Despite trippy leanings, Black Moth Super Rainbow aim for bubblegum 

OK, so Black Moth Super Rainbow definitely have a few attributes that attract neo-hippies, MDMA-popping festival kids and other folks with loads of psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide trapped in their respective systems. The Pittsburgh-based group utilizes trippy, redundant hooks and swirling electronic instrumentation, they released the first 2,000 copies of Eating Us (their latest) in "silver hairy summer jackets" and, hell, their name is Black Moth Super Rainbow.

But don't be put off—they actually know what they're doing, and they know how to write a solid pop album.

"It's strange. I'm not sure what the neo-psych movement is, but I'm pretty sure it's not for me," says Black Moth's frontman—that is, if you can call him a frontman. He goes only by the name of Tobacco, and he often crouches or sits at the side of the stage during live performances, fiddling over knobs and singing through a vocoder. "I've never been a psych fan, because I think it's a lot of babble, so it's weird getting lumped in with that stuff. I just try to make pop music and I like to use some older methods that might superficially group us with some of those bands."

While Tobacco's description makes his methods sound relatively conventional, Eating Us—released May 26—has been labeled by fans and critics alike as a "bubblegum freakout." And bubblegum it is: It's sugar-sweet and pleasantly familiar, but not especially easy to swallow. Tracks like "Born on a Day the Sun Didn't Rise" and "The Sticky" have rich, rubbery beats and contagious vocal hooks that crop up again and again. And while familiar devices like these might land Eating Us' 12 tracks in the indistinct territory of "pop," they're interpreted in a manner that makes Black Moth Super Rainbow's nearest relatives ambient techno and electronic artists like Boards of Canada, Stereolab, Air and Broadcast.

More than anything else, BMSR are bound to their ambient brethren by raspy synth parts and Tobacco's vocals, which are always—as in 100 percent of the time—passed through a vocoder and (at least on this album) adjusted to mimic female inflection. So much so that a young music writer just might think they were the genuine article and ask Tobacco when one of BMSR's female members took over vocal duties. "The vocoder is all me. That's just the way I got it to sound on this album." Woops.

If pop is indeed what they're aiming for, Black Moth certainly enlisted the help of the right producer. They tapped former Mercury Rev member Dave Fridmann, who has produced albums for The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Phantom Planet, Weezer and countless others. According to Tobacco, Fridmann's greatest contributions were his trademark expansive sound and a keen familiarity with recording drums. "It was like working for the first time with someone who knew what they were doing," recalls Tobacco. "He gave it the space and the fidelity I've never been able to get on my own."

We're lucky that BMSR's pairing with Fridmann was fruitful. Tobacco is admittedly an introverted, self-reliant songwriter, and collaboration isn't a process he enjoys. BMSR teamed up with Austin's Octopus Project in 2006 to release The House of Apples and Eyeballs—a solid and well-received album—but Tobacco was displeased with the outcome. "That was a one-time thing," he admits. "I'm not happy with the work I did on that, and it helped me realize that I'm not cut out for collaborating."

And while Tobacco sought much more input (from both Fridmann and fellow BMSR members) in the creation of Eating Us than in past efforts, flying mostly solo seems to work for him. At its finest moments, Eating Us is reminiscent of OK Computer or any number of great, loosely electronic pop albums. At its worst, it's still listenable. And not just if you're tripping.

Email prodgers@nashvillescene.com or call 244-7989 ext. 366.

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