Black Moth Super Rainbow: Brain-Melting, Enigmatic Synth Hop

Black Moth Super Rainbow: Dandelion Gum (Graveface, 5/22/07)

Black Moth Super Rainbow: “Jump into my Mouth and Breathe the Stardust”

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“PR people have said that I’m killing my band.”
Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow

Since their group’s inception five years ago, the members of Pennsylvania’s Black Moth Super Rainbow have mostly kept to themselves. Over the course of three full-length albums, one split album with Austin guitar oddball The Octopus Project, and a new EP, Drippers (released on Chicago’s Graveface Records), few publicity photos have surfaced, and those that you’re likely to find have been carefully selected, with nary a glamor shot to be found.

The members go by names like Tobacco, Power Pill Fist, and Father Hummingbird. They’ve only done a handful of interviews, and though they’ve been hand-selected to tour with such high-profile acts as Aesop Rock and The Flaming Lips, their live shows keep stage banter to a minimum, instead allowing creepy, homemade animation to act as a spotlighted face.

When they do speak, Tobacco speaks for them. For our purposes, it’s his show, though one would be foolish to doubt the talent and input of his band-mates; just check out Power Pill Fist’s latest offering, Kongmanivong, also from Graveface, if you need evidence. But even with such scant information available, this is not a James Ellroy-novel, late-night parking-garage kind of meeting.

“It seems like now I have to do interviews to get the message across that it’s not important that we do interviews,” says Tobacco on the subject of the band’s built-in ambiguity. “I didn’t start making music so I could pose for pictures and talk about myself.”

But fans of the band are left with few context clues to patch together the enigma. Though there were some distinct vocal sections on the band’s 2005 debut, Falling Through a Field, the group has since abandoned words for eerie, distorted, voice-like patterns that bring to mind a Speak ’n’ Spell that needs new batteries or Peter Frampton’s amazing talking guitar.

“I never wanted to sound like something from the past, but maybe something that could have existed in the past — or any time, really.”

“I feel like a lot of bands use vocals to showcase a singer,” Tobacco says. “I prefer the way that colorful, almost-human sounds can be interpreted by the listener. You’ll come up with your own lyrics, and that’s a lot more powerful than anything I could come up with.”

This impressionable dynamic inherent in Black Moth Super Rainbow’s songs could be what lends its music such an unnerving air of surreal, childlike nostalgia. Without lyrics, interviews, magazine covers, or trading cards, the group’s fans are left with nothing but strange, new sounds and their imagination — two things decidedly lacking in today’s music industry.

The music feels like childhood, but it sounds fresh, modern, and anything but “retro.”

“I never wanted to sound like something from the past, but maybe something that could have existed in the past — or any time, really,” Tobacco says. Like unexpectedly waking up in a sunny field and shaking off the last bits of a strange dream, there’s a hint of what was, but nothing is overt.

Points of comparison fall far short of doing justice. The music sounds electronic, but also organic and natural, as if it could have grown out of the forest floor. It’s happy and danceable, but with a thick, creepy, candy coating. It’s “trippy,” but there’s something much more subversive going on than mere hallucinogens.

But that sound is constantly changing. The band’s last album, Dandelion Gum, favors laid-back, organic melodies over the percussive dance-floor crush of previous albums. “There’s always a plan for an album,” Tobacco says. “Then it changes, and it keeps changing until something resembling an album exists.”

Likewise, the members of Black Moth Super Rainbow seem to shift shape at will and have their own intents and purposes. Their albums come together organically over time at the random whims of an oddly named group of forest dwellers.

“My new solo record, as Tobacco, is the only thing I’ve made that I’m happy with right now,” the front man says. “So that’s where you’ll find me these days. I like change, so if there is another Black Moth Super Rainbow album, it’ll probably be a lot different.”

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