With song titles like "Neon Syrup for the Cemetery Sisters," lyrics such as "Iron lemonade, eat my face away" and themes of witches and bubble gum, Black Moth Super Rainbow makes the kind of music you'd expect from the mind of a mad daydreamer who had exiled himself to a smoke-filled basement littered with a legion of dirty coffee mugs re-appropriated as ashtrays. "I'm really just trying to make pop music," says the band's leader, known only as Tobacco. "This is just how it comes out."
The initial reason for obscuring the identities and personalities of Black Moth Super Rainbow's musicians has actually had (in most cases) the opposite effect than was intended. "We thought it would put more emphasis on the music and possibly even give it a wider audience," Tobacco says. "But these days if you're not Twittering and giving people open access, it just encourages them to create some kind of mythos."
Taking on abstract monikers (like Tobacco, Seven Fields of Aphelion, Power Pill Fist, Iffernaut and Father Hummingbird) and not revealing their faces in photos has encouraged a cultish following, but has denied the band's music the kind of accessibility they'd hoped it would have.
The music they make only encourages the element of mystery. It's an oddly pleasing mix of heavily textured analog synth and bubble gum-sweet pop hooks that has, up until this point, been married to low fidelity production. Eerie, sometimes doomishly distorted, blankets of synthetic dreaminess envelope and permeate the instruments as they shine through with frivolous beats and carefree melodies. Tobacco's vocals are electronically enhanced by a vocoder: "I've never been comfortable with singing. Using (the vocoder) allows me to get away with having the vocal melodies and not sing."
Originally based in Pittsburgh, Pa., Tobacco began recording noisy abstractions in the mid-'90s under various names such as Allegheny White Fish and satanstompingcaterpillars. The name changed as new members joined, and the focus shifted to music that was more melodic (and more conducive to performing live). The first release under the name Black Moth Super Rainbow, Falling Through A Field, came out in 2003. Over the next four years, two more releases earned BMSR a small but dedicated following. Touring with more high-profile artists such The Flaming Lips and Aesop Rock ensured that that following steadily grew. Then, in 2007, with the release of a fourth album, Dandelion Gum, the band finally began to break through to a wider audience. Still, the rough, lo-fi production rendered the music inaccessible to some listeners.
The new album, Eating Us, seeks to remedy that situation with the addition of producer Dave Fridmann. A former member of Mercury Rev, most would recognize Fridmann's work as longtime producer of The Flaming Lips as well as scores of other acts like Elf Power, Mogwai and Sparklehorse. With Fridmann's help BMSR have produced their slickest and most accessible album to date. The band's unique sonic quirkiness is still there but there is far more emphasis on the organic instruments this time out. "That was intentional, there have always been as many instruments involved," Tobacco says. "I wanted to showcase more of that and make it less of a synth-heavy production." The result is an album with a lighter, airier tone. One that retains BMSR's the off-kilter soundscapes and cotton candy sweetness while highlighting the nuances and intricacies that we never knew were there.
As for any unifying theme? "I wanted to get as far away from any kind of concept or central idea as possible," Tobacco says. "After Dandelion Gum we were becoming known as the fairy-tales-and-witches-in-the-foggy-forest band. Hopefully we've shaken that label."
When asked about the rumors that the band would be put to rest following the current tour,Tobacco was reticent to say for sure. "You know, it's something we're discussing," he says. "I can't really say for sure. Black Moth might even go on without me and I couldn't even say what that would be right now."
With or without his cohorts, Tobacco will continue his musical experiments. With a second solo album in the formative stages and speculations as to who he might work with next, it's difficult to predict what those experiments might yield. At the very least they'll be the product of a singular musical perspective. "I'm not really into collaborating," he admits. "I really just want to go off into a room by myself and do my own thing for a while."
who: Black Moth Super Rainbow
what: Oddly-creepy, offbeat and sweet experimental music
where: Club 828 (Formerly Nashwa)
when: Tuesday, July 28 (9 p.m. $10/$12. www.clubnashwa.com)