Black Moth Super Rainbow crafts the kind of music you can see, feel, taste and touch, wrapped in album covers you can hear. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines this sort of sensory confusion as synesthesia, but the group's elusive and soft-spoken leader Tobacco, née Tom Fec, isn't keen on labeling the music anything at all. "I want it to be whatever you want it to be," he offers with a lingering silence at the end of his words. "To me it's just pop music. I don't call it psychedelic and I don't call it electro-synth music as some people have done. But if that's what the listener wants it to be, then that's what it can be."
As frustrating as his passing of the buck seems, that open-ended mystery has bestowed BMSR with its greatest asset: intrigue. The group's identity, and in turn the music, is so rich with abstraction that revealing too much information would do it a disservice.
Not a lot is known about BMSR's personnel — Tobacco (vocals), Seven Fields (synth), D. Kyler (drums), Father Hummingbird (bass, synth) and Ryan Graveface (bass, guitar) — other than that they live and play music somewhere outside of Pittsburgh, Penn. Over the course of four albums and several singles and EPs, the mystery has deepened, surrounding both the music and its makers. According to Tobacco, it began as an accident, but the lack of information he's provided has blossomed into intentional haziness.
"The rural Pennsylvania thing came from an interview where I didn't want to give out my address, so I said [I live] somewhere outside of Pittsburgh," he recalls. "People ran with it, which is what happens when you don't give them much to work with."
Nothing else that he says in conversation reveals any secrets about the band behind the curtain. "Because everything I have given out about us hasn't been specific, it's become like a game of telephone," he adds. "We've been pegged as mysterious, but we're just not as in your face as bands are expected to be these days. Even in the '90s you didn't know a lot about the bands you liked. But now, every singer has an obnoxious blog so you know everything about them. It's too much!"
Black Moth's latest full-length, Eating Us (Graveface), carries the mystery that envelopes the group at every turn. From the heavy drums of opening number "Born On a Day the Sun Didn't Rise" to the dark, psychedelic resonance of "Iron Lemonade" and "Tooth Decay," sweet, slow-motion melodies guide each song on waves of pleasant, antiquated sound. Genderless ambiguity and childlike naivety ooze from the color-saturated grooves and hallucinatory textures of each song, painting a cleaner view of the same musical terrain the group has always traversed.
Like previous offerings, the heavy vocodered voice sits at the front and center of the music, and at times it's difficult to tell if it's a man or a woman singing. On record, Tobacco sounds nothing like the groggy Midwesterner on the other end of the phone. "I went a little higher and lighter with the vocoder on this one," he offers. "I was shooting for something that's really smooth and human-sounding. The only way to do that was to avoid the lower end of the vocoder, which sounds more robotic. I was trying to find that perfect range."
Eating Us is a remarkably smooth journey. Many of the album's improvements are due largely to enlisting Flaming Lips' producer Dave Fridmann. Throughout the recording, heavy but pleasant rhythms fall on richer sound qualities that transcend the four-track fidelity of the group's previous recordings, but not at the cost of their murky sonic signature. "A good, hi-fi recording is what everyone wants," says Tobacco. "But if you can understand why it's better to not have all of the information about a band available to you, then you can understand why it's better to sometimes have music that's missing frequencies and is filled with weird artifacts from whatever it was recorded on.
"You have to fill in the pieces for yourself," he says. "I got into music as a kid because it was another way of using your imagination, and that's what has always intrigued me about music."