It’s been almost two decades since baby TOBACCO first plugged in a tape deck, popped the top, and found the dark magic that’s fueled so many sonic forays into his genre-less bog of beat-blasted hypnagogia and otherworldly-yet-earthen pop. The Pennsylvanian experimentalist has since helmed countless Black Moth Super Rainbow releases, remixed outsiders as offbeat as HEALTH and unexpected as White Zombie, and produced MCs ranging from Aesop Rock to Beck. But it’s on his fourth solo album that TOBACCO winds up coining an apt name for his vast empire of moldering electro-fied dirt: Sweatbox Dynasty. The new LP-his second for Ghostly International-finds the rural recluse resurrecting an old approach to hack a new path through the muck. This may be his most unintentionally psychedelic and left-field creation yet, full of rhythms that start and stop like a tractor on its last piston, resonating melodies made to fuel transcendental meltdowns, and vocals that hiss, gurgle, and growl.
“It’s my baby,” says TOBACCO-a disturbing mental image if you overlook the beauty in his decrepit works. A song like “Human Om,” for example, swirls revving analog synths, drum machine clatter, blown-out gong hits, sitar hum, and all manner of unidentifiable noise to create an unexpected sense of calm. It’s an almost trance-inducing space where our host gets touchy-feely in his own way, voice seething, “You can be my light come up in the morning/And I can be your spiral spinnin’ down.” The cheery na-na-na’s and punchy rhythms of “Gods in Heat” similarly contrast against dirging chords and heavy distortion, while “Warlock Mary” swaths a springy funk riff in thick layers of warped tones. “I do know how to ruin a good song,” TOBACCO says with perverse pride. “I just gotta keep pushing to find new places to go.” Interstitial pieces like “Wipeth Out” or “The Madonna” are exactly that-strange, minimal fuzz bombs that jerk and groove to alien cadences.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that fermentation was part of the process. After finishing 2014’s Ultima II Massage, TOBACCO began feverishly working on his next album, and then he stopped. “I felt I’d done everything I set out to do,” he explains. “I thought maybe I’d go away for a long time, and I went a year without even plugging anything in.” But when he was finally at peace with the idea of exile, the music came rushing back and wouldn’t let up. In a flurry of days and nights he made Sweatbox Dynasty, and while each of his previous LPs felt like a honing of what came before, this one plays like a lush island of oddities unto itself. Except in one regard-in starting over, TOBACCO found himself using a technique from in his nascent days of recording. He laid down every single effect and track on cassette, individually, before transferring it to a sampler and damaging the part as needed en route. The result is wild, and heard all over these songs.
On an album with no guests, the tape deck is TOBACCO’s one true collaborator-the Second Zombie Beatle there to eff up all his prettier inclinations. Like how the sticky coast and thump of “Dimensional Hum” keeps getting derailed by what sounds like a fritzy radio dial, and the stonery dub of “Fantasy Trash Wave” bends and snaps over its slippery breakbeats. “An album of linear songs is just boring at this point,” says TOBACCO, and he makes extra good on his promise to innovate ever more crudely with Sweatbox Dynasty’s closer. At over six minutes, “Let’s Get Worn Away” first plays like eleven more songs spliced together at unpredictable intervals-jock jams collide against rap bumps, synthesizer ether, and shadowy electro-pop. But on repeated listens, madness clearly becomes method, as our anti-hero lulls us into a state of intense, earned peace. This time when he stops, he’s got closure, and we’re the ones left with an undeniable urge to dig our hands back into that aural gunk once again.