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Posted on May 27th, 2010 (3:40 pm) by Bo Smothers

You say tomato, I say Tobacco. I also say that Tobacco’s new album, Maniac Meat, much like the pronunciation of the word “tomato”, will elicit absurdly strong opinions from those who listen to it, resulting in either passionate love or hate, with little room for any gradation in between. This “tomato effect” is the result of a number of risky stylistic choices on the part of Tobacco, beginning with his sometimes-beautiful complications of otherwise mousy shoegaze ditties, and ending with the industrial-level of distortion and intermittent whirs and beeps that lie a little too thick over much of the album.

Simply said, Maniac Meat might not be a crowd-pleaser, being as nuanced as it is, but for those to whom it does appeal, the album could soon manifest itself as a new staple of your music library. So for those of you reading this review as you listen to the sweet, sweet beats of Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada, forge onward to get the low-down on one of the most eclectic and interesting, if not necessarily best, electronic albums of the summer so far. However, for those flannel-wearing folksters who are reading this through a fog of incense haze and Fleet Foxes sound waves, maybe choose another album, as frankly, it’s a little hard to get through without both dedication and a genuine predisposition to electronica.

Most of the aforementioned “tomato effect” has less to do with the album as a whole, than just the album’s beginning. It’s been said that with any sort of writing, it’s crucial to hook the reader within the first 1-3 paragraphs, depending on their size, and the same is true I think for music. Because, at least in my experience, it’s rare that, after finding the first three or four songs legitimately unappealing, I’ve continued to listen to an album for much longer, or at any point in time later returned to it.

So, when I was greeted by Maniac Meat with “Constellation Dirtbike Head” for a first song, it threw me. Between the obnoxious pitch dips, ugly, cymbal-based percussion, and a heavily digitized voice that sounds more like a high-powered electric drill than anything else, I thought I might have a flop on my hands. Then, when “Fresh Hex” was also a bust, despite the delightful cameo by the always-energetic and engaging Beck Hanson, I became worried. Illuminating itself as a half-imagined track with its short 1:35 runtime and overly-distorted synth swells, it was solidly a bad song, and so with an 0 for 2 record, I began formulating the despondent intro I would have to write for this review, lamenting ill-fated collaborations between music all-stars, the fall of the once-great Tobacco, and how he would have to return to his roots to fix this tangled mess. Then, as the icing on the cake, I was slapped in the face with “Mexican Icecream,” which, rather than sounding like the complex ambient electronica I now so strongly believed could not exist on the album, was more like 90’s cartoon music on a bad acid trip.

Finally, however, like Moses’ crossing of the desert, after the trials and tribulations of three exceptionally off-putting songs, I arrived at the promised land. Sounding at its best like Music Has The Right To Children-era Boards of Canada, the vast majority of the remaining 13 songs house every trick in the trade for the electronic genre. They may not be the most creative, or even the most aesthetically pleasing electronica you have heard, but damn are they well crafted. Aural clockwork, so to speak. From the simple, bass-heavy “Unholy Demon Rhythms”, to the marching, authoritative guitar chords of “Sweatmother”, Tobacco’s songs are a perfect, unassuming soundtrack to beach days this summer, and, for those whose musical tendencies lean towards the electronic, eclectic and exciting, great playlist fillers for years to come.

What it comes down to is really a question of taste. If off-kilter, just-south-of-sane electronic experimentalism along the lines of Board of Canada is up your alley, give Maniac Meat a listen, first three songs aside. You’ll probably like it. If, on the other hand, even the mention of La Roux sends shivers up your spine and makes you grab for the nearest copy of For Emma, Forever Ago, maybe let this album slide. It’s a little hard to get into if you’re not in the right mindset.

Track List:
1. Constellation Dirtbike Head
2. Fresh Hex (Feat. Beck)
3. Mexican Icecream
4. Lick The Witch
5. Sweatmother
6. Motorlicker
7. Unholy Demon Rhythms
8. Heavy Makeup
9. Grape Aerosmith (Feat. Beck)
10. New Juices From The Hot Tub Freaks
11. Six Royal Vipers
12. Overheater
13. Creepy Phone Calls
14. TV All Greasy
15. Stretch Your Face
16. Nuclear Waste Aerobics

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

63 / 100
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