Someone should let Pennsylvanian neo-psych outfit Black Moth Super Rainbow redesign Facebook.
Visits to the social-networking site have always left one feeling a bit manic or vacant, wanting something more, and that hasn’t changed, but Facebook’s latest, smooth-the-grid-away design is so bad that every time I visit an ATM I think I’m supposed to approve a friend request. And I don’t want money. I want music.
We come to Facebook hoping to see the future, even though we pretend we’re looking at the past. Were BMSR’s members to steer the site away from what a Context Response blogger has noted as "Redundancy … seven links for the price of five" (i.e. more options but less functionality), they’d have to exchange their trippy monikers they currently go by the Seven Fields of Aphelion, Iffernaut, Father Hummingbird, Tobacco, and Power Pill Fist for more "responsible" online handles, maybe even real names. Or not. BMSR’s album and show visuals harken to the early days of HTML, when neon text on a black background was considered avant-garde and online communities were about creating your own image from scratch. They have seen the future, and it looks like a Vocoder buried in the woods. (They like to retreat to record their albums.)
To find out if BMSR and FB might become BFF, I consulted the Muzoracle ($49.95, Philomuse). Billed as the "Tarot of Music," this slick set of cards and dice projects significance onto everything from scaletones to particular musical roles. (Mi isn’t just "a name I call myself." Here, it represents "what we are given and what we wish to do with it," while "A Soloist of Woodwinds" is "Autonomous in the Realm of Mind".)
I’m already in a committed relationship with the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, and when I want musical mystic geometries I go to guitarist Pat Martino’s I Ching-inspired guitar-neck divinations. But the Muzoracle did offer me a clue to the future of divinatory social networking: look to the Old World.
Inspired by Armenian-Greek mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, the oracle can be as complicated as the new Facebook, adding layers of interpretation to meaning that is right there before you. If you take it slow, it doesn’t have to be this way. Take Krautrock, which touched electrically all other genres of its time. On the 1973 double-album Tarot, a supergroup that is basically the Cosmic Jokers joins prog-rocker and Tarot designer Walter Wegmüller for a delightfully slow card-by-song journey. The album sings in English but speaks in German. The drone of Tarot‘s "Die Hohepriesterin" and the funk of "Die Welt" are far more concentrated and potent than the lackluster sounds on a more recent American album and art book, Daniel A.I.U. Higgs‘s Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot (2007, Thrill Jockey). BMSR’s Tobacco has cited Higgs as an influence. He must mean the visual art and not the sound.
In the 1980 book Jung and Tarot, Sallie Nichols notes that the character of the Fool is all about heroic potential. She quotes Joseph Henderson on the Trickster archetype: "sanctioned lawlessness that promises to become heroic." That’s a good description of BMSR’s affect. Their eye-popping style has evolved alongside their sound, moving from the fuzzy, lo-res aesthetics of Falling Through a Field (2003) and Start a People (2004) (both re-released by Chicago’s Graveface Records in 2007), whose covers feature sepia-toned human trees and a shifting-flower-power logo (on some albums the logo is squared, on some it is melting), to their first truly hi-fi record, Eating Us, due from Graveface on May 26.
One user commented on the BBC’s Web site that Start a People sounded like "Orbital had tried to create an album just using a stylophone, a dustbin lid, and a Commodore 64." Produced by Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Weezer), Eating Us, BMSR’s first studio album, sees a more refined sound and a bigger glow.
Sonic onslaught has been traded for tighter rhythms and analog-synth tapestries. This shift is clear in the deceptively simple music video for "Dark Bubbles," viewable at Graveface’s Web site (www.graveface.com). The video is interactive users can alter the time of day and other functions by moving a mouse or using a web cam, while a character, soon splitting into shadows of itself, bounces on an otherworldly trampoline. The influence of the Flaming Lips, with whom BMSR has toured, is clear but understated on tunes such as "Twin of Myself" and "The Sticky." Drum breaks played by real humans make the music truly psychedelic, which is to say more mystic than masturbatory.
Yo Animal Collective, check your Facebook account. Eating Us is dripping from your Wall.
BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW
With School of Seven Bells
May 28, 10 p.m., $12-$14
Bottom of the Hill