On his fifth Tobacco album, Thomas Fec doubles down on both the most alluring and unsettling aspects of the project.
Since introducing his Tobacco alias in 2008 in the shadow of his more cosmically inclined electro-psych act, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Thomas Fec has been engaged in a prolonged game of, as a track from his debut record put it, “Gross Majick,” reveling in the tension between technical precision and human deviancy. Like his signature melting logo, Tobacco’s synth-funk pastiches are positively dripping with blood, sweat, spit, and other bodily fluids; even when you can’t tell what his corroded voice is saying half the time, his lecherous delivery—sounding like some heavy-breathing prank caller—broadcasts his intentions loud and clear. And on his fifth Tobacco album, Fec doubles down on both the most alluring and unsettling aspects of the project.
Hot, Wet, & Sassy arrives four years after the previous Tobacco album, Sweatbox Dynasty, though Fec’s gear settings were seemingly left untouched in the interim. He continues to build tracks from his toolkit of gritty beats, fuzz-slathered synths, and chiming glockenspiel-like refrains that periodically cut through the crud. But if Tobacco’s past records bore the blurry patina of a VHS cassette that’s been languishing for decades in a milkcrate, Hot, Wet, & Sassy is more like a first-gen DVD, bringing a sharper focus to his melodies while rendering his synth grotesqueries in a more horrifying fidelity. And if Fec’s voice sounds as haunted and horny as ever, Hot, Wet, & Sassy ultimately expands Tobacco’s emotional vocabulary from creepy all the way to weepy.
The opening “Centaur Skin” serves as the showroom model for the reformulated Tobacco. Though its Moroderized Knight Rider pulse reaffirms Fec’s love for ’80s flash ‘n’ trash, Fec issues his ominous admissions—“I’m a bad friend/I got bad ideas/But always sincere”—with a sympathy-for-the-devil pathos. Throughout Hot, Wet, & Sassy, Fec takes delight in toying with your perception, treating each song as a Rorschach test to diagnose your state of mind: “Headless to Headless” alternates between a chainsawed buzz and Kraftwerkian shimmer on a verse-by-verse basis, until you’re unsure of whether its climactic mantra—“It’s going to feel like shit forever!”—is meant to sound like resignation or celebration. At his most monstrous—like on “Stabbed by a Knight”—Fec lets the song’s teeth-grinding metallic riff play call-and-response with disarming R&B breaks and twinkling keyboard frippery, instantly transforming the album’s scariest song into its most playful.