Imagine, if you would, an issue of 2000 AD wherein Judge Dredd is presented with a fleet of criminals whose harnessing of incredible speed, the velocity of which had never before been seen, leaves them just out of reach of even Dredd’s long, vicious arm of the law; and into this picture inject the Judge’s help, a cobalt beast who moves like Mercury and talks like Michelangelo, and whilst Sonic the Hedgehog screams through Mega City One (ne Robotropolis?). The score you are almost certainly hearing is Ultima ll Massage, a guttural prog pop ran ragged through grime and industrial lubricant, so that some plurality of its personable sentiments are sloughed off, leaving what is left as no less appealing but certainly a touch worse for wear.
In attempting to ditch the ripe-to-bursting pop sentiments of his band Black Moth Super Rainbow, Tobacco could be considered to have only triumphed partially, if at all; while the juicy, baited hooks of BMSR are nowhere to be found, even the most dystopian, disjointed moments of Ultima retain an approachable heart, and for an album wherein everything is meant both to be ugly and assaulting yet immersive in that Universe Music, quais-meditative, zonal ensconcing way, one must imagine that this compromise had to be struck, and with the somewhat mutually exclusive goals of its disparate parts, that it could be found at all is remarkable.
Make no mistake that, despite the blustering press release (which reads like a Dadaist’s notebook or a Riff Raff verse; Tobacco’s music and/or the album itself is described as, at various points, “a jagged swath through the dude’s own weird catalogue”; “Frankenstein-like”; “misanthropic”; “Stereopathetic Soulmanure, but about that 1-900 hotline life: massage parlors, plasticized sleaze, fake tans, old dial ups to the fan clubs of dead B-actors” the last of which is both a wonderful description and completely non-germane, which admittedly enhances said wonder and is considered de rigeur for any label’s organ anyway, but seldom embraced with such pulchritudinous fervor) playing up the difficult elements, Ultima ll Massage remains, at its heart, extremely approachable. There is within it that asperous industrial sound, all bandsaw teeth and sludge, but Tobacco is never content to wallow at the bottom for long; songs may lurch, drag, slog, but glorious arcs always rise from the gutters and alleys, born aloft upon thermals kicking up cyclonic arrays of glass and the dust from broken fluorescent lightbulb tubes, rising towards BMSR or Sleigh Bells or Justice’s Audio, Video, Disco, which is, perhaps, the best comparison, the sunshine and neon and stone cold spacey camp to Tobacco’s Heavy Metal-esque imagery.
Epic in scale at 17 cuts, their variety and tonal similarity—which, yes, sounds once agin mutually exclusive, and deserves explanation: basically, Tobacco has done a fine job of crafting tracks which are different enough so as to not all blend together (this aspect, one notices, is generally the goal of a meditative album, wherein the songs coalesce into one fully realized master soundtrack, which is meant to be listened to as atmosphere; the songs could remain completely nameless and nothing would suffer for it) but similar in tone enough to spoon rather snugly, which, if it sounds like is a basic prerequisite for an album, it most certainly is not—well balanced and superficially lowery, like a knife thrower’s implement, Ultima II Massage is almost certainly the perfect soundtrack for a gritty 90’s platform video game Philip K. Dickensian reboot.