Talkin' About a Song- March 2 2018
Oops! I got really busy kind of out of the blue and neglected to make a couple of song posts. I’m sorry everyone! Please forgive this busy bee.
For this week I’m starting my dive into the wild works of Thomas Fec, AKA, Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Demon Queen, and a slew of others. Those who know me know that the music that Fec makes is some of my most #1 absolute yum-yum favorite music that’s come out in the past 20 or so years. There’s something about the gooey blend of pop, electronic, psychedelic, lo-fi goodness that speaks to me as a musician and as an experimental artist. Thomas Fec will be a pretty frequent feature in these articles, believe me.
One of the things that has really invested me in all of Fec’s music is his sonic consistency. He’s carved a wonderfully unique sound that he applies to all of his projects. That being said, each one of his projects is unique in their sounds and influences- BMSR is much more pop oriented, whereas Tobacco is much darker and more experimental. All of his music has his sonic signature on it, yet it’s all fairly different.
I was lucky enough to see Tobacco twice in Chicago for Riot Fest 2017- Once in a little club right by Wrigley Field and again on stage at the festival grounds. The first show was incredibly intimate- it reminded me of many of the local shows that happen in basements and small bars around Lethbridge. Fec performed only with one other musician for this show, and for the most part they played synths and samples that were very similar to what one would find on their albums. Between the beautiful synths and the eerie visuals (akin to what you will see if you check out the music video below) it was quite the performance.
The second show was on the main stage of the festival grounds, and for this performance Tobacco presented itself as a full band- at least 3 keyboardists, a bassist (two if you count the bass that Fec uses to control his vocoder) and a live drummer. While the songs were the same as the ones that were played the night before, the experience and performance was totally different! There was so much energy and power behind all of the instruments and textures. I think it really solidified in my mind how important venue context can be when performing- both shows were terrific because there was thought put into the spaces that were being performed in.
Man, that was kind of a tangent! That’s what happens when I get started talking about Fec. There’s so much to appreciate. Anyways, let’s get into the dang music already!
I thought I’d start off with a song from Tobacco off of the 2016 release Sweatbox Dynasty- a tune by the name of “Warlock Mary”.
The entirety of Sweatbox Dynasty is a masterclass in experimental tape based recording, and while I’d like to talk about the album as a whole another time, I think It’s important to take note of the lead up to “Warlock Mary”. There’s a break in the previous track, “Dimensional Hum”, a brief stop right at the end where the listener is left to listen to the noise of the playback machine. Fec’s tape decks are arguably one of his most important instruments, and the noise created by them is an inherent characteristic in all of his music. That break is followed by a single bars of a unique drum beat, and then we are swooped into a different tempo and into the opening bass line for “Warlock Mary”.
There’s a tape hiss throughout the song that holds all the instruments together, and at various times one of the synthesizers playing the melody sounds like it’s on the verge of breaking down, flickering into different parts of the stereo field. The vocals in the verse are low and centralized- they melt together with the accompanying synths, which serve to harmonize and accent the music. The music blooms every time the vocals come in, creating a really interesting dynamic range.
At only one point in the song do the vocals move to the more middle frequencies (albeit a low middle), and are accompanied by a bouncy and wobbly synth. Again, the synth sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the melody, falling slightly behind the beat in places. This creates a sense of sluggishness, like wading through a swamp of goo.
Fec’s ability to create very dynamic sounding drum machines through processing is a favorite element of mine. I’m not sure if he uses old tape or manually creates little inconsistencies in his beats, but there’s a real beauty to having a machine designed to sound quantized and perfect sound a little dirty and unnatural. I find if I focus on the hi-hats they seem to bounce around in stereo and clip a little bit- just enough to create a real dynamism.
Finally, the ending swell is the climax that all other swells in this song seem to be just shy of reaching. There’s a real sense of closure with the final three chords, and it couldn’t be more perfect that the final chord of the song begins to clip and distort. It’s simultaneously a cry for relief and a death sigh. These final chords are really leaned into in the live versions of this song as well- I’ve included a live version I really like below from good old KEXP.
As I said before this is probably just an introduction to the wild world of Fec’s music, and I could go on for hours analyzing every song on Sweatbox Dynasty. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame tweeted that Sweatbox Dynasty was his record of the year for 2016, and soon after Tobacco and NIN did a tour together (coincidence?). I think there’s a lot more complexity to Fec’s music than what some people initially hear. There’s a real respect for not only the music, but the sounds of the instruments and the medium with which this music is recorded. I’d be lying if I said Fec wasn’t one of my main inspirations for tape experimentation*.
Thanks for joining me on another song! I have some exciting news regarding my own artistic practice- I’m starting construction on a new Cosmo Duff suit that should be full of sounds, effects and processors equipped to blow audiences away. I intend to track my progress here on this blog, so make sure you’re following on the many Connor Makes Noise platforms.
Love you folks!
*Side note- I’m up to 3 reel-to-reels and 5 cassette decks. I love that through experimentation each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and, perhaps more importantly, their own strange sonic fingerprints. I’m planning on doing an in depth look at some of the specific machines I own, and heck, if you or someone you love has a sad playback machine that need’s a good home let me know! I love all my playback children.
Warlock Mary Music Video-
WARNING! Potentially NSFW? There’s a lot of clothed men in masks rubbing lotion all over each other in a sensual way. Use your best judgment.
Warlock Mary Live @ KEXP-