments.
It’s album finale Spraypaint, however, that proves without question that Black Moth Super Rainbow are ready to step their game up to the next level of maturity as songwriters, in all of its woozy, stoned glory. Consisting of light-as-air beats and some of the brightest synth melodies the group has produced yet, the song is BMSR’s clearest and most authentic display of unabashed emotion. Even through all of that vocoder fuzz, it’s not hard to hear the honesty when Tobacco sings, “I’m fucked up when I’m living without you,” followed by confessions of just needing someone to keep from destroying themselves. Sure it may sound corny, even a little melodramatic, but these simple, direct confessions are twice as meaningful coming from a band more known for spouting gross-out poetry beneath an electronic haze.
As matured as Cobra Juicy sounds in spots, it does not suggest that the band has grown up and left their cartoony, childish ways behind. And thank God for this, too. As nice as it is to hear BMSR refine their songwriting skills, their ability to cultivate their own unique personality as a band while never taking themselves too seriously is a characteristic too vital to let go of. It’s one thing to haphazardly refer your style of music as “Demon Skater,” but to actually embody this ambiguous sense of character in the most un-ironic way possible means you’re either insane, or a genius. In a way, I think Black Moth Super Rainbow is both.8 November, 2012 - 12:35 — Peter Quinton