Tobacco Ripe & Majestic

Tobacco Ripe & Majestic
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Pennsylvania beatmaker Thomas Fec's work as Tobacco has always been hard to pin down. At its sleaziest, it shares the uncanny hiss of the vaporwave boom, drawing from the 1980s' most lurid VCR nightmares. However, Tobacco's work has always been separated by the hordes of acts it preceded and influenced by its sheer visceral energy. Where vaporware artists exaggerated the glamour of the Reagan years to the point of creepy absurdity, Tobacco's music has always revealed the era's underlying vulgarity. It's unsettling and, at times, thoroughly gross.

Fec's latest offering, Ripe & Majestic, is a collection of rarities and unreleased beats from across his decade-long career. For an artist whose music so often recalls the fried remains of long-forgotten cassette tapes, a dive into the bargain bin perhaps makes more sense here than it would for other producers. The drums of 2007's "Wig Blown Off" keep tripping over themselves while what sounds like the world's laziest air raid alarm sounds in the background. Meanwhile, the screeching synths of 2008's "Piss Vader" are almost disorientingly hyperactive. It's a testament to Fec's considerable talent that he's able to mould such bracing source material into a consistent, signature sound that feels both groovy and neurotic.
 
With this in mind, it's remarkable but kind of disappointing that Ripe & Majestic feels like such a cohesive project despite the breadth of its source material. While Fec deserves credit for creating such a well-sequenced project out of what are essentially odds and ends, at 24 tracks one would expect some deviation from Tobacco's tried and true formula of stuttering drum loops, dizzying bass lines and blown-out synth leads. But it's heartening that Tobacco's newest material comes closest. 2017's "Out on the Dunes" sounds like Los Angeles-era Flying Lotus put through the spin cycle, while "Sassy Ministries" broadens typical Tobacco tropes with some sci-fi synth arpeggios and sprightly guitar. These tracks double down on a kinetic energy present in Ripe & Majestic's best older material, like the punk-tinged "Slaughtered by the Amway Guy" and the Beck collaboration "Grape Aerosmith," which sounds even hazier here in its original mix than it did on 2010's Maniac Meat.
 
Ripe & Majestic largely sidesteps the pitfalls that rarity albums typically encounter. Fec avoids the tossed-off genre experiments typical of these types of projects precisely because his sound is rough around the edges by design, meant to provoke and repulse as much as dazzle. For the most part it works, even if its woozy charm does somewhat wear off towards the end of its hefty tracklist. The word "nauseous" has been used to describe Tobacco's music to the point of cliché, but Ripe & Majestic really does feel like that second corn dog at the state fair — it tastes pretty good, even if you're not sure it'll sit right. (Rad Cult)