Abstraction has always played a large role in the appeal of Black Moth Super Rainbow. The hypnagogic stage names (the five band members go by Tobacco, Ryan Graveface, Iffernaut, Bullsmear, and The Seven Fields of Aphelion), the lyrics that are barely decipherable beyond the fact that they’re vocoded, and the dizzyingly psychedelic depths of synthesizers combined to make albums like Dandelion Gum both mystifying and enveloping. Unfortunately, though, the results necessarily diminish as each album piles up, as the listening audience becomes more familiar with the nuances of the band’s sound, and, simultaneously, as the band themselves become more familiar and confident with their ability to produce structured songs underneath that weird fog.
Both within the title and throughout their fifth full length, Cobra Juicy, frontman Tobacco and his cohorts take their typical tact of combining the utterly shiny and the vaguely creepy. The bubblegum airiness of the dayglo instrumentation counteracts the often abstract, surreal, disconcerting lyrical content, and vice versa, until the two halves melt into one super-charged party drug that pushes into the deepest, strangest recesses of your daydreams.
“Hairspray Heart” sounds like Korg and acid came together in order to sponsor a sequel to “Come Together”, Tobacco singing lines “sucking out the poison from a snakebite/ I can gum it dry/ I’m just like a person with a hairspray heart” as if that were actually a string of words that a person might say seriously, bubbling synths and distorted guitar licks framing his vocoded nonsense. As the track hits the apex of chunky groove, it comes time to repeat the phrase “like a fucking diamond” because, well, perhaps some psychoactive experimentation on this end of the experience might clarify that. Or maybe not.
Occasionally, ignoring the often dada lyrics can spoil the experience. The spider-webby lethargy of “Psychic Love Damage” chills to the core, wafts of smoke floating over Ryan Graveface’s syrupy thick guitar slinks. “I’m wasting all my daylight/ almost human in your eyes,” Tobacco swoons, tambourine shudders and synth washes focusing his lazy afternoon love. The swirling, positivist groove of “The Healing Power of Nothing” embraces pain as an antidote to nothingness. “The day I met you/ I knew you were gonna break me up,” Tobacco coos, the track building to a surprisingly recognizable dose of acoustic strumming.
While Cobra Juicy keeps most of the Black Moth Super Rainbow framework intact, its tracks hit a more obvious set of genre touchstones along the way. “We Burn” rides on a low-slung hip-hop groove, while “Gangs In The Garden” strives for early electropop mastery with its wonky squobbles and heavily dance-able bass lines. Where once they chopped everything into barely recognizable bits and then built their own worlds from the shreds, they now seem to be taking the fuzzy, fluorescent Big League Chew in their pockets and shoving it through the genre equivalent of a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
Perhaps due to that intentful focus, the buzzy hooks on this album outstrip anything they’ve done in the past. The swarming lazer synths of “I Think I’m Evil” recall some sort of robotripping Ladytron, the swanky dancefloor full of weirdos looking over their eyebrows and swaying menacingly. “You make me paranoid/ but I love being thought of,” Tobacco smirks, the eventual black light stage effects and dripping neon swirls apparent in the mix. Opening track and lead single “Windshield Smasher” burns a concrete-smashing guitar riff into your ears, and then overwhelms the eyes with spacy synth squiggles. These are the kind of focused songs that were always buried in the middle of Black Moth Super Rainbow tracks, but on Cobra Juicy, they’re on full display.
That fact, though, is at odds with what is essential to the band’s strengths. For Black Moth Super Rainbow to do the damage that they’re capable of, there needs to be a decent amount of distance, some factor that suggests you’ll never know exactly what the hell is going on, even while you’re giddily dancing your heart out. While few (if any) of the lyrics referenced above will offer you an easy narrative or a bite-sized lesson, the intrigue isn’t there the way it once was beforehand. Cobra Juicy is the most technically focused that Black Moth Super Rainbow have ever been, but it also lacks an important degree of their trademark self-contradiction.
Essential Tracks: “I Think I’m Evil”, “Hairspray Heart”