Motorpsycho are not a nightmare.
Let me tell you, no David Fricke review could ever have prepared me for what I got when I downloaded "Little Lucid Moments". The second I started playing it, I knew that I'd found a band I would love for some time to come. Some albums start out as nothing special but grow on you over time. And some of these albums are the ones you come back to for years to come, that you eventually love more than almost anything else you own. But then there are other albums that, from the moment you hit play on them the first time you ever listen to them, you know that they are amazing. I had that immediate reaction to "Everything's Alright Forever" by the Boo Radleys, and to "Regretfully Yours" by Superdrag (an album I should really write about on this blog one of these days), and now I've had it to "Little Lucid Moments" by Motorpsycho.
In David Fricke's column, he describes this album as a mix of Tool, "Goo"-era Sonic Youth, and 1969-era Yes. That was an appealing description for me, but let me just tell you now: it's not accurate. There's some prog here, that's for sure, but the prog elements don't have nearly as much to do with the actual sound of the music as they do with the way the music is constructed. You see, "Little Lucid Moments", despite being an hour long, contains only four songs. They range in length from 11 and a half minutes to slightly over 21 minutes, and all four of them contain a great deal of dynamic evolution. All of them start out in one place and end up in quite another, and they do this by taking what would, in any other band's hands, be three to five minute pop tunes and stretching each section, each movement, each transition, out into a normal-song-length epic of its own. As I'm sure you can imagine, this is the kind of thing that could go horribly wrong. It's something that has been tried by the Mars Volta on many occasions, some very successful (the majority of their debut album, "De-loused In The Comatorium") and some miserable failures (nearly the entirety of their second album, "Frances the Mute"). Fortunately, Motorpsycho keeps firm control of what they're doing throughout the album, and there are no moments here where they fail at what they're trying to accomplish. In fact, the grandiose gestures built into these songs, the very stretched-out-ness of them, eventually becomes a lot of what makes them so successful. That may, in fact, be the element of Motorpsycho's achievement on "Little Lucid Moments" for which they deserve the most credit; it's hard enough to take a three-minute pop song, stretch it out to four or five or seven times its original length, and still have it be anywhere near as good as it would have been. For it to become better, to reveal hidden depths and intricate facets that would otherwise not even be there at all, and for those facets to turn out to be the best parts of some of those songs... well, that is a truly noteworthy achievement.
Let me explain further. The album begins with "Suite: Little Lucid Moments". It's the longest song here, at 21:05, and it is the only one formally divided into four different movements, a la Rush's "2112" and many other milestones of prog-rock. However, as I mentioned before, it doesn't really sound all that prog, no matter how prog its construction may be. The song begins with drummer Kenneth Kapstad doing four measures of snare rolling, and apparently Kapstad, new to the band on this album, has something to prove, for on the fourth measure, he doubles the speed of his already uptempo snare roll. This launches the band with a bang into "Lawned Consciousness Causes Collapse", the first of the four movements in this Suite. It's a distorted-guitar pop gem, along the lines of aforementioned power-pop heroes Superdrag crossed with the underrated shoegaze-grunge legends Swervedriver. Anyone who knows me well knows that this is like crack for me, and sure enough, the opening verse is one of my favorite moments on this album. When it kicks into first an amazing pre-chorus and then an even more amazing chorus, with a rush of beautiful harmonized vocals and awesomely distorted lead guitar riffing, it only makes me love it even more. You might expect another verse and chorus, a quick bridge, and then a final chorus to end the song from any other band, but this is where Motorpsycho begins to confound and distort the expectations of the listener, something they will continue to do for the rest of the album. There is the beginning of a second verse, but it is quieter than the first verse, and instead of moving into the pre-chorus/chorus segment of the song, it fades out almost completely at the end of the verse, leaving only a quietly humming bassline and an almost inaudible arpeggio guitar line that starts out buried in the mix. Over the course of the next minute or so, that guitar line moves back to the forefront of the mix, and the rhythm section builds up behind it, pounding away at a single chord that soon shoves the band headlong into the song's second section, "A Hoof To The Head". This section is much faster, driven by frenetic uptempo riffs that spend several minutes building up into a roaring, insane climax that you expect to hit at least two minutes before it finally does. The fact that it doesn't hit sooner is another indication of Motorpsycho's brilliance--one can imagine this song being performed live and the constantly building intensity working an audience into frothing hysteria that is only finally relieved when the tempo drops to half-speed and we're thrown into the lengthy jam session that is "Hallucifuge, Hyperrealistically Speaking..." This section of the song makes me wonder if this Scandinavian trio, who have been releasing records since the dawn of the 90s, were an influence on Dungen when they were forming. While there isn't quite as much vintage distortion on these pyrokinetic guitar leads as show up on Dungen's most impressive six-string showcases, Motorpsycho are obviously just as adept at creating such musical moments. Over the course of "Hallucifuge"'s 10 minutes, they switch back and forth between guitar workouts and calmer, more laid-back verses that show off the band's popwise chops without as much distortion as was present earlier in the song. It's hard to believe I'm still talking about the first song on this album, and it will be hard for you to believe that you're still listening to it; on several occasions since I've gotten this album, I've found myself looking up and wondering where in the record I was at that moment, thinking that I was at least somewhere in the second song, only to find that there were still 5 or 7 minutes remaining in the first.
