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Album review: Black Moth Super Rainbow “Cobra Juicy”


text:  Austin Lloyd

Confused, Post-Modern psychedelia for Confused, post-modern people

Quick, somebody, explain the concept of psychedelia to me.

Sure I’ve got the Wikipedia definition, and I’ve listened to my fair share of what are commonly considered psychedelic bands– from old favorites like Pink Floyd and the Doors to more experimental modern artists like Japan’s Ghost and the paralyzing drone-psych of Om– but I still lack a concrete, verbal definition of what it actually is.

Whatever this common thread may be, Black Moth Super Rainbow has it – or at very least, some cousin of it.

On the surface, these psychedelic bloodlines are not immediately apparent, especially in their new album, Cobra Juicy’s  opening track, ‘Windshield Smasher’. The first thirty seconds or so of the track opens with a beat that would not have been out of place in a 1990’s sports anthem, complete with a heavily distorted guitar sound forming the baseline. For a few seconds it seemed like it was going to be a disappointment, but then things got interesting. With a change-up in the beat, the addition of some rapid bass runs, multiple synth layers and a voice that could have just as easily come from a vocaloid as a human being, the song takes on a whole new life.

All of that ties into how I see psychedelia, not as a properly-definable entity but more as a series of sensations and a set of imagery that the music evokes. For instance, on the track ‘We Burn’, BMSR combines slide guitar, hazy chanted vocals, and an almost theremin-like synth in an arrangement that is both active and sparse at the same time. It feels as if it was written to accompany the sort of floating-through-multicolored-space acid trip you would see in a Hollywood film. Time and time again, this sensation is evoked. The feeling of effortless thrills, of floating above the clouds, exploring a coral reef. That night when you and your friends get drunk and scream nonsensical philosophical tirades out at the indifferent city lights, it’s that sort of thing. I guess.

You might say that Black Moth Super Rainbow has captured much of the essence of psychedelia, but rather than recreating the sounds and forms of the original psychedelic movement, have proceeded boldly into strange new territory. Where the originators of the movement drew heavily from “eastern” music, using sitars (or at least, sitar-like guitars) and near eastern scales and tonality to invoke the mysteries of the old world, BMSR takes it’s cues from sci-fi flights of fancy and the New Wave of the 1980s with synth washes and vocal modulations aplenty.

There are a lot of vaguely New-Age bands out there constructing nostalgia for an imagined version of the 1980s. BMSR manages to avoid this temptation, however, by using these sonic elements not as ironic elements in and of themselves– that sort of “look at us over here with our 808 and an 8-bit synth, aren’t we nifty” effect – but uses them instead as building blocks to construct more interesting bits of psychedelically-influenced music.

I don’t mean to oversell this band. There are a few weak points, in general the farther the album strays from the spaced-out, sentimental, synth grooves of tracks like ‘Spraypaint’, ‘Blurring My Day’, and ‘We Burn’, the less compelling they become. The more upbeat tracks of the album are by far the weakest, with the nadir being ‘Gangs in the Garden’ which sounds kind of like a mediocre New Order B-side — which all things considered really isn’t that bad, though not super interesting at the same time.

Some other negative points. Cobra Juicy has definitely put all of it’s effort into the instrumentation, leaving the lyrics feeling like a bit of an afterthought. That may have been intentional on their part, with such heavy and other effects, the vocals are there more to act as instrument in and of themselves than as a lyrical device. Which is fine, though at some moments you do get some monumentally silly bits of penmanship such as “you love my hair because it grows everyday.” Of course, this complaint may be of limited relevance, given that it took me three or so listens to actually pick up on that line.

All things considered, this is a pretty strong recording, though one gets the sense that they are still trying to find their sound. That’s fine though, at least 2/3 of the songs here are pretty good, and BMSR doesn’t seem to have spent all of its creative energy yet.

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