Black Moth Super Rainbow has a reputation for abstruseness, a band comprised of pseudonyms who only rarely provide the glimpses of humanity that so many other artists do, like publicity photos or interviews. This prevailing sense of mystery about the band, which is absolutely remarkable in the internet era, becomes all the more enigmatic when juxtaposed with their music: any listener who approaches Cobra Juicy will find an easily unpacked, thoroughly enjoyable album that seems to belie the muddy atmosphere that surrounds the artists who made it.
This is not to say that the album is lacking for interesting sounds or will be making the Gotye-esque leap from independent adulation and verbose music criticism to top 40 radio and Kidz Bop any time soon. Indeed, the band combine elements of psychedelic rock, vintage soul, delta stomp, prog pop (as seen on Justice‘s Audio, Video, Disco), electropop and more than a hint of video game composition aesthetic to create soundscapes that are both inherently alien and instantly familiar, best described baroquely and thusly… Between where I used to reside in Pennsylvania, in a Philadelphia exurb on the state’s eastern edge, and where Black Moth originated, which is generally considered to be Pittsburgh, on the state’s western edge, lies a vast expanse of, well, nothing – Harrisburg and Penn State, known derisively as “Pennsyltucky” – which contains an abundance of beautiful, dense forests and the Allegheny mountains, which is what Black Moth Super Rainbow conjures on Cobra Juicy, if said forests fell beneath an onyx black sky and were composed of naked, brilliantly white trees, a stark, hotly contrasted land then shot through with neon oranges, pinks, yellows and blues, a DMT laced dreamscape.
If all of this sounds a bit much, please be aware that it gets weirder. For not only do the band conjure such idiosyncratic imagery as the above, they also manage to form highly accessible, avant-garde pop songs from it. There has been a great pop renaissance as of late, exemplified by artists like Charli XCX or Egyptian Hip Hop, who create music that contains all of the wonders of what one considers pop, the danceability, the tight structure, the difficult-to-quantify infectiousness, but manage to do so sans saccharine icing or calculating formulas, instead relying on the idea that, as XCX put it, “I want to be a fucking pop star. But I want to do it on my own terms”. It would be a bit gauche to flat out categorize Cobra Juicy as pop music, in the way that something with so many moving pieces is hard to pin down, but there is little doubt that the albums reflects all that is great about the label.
The vocals on Cobra Juicy represent a microcosm of the above: the lines are hooky and well crafted yet still a Vaseline-smeared mess, difficult to fully comprehend. Words emerge from the mist – “hypnotize”, “hairspray”, “sundae “- and could be more accurately described as the ghost of vocals, or the metaphysical universal of vocals, something resembling them but heard more as an instrument. In this way they maintain their approachability while retaining the overriding sense of mystery. The result is an aural trademark that comes off as a legitimate enhancement and musical element rather than a gimmick.
‘Windshield Smasher’ opens the album with a jukebox-y boom-bap and crunch, a bouncy number whose most muscular vamp could be lifted straight from an Atari cartridge. ‘Like a Sundae’ takes a different approach, coolly-composed cafe bistro music that swings and dances with the easy detachment of vintage R’n'B and soul. Everything drips and oozes, gently sliding but never melting, and is held together by a tight rhythm section that gives the elements above it room to move.
The introverted arena rock of ‘Hairspray Heart’ ricochets against the Summer of ’67-invoking ‘Psychic Love Damage’, which combines a stuttering second decade heartbeat with weeping guitars straight out of ‘Layla‘, and both stand apart from ‘We Burn’, which marks a rise in blues influences in the album and sounds like a Mail Pouch tobacco mural-adorned barn slowly smouldering in their alien woods while neon syrup drips from the bare tree branches. ‘I Think I’m Evil’ draws a similar inspiration between the gritty and the electronic with its day-glo roadhouse rock that segues into slow-burn pop.
‘Gangs in the Garden’ is a piece of flinty prog pop that could have been lifted straight out of Audio, Video, Disco, while synths rise like steam from the low boil of ‘Blurring My Day’. Album closer ‘Spraypaint’ dawns cold like the winter the sun upon Black Moth’s dreamscape and serves to let the listener down sweetly with sweeping hooks and delicate, spiralling riffs.
Apologies should be made for the admittedly ridiculous content of the above review, and it should be noted that it did not begin with the idea of becoming a collection of brief rococo vignettes and buried critical observations. It is simply the reaction the shadowy entity known as Black Moth Super Rainbow has inspired, and while your results may vary, hopefully they are similarly compelling, difficult to explain but easy to feel.
Listen to Cobra Juicy