The six-year gap between Black Mother Super Rainbow’s 2012 album, Cobra Juicy, and 2018's Panic Blooms was the longest wait fans had to endure between studio albums. Phoenix fans have had it especially rough: The last time BMSR performed in the city was in May 2013.
Now, with the recent announcement from Tobacco, the not-so-mysterious frontman of BMSR, that the group will take an indefinite hiatus after 2019, this could be the last chance to catch BMSR in Phoenix for a very long time.
To see Tobacco and the group of musicians who comprise BMSR, holders of equally enigmatic stage names such as The Seven Fields of Aphelion, Iffernaut, Pony Diver, and Steve SLV, perform their synthesizer and vocoder-heavy music live is a captivating experience.
Yet looking all the way back to BMSR’s first studio album, 2003’s Falling Through the Field, they’re so simply composed it's hard to see why Tobacco assembled a team for BMSR's live performances. Single winding notes of synthesizer mimic half-conscious daydreams. Tobacco sings out the occasional semi-lucid lyrics as ghost-like whispers and fuzzy drums get drowned out. The music is sparse.
On their 2004 follow-up, Start a People, gone is the whispered voice and in comes the now-recognizable vocoder, which Tobacco uses like a veil separating the human from the cosmic. Along with it came influences from psychedelic rock, space rock, and the synth and drum machine-heavy beats that sound a bit like early Boards of Canada. Tobacco has often described how the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada influenced his sound and his desire to incorporate synths into his music, and how he has long admired their approach in determining their own musical path.
That path diverged immensely on BMSR’s 2007 album, Dandelion Gum, where the music branches outward and takes on undeniable influence from pop and psychedelic rock. On "Jump Into My Mouth and Breathe the Stardust," a Mellotron hums a flute-like melody reminiscent of a black-and-white fantasy film, while the drums and guitar below it give structure. "Let it out and find our way home" sings Tobacco in the chorus. "Sun Lips" has a mesmerizing and catchy quality to it, as live drums take the place of the preprogrammed beats used in albums prior, creating an inviting tempo for live performances.
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Now, more than a decade later, BMSR have wound back the clock to the minimalist sounds of earlier work on Panic Blooms, peeling back the layers of glimmer as Tobacco sings "You're even better than depression" on "Bad Fucking Times." The pop psychedelia of Dandelion Gum is present, but gone are the rock stars who appeared in brief on the 2007 album.
After all their maneuverings toward and away from more pop-oriented albums and approaches, do BMSR fit in with the current resurgence of psychedelic rock and the bands that perform at popular festivals such as Desert Daze, Austin Psych Fest, and the dozens of other psych-heavy festivals? They gave it a try when they appeared at Desert Daze in 2017, but in a Bandcamp daily interview, Tobacco says being a festival psych band is not what he had envisioned for BMSR. “There’s kind of a path that was laid out, and that was never the path I wanted to take," he says in the piece.
It's uncertain what path Black Moth Super Rainbow will take at the end of their 2019 tour. But wherever they go, it's clear that they do not intend to go quietly.