Known primarily as the frontman for Black Moth Super Rainbow, Tobacco (the stage name of electronic musician Thomas Fec) has nonetheless carved out a little niche for himself as a solo artist in the electronic music scene with albums like 2010’s Maniac Meat, which featured contributions by the one and only Beck. Four years later, Tobacco has unveiled Ultima II Massage, another album of scuzzy electronica that seems to capture what would happen if noisy Crystal Castles music was mashed up with a warped, grime-encrusted Boards of Canada LP. Ultima II has a nostalgic feel to it due to the fact that most of the melodies were seemingly created by vintage keyboards and processors, but the harsh and abrasive rhythms firmly situate it in the context of modern hip-hop and the innumerable subgenres of electronic music that pop up regularly on the internet.
At its best, Ultima II Massage continues down the same path as Tobacco’s previous musical offerings, with overpowering, glitched-out sound effects and pummeling, gritty rhythms threatening to rip these tracks apart. Album opener “Streaker” more or less sets the tone for what’s to come throughout the album; it’s a stomping, deliberately-paced track boasting an uneasy and warbly main melody along with growling sampled vocals and plenty of crash cymbal accents. Skittering follow-up “Good Complexion” is less outright aggressive, having a shaking, back and forth momentum established by the keyboard lines while the thunderous hollow analog electronics of “Video Warning Attempts” give the track a more immense sound than much of anything else in the ambient end of the electronic music spectrum. Meanwhile, “Lipstick Destroyer” with its funky melodies and prominent beat is about as close as the album gets to unleashing a genuine club banger and “Self Tanner” is a less imposing track focusing on buzzy synthesizer melody lines.
Tobacco clearly has a certain aesthetic and Ultima II Massage is fine from a musical standpoint and decent enough to listen to, but at 45 minutes in length, it feels (over)long and seems increasingly uninspired during its middle stretch. Too many tracks here attempt to do exactly the same thing: “Pool City, Mcknight Road,” “Face Breakout” and “Beast Sting,” for instance, play like attempts to marry the worlds of electronic music and hip-hop. Many of today’s electronic artists are trying to do this exact same thing, and honestly, there’s not enough distinction to make Tobacco’s sounds stand out from the crowd. Luckily, the album saves a few of its best tricks for late in the going, with “Father Sister Berzerker,” one of the longest tracks here at a little over four minutes, building momentum over its duration instead of quickly stagnating. I also rather liked the skitzed-out and sinister-sounding “Omen Classic,” the quietly disturbed “Creaming for Beginners” that may as well be tossed in with the vaporwave subgenre, and “Spitlord,” a track that’s an almost pitch-point recreation of methodical Boards of Canada ambient electro. Album closer “The Touch from Within,” on the other hand, didn’t do much for me, an unexciting finish to an album that needs more standout, genuinely remarkable moments.
Fec has previously stated that his solo output as Tobacco represents an attempt to make music from the mindset of an adolescent, a fact that actually takes away from Ultima II Massage as a whole. Obnoxious overuse of the f-bomb in the mechanized vocal sampling makes it nearly impossible to take some of this music all that seriously. Every other word in “Eruption” for instance seems to be a variation of “fuck” and listening to a supposedly serious musician pointlessly throw around profanity rapidly becomes tiresome and actually seems a bit desperate - this same tendency made Skrillex’s 2014 Recess laughable rather than poignant and the addition of the profanity does nothing to enhance this music.
In the end, Ultima II Massage is well-produced and decent enough to listen to – provided one is looking for a quirky album of grody-sounding electronic mood music. This isn’t so much an to pump up a listener with danceable beats as a batch of generally low-key pieces meant to capture a certain, somewhat troubling atmosphere. To its detriment though, this album seems too often to capture a mood of ennui or even apathy. Thus, while Ultima II Massage stands as an agreeable enough follow-up to Tobacco’s earlier solo albums, I might have hoped it would have tried to achieve something more than simply sounding cool.
7.0 / 10
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