The adjective hazy accurately describes all aspects of Morabeza Tobacco. The sound of the Stockholm duo’s self-titled debut is like the smoke of its name; a foggy flow of lo-fi funk-disco-chillwave that breezes around in the air with blurry freedom.
Latino-looking Vanilla Stillefors (whom appropriately works at a vintage clothes store in Sweden entitled Beyond Retro) and moustache-embracing Gustav Jennefors’ collaborative relaxation pieces are also drenched in the kind of 80s nostalgia that gamers felt when driving around the streets of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, with the Swedes’ compositions made up of clouded vocals and woozy Angelo Badalamenti synths complimented by funk basslines and D-I-Y drum machines. Furthermore, tracks called ‘Ally McBeal’ (which has a VHS-quality music video) and ‘Defenders of The Glam’ (a nod to the mid-80s cartoon series Defenders of the Earth) add to this throwback vibe.
Hazy is also a description that applies to Morabeza Tobacco’s lyrics. Not only because they are very hard to hear (which is almost certainly on purpose) – trying to decipher their vocals within the thick mono fog of ‘Together’ is the biggest challenge of them all – but when they can be understood they are about blurred lines of communication and memory.
We start off with the soothing romantic opener ‘Almost Home.’ It’s the kind of album most appropriately played at end of a day’s road trip with the sun set to snooze and reflective thoughts swimming in the minds of the passengers; the lyrics of the opener suggest the band know this too. The couple find it difficult to express their feelings, leaving a hazy companionship: “You don’t speak, you’re not here. Feels like we are running out of time. We’re almost home. Am I too slow to show you how I really feel about love?” Furthermore, the characters in the Ariel Pink-reminiscent ‘TTYL’ are also frustrated with ambiguity. It’s an interesting cross-generational track with its text-speak title (apparently inspired by Paris Hilton) and 80s soundtrack music, along with its timeless lyrics.
‘Defenders of The Glam’ and ‘Kiss of Death’ sounds like trips down memory lane. The former is remembering a childhood school crush and throws a croaking instrument, possibly a güiro, into the mix for variety. This is Morabeza Tobacco’s best use of the two-way vocal system, as Gustav sings in the verse: “Roll the die. Two foreign eyes. Trying to see what it could mean.” In response, Vanilla sings: “I have been waiting for you to come by, and to just hang out for a while” before they join together in harmony in the chorus: “We could be happy. We could be fine.”
‘Kiss of Death’, as the title suggests, is dangerously seductive. Although Gustav’s fuzzy voice isn’t particularly attractive and is often a grating version of Bob Dylan (also apparent in the record’s only dud track ‘A Little Longer’), Vanilla’s luscious voice and the sparking vibe, along with the deep exhales, is like remembering a flashback to a sordid affair, such as a scene in Last Tango In Paris or Basic Instinct. It’s also reminiscent of traditional France-based music such as the prolific Sebastien Tellier or newcomer Vendredi Sur Mer.
Morabeza Tobacco’s first record is far from predictable but its compositions feel stylistically calculated and controlled. It contains many delightful surprises, such as the instrumental slow-tempo disco piece ‘René, the engaging synth-funk journey ‘Orinoco’, the blissful interlude ‘Forever’ and the off-key mystique of ‘Something’s Missing’, one of many tracks whose crackling lo-fi production is to make it sound like it’s played off a turntable. Yet it’s one of those rare debuts where a band already establish and proudly embrace a clear and distinctive identity and consistently stick with this style throughout unashamedly.
Morabeza Tobacco is out now on Luminelle.