On F***ed Up Friends, his first solo album, Tobacco explores a darker, starker and altogether more badass dimension of his complex vision. With his group Black Moth Super Rainbow, Tobacco distinguished himself as a master of jagged beats, glowing melodies and pronounced tension. This time, he works alone, in rural Pennsylvania, away from conventions and interference.
As always, Tobacco recorded F***ed Up Friends using analog synths and tape machines, which gives his work a timeless distance from digital pop music at large. His tracks evoke sonar, mellotrons and deteriorating cassette tapes. His windshield-rattling beats thump hard against their technological limitations. His hooks emerge from thick ponds of distortion, which heightens their hypnotic power. His music is equally cosmopolitan and self-contained, the soundtrack for an imaginary underwater cop show, a welcome stranger anywhere in time and space.
Much of F***ed Up Friends is instrumental. Sometimes, electronically mutilated vocals do emerge. The lyrics are never “about,” but always “of.” They don’t clarify. They only make the mystery that much more enticing.
Tobacco creates unique, compelling pop from the power and constrictions of his available technology. He makes music that is at once buoyant, danceable and unmistakably eerie. He plays “lo-fi” music for high yields, and he gives his simplest constructions a powerful dramatic sweep. He makes music with suave passion, burning vitality and cinematic depth. And he never stops searching for the perfect beat.
At times, such as on the sunny celebration “Hairy Candy,” F***ed Up Friends recalls BMSR’s woozy daydreams. But, taken as a whole, it’s a much more sinister affair. This album is anxiously driven, effortlessly smooth, and unapologetically uncanny. These tracks will stick in your head like a crooked get-rich-quick scheme. “Hawker Boat” and “Dirt (featuring Aesop Rock)” strain stadium-rock grandeur through a dirty filter and serve it with rocks and salt. “Side 8 (Big Gums Version),” “Backwoods Altar” and “Get My Nails Did” slowly expose a deep menace beneath their enticing rhythms.
F***ed Up Friends defies all expectations, rocks the boombox, and casts a menacing, irresistible spell. It bleeds under a blacklight. It knows where you live.