Tobacco is that friend from high school that you always enjoyed hanging out with, but your parents never approved of; that same friend who always had the crazy, half-hatched ideas when you were driving around on Saturday nights that made you miss church on Sunday mornings; that same friend who you spent your summer nights with until sunrise trying new concoctions attempting to expand your perception of the universe. La Uti EP is that friend after their freshman year of college – even more out there and socially unacceptable.. and all the more enticing.
Tobacco’s two full lengths, 2008’s Fucked Up Friends and 2010’s Maniac Meat, are definitely an acquired taste. Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Tom Fec’s abrasive, distorted synths and almost creepy vocals put to heavy hip hop beats transport the listener to an alternate temporality – a place perhaps best understood in a state of insobriety, a place of psychedelic entrancement. So when Fec announced the La Uti EP, coming out only six months after Maniac Meat, it was reasonable to expect the same. La Uti, however, is not solely a Tobacco production. Its seven songs combine the previously demonstrated electronic talents of Fec with a slew of rappers, new and old. Four of the songs are new versions of favorites from Maniac Meat, with verses laid over the dense tracks. The other three are fresh altogether.
The logic is there; if Tobacco toys with hip hop beats, why not release a hip hop album? Why not collaborate with artists ranging from New York’s Anti-Pop Consortium to Idaho’s Doseone? In this age of recycling and repurposing, why not spruce up a few of Maniac Meat‘s finest tracks?
However excellent the idea, though, the execution is hit and miss.
The EP begins with v2.0 of one of Maniac Meat‘s best, “TV All Greasy”. The original presented a complete escape from the terrestrial, an adventure with cosmic synth glissandos and crunchy beats paired alongside stellar bass that easily warranted a spot on every late night mix tape. For La Uti, Fec enlists Anti-Pop Consortium to freestyle over the track. Although the rap in itself is not horrible, it fails to adhere to the tempo and character of the music, rendering it feeling forced and out of place.
This trend is temporarily suspended with Doseone and “The Injury”, though, continuing the cerebral assault and presenting one of the strongest tracks on La Uti. The chorus swallows the listener whole with its nonchalance, and Doseone’s nasal voice and rapid rhymes perfectly contrast the slower drudge of the accompanying music. “Lick the Witch” featuring Rob Sonic is undoubtedly the strongest recycled track. He keeps up rhythmically with Fec’s beats and strives to achieve a balance between the vocals and music, even acknowledging Tobacco and allowing the last 40 seconds of the song to speak for themselves. Chicago native Serengeti spearheads the next track, “2 Thick Scoops” with a solid performance inseparable from the distorted, grinding music.
The next two tracks both come from Maniac Meat and both collaborators fail to bring anything to the songs but the idea of collaboration. This is the heart of La Uti‘s shortcomings. Had we not been given the original versions of “Sweatmother” and “Unholy Demon Rhythms”, had we not been given two tracks of such hypnotic, intense tracks, La Uti’s Height and Icicle Frog’s versions would not be nearly as condemnable. Their echoing, subpar verses would have been merely accepted as the accompaniment to Tobacco’s signature sound as opposed to the tethers anchoring what is supposed to be floating sans gravity abruptly to the ground. “Sweatmother” with Height’s reverberating vocals is almost unlistenable. Icicle Frog’s cartoonish sparse verses are reminiscent of South Park characters, and they even acknowledge the futility of their presence in the song with lines such as “I can’t spit rhymes sick as hell/but you can’t hit what you can’t miss/my bass hits low.” Judging these songs in the context of their originals may not be fair, but when Maniac Meat is still so fresh in mind, such autonomy is not feasible.
All of that being said, La Uti finishes strong with a new song, “Lamborghini Meltdown”, featuring Zackey Force Funk. The high vocals present a fluidity rarely seen throughout this inconsistent EP. The combination of pulsating bass and melodic voice and synths are mesmerizing and somewhat redeem the gaping flaws in some of the other songs. La Uti is a collection of contrasts – highs and lows, clean verses and dirty beats, and vice versa. Tobacco’s abrasive nature and complete lack of concern for mainstream convention are demonstrated explicitly throughout this seven track experiment, perfectly summarized in the last line of the album that quips, “Don’t mess with me babe”. Love it or hate it, you cannot help yourself from wondering what he will release next.