The fourth and final movement of this suite, "Sweet Oblivion/Perfect Sense", wraps the song up with a slow, piano-driven melodic breakdown, which greatly resembles the "Is it me, for a moment?" bridge that appears throughout the Who's "Quadrophenia" album, most prominently on the song "Doctor Jimmy". I might not have noticed this if I weren't listening to that album a lot in the last week or so, but even having noticed it I wasn't all that bothered by it--it's a short tribute at the end of a 20-minute tour de force of originality, and I'm willing to give it to them. Besides, it indicates that they have good taste... if that weren't already obvious by how great their songs are.
The other three songs on the album aren't quite as grandiose, and none of them are quite as good as "Suite: Little Lucid Moments", but all give it a run for its money, especially closing track "The Alchemyst", which may yet prove to be the suite's more compact equal. It's funny to apply the term "compact" to a 12-minute song, but as it is, it's the second-shortest song here, and compared to the suite, it's quite a bit less stretched out. It starts with an ambient intro that slowly builds, over the first quarter of the song, from swelling chords into arpeggiated guitar lines, then finally kicks into another excellent power-pop song. The verse and chorus are less distorted than those on "Lawned Consciousness Causes Collapse", but with the rhythm section keeping the song rolling at a quick tempo, and the beautiful harmonized vocals on the choruses, they keep the perfect mix of power and pop intact. The second chorus is drawn out for quite a while, and sounds like it might be working as a buildup to some sort of climactic moment, but instead, it eventually drops out, leaving only the quiet, arpeggiated guitar line from the song's intro. However, this is soon joined by a building rhythm section, propelling the song into a bridge that steadily increases in intensity, resembling the lengthy middle section of "Youth In America" by the Wipers, with that song's ominous vocal barks and yowls replaced by shards of distorted guitar and sweeping synth noises. This entire section is the perfect soundtrack for the chase scene in some biker movie, which again makes me think of Dungen, although Motorpsycho have no overt sonic connections to the 60s garage/psych era. As the song reaches minute three of this steadily-building bridge and minute 9 overall, Motorpsycho once again confound expectations of some sort of climax, this time by abruptly shifting back into the more melodic arpeggio around which the verse was based. However, they don't go back to the verse/chorus structure that the song established earlier on; instead they play this melodic verse as if it were the more ominous-sounding bridge, steadily building intensity as Kenneth Kapstad goes absolutely nuts on his drum kit like Mitch Mitchell on an amyl nitrate hit. Finally, with about a minute of the song left, and with the intensity of the verse riff at a fever pitch, bassist/lead vocalist Bent Saether sings one final verse. Propelled by the intensity of the music, he sings it at the top of his lungs, with guitarist Hans Magnus Ryan harmonizing on a lower octave, and as it ends, the song and the album come to a close, with the entire band playing the riff through two more times and slowing down as they do. The last note rings out for a good 20 seconds before the CD finally comes to a halt.
After being thoroughly blown away by this album, I did some further research on the internet, and have now discovered that "Little Lucid Moments" is Motorpsycho's 12th full-length release. Of their 11 prior full-lengths, all but four were long enough to fill two LPs, and three of them were long enough to fill 2 CDs. I guess it's possible that I will tire of Motorpsycho before I've heard the entirety of their considerable body of work, but right now the idea of finding a band this good with a back catalog this extensive seems like one of the coolest things that's happened to me in a long time. Far from a "Motorpsycho Nitemare", this is more like a dream come true.
Motorpsycho - The Alchemyst
[Much as I would like to have given you guys "Suite: Little Lucid Moments" as a sample of this album, I just couldn't rationalize posting over 20 minutes of a 60 minute LP as a sample.]