When’s the last time you were consumed by an album? You put it on thinking you’ll multi-task with background music, but end up unable to do much but listen. You try sort your emails but give up as the album pulls you back into it’s vast, overwhelming sonic world, and spits you out nearly an hour and a half later (of course it’s a double). You’re wrung out, spent, and tired because it’s way past bedtime, but you look up their discography and think “oh crap, there’s another 20 albums that I need to hear.”
If you’re an American, you might have experienced this if you’re a fan of Swans, or perhaps the Melvins. Or if you’re a bit older, maybe not since Quadrophenia, Physical Grafitti or The Wall. Most ‘Psychonauts are in Europe, where Motorpsycho have been a pretty big deal for nearly 30 years. Starting out in post-grunge territory via Trondheim, Norway in the early 90s and named after a Russ Meyer film, they ably consumed influences like the indie psychedelia of Mercury Rev, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and eventually some of the heavier sides of prog rockers like Yes, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator along with proto-metal and art rock. After their first decade they add a touch of stoner/desert rock and a quirky sense of humor that perhaps makes the most sense to Norwegians, giving some idea of the diverse breadth of their psych prog sound. I don’t know if their European sensibility would translate to a larger audience here, but they seem unconcerned. They already have the fame, awards and audience that appreciates the beauty of their massive catalog.
So why, after over 18 albums, should one get excited for yet another Motorpsycho album? They seemed to be geared up for a late career peak. After collaborating with an orchestra on the seemingly unwieldy but awesome jazz fusion of The Death Defying Unicorn: A Fanciful And Fairly Far-Out Musical Fable (Rune Grammafon, 2012), the band welcomed Dungen‘s massively talented Reine Fiske as a frequent guest, managed to put out another three excellent studio albums while also doing some scores for theatre. Last year they released the two disc career summation, Supersonic Scientists – A Young Person´s Guide To Motorpsycho, changed drummers (meet Tomas Järmyr from Italian avant jazz metal band Zu), and announced big things were to come. It all indicates a build-up to a potentially career-defining double album that can fiercely wrastle with the others for the top of the heap status, and summarize the band’s strengths with their most consistently captivating songs since Heavy Metal Fruit (2010).
The opening title track gets down to business with heavy fuzz guitar freakouts, mellotrons and vocal harmonizing from Bent Sæther and Hans Magnus Ryan. It may have some prog odyssey moments, but they’re tied together with some gorgeous melodic choruses and dreamy outro. “Bartok Of The Universe” sounds as grandiosely epic as the title suggests, a driving proto-metal piledriver, while “A.S.F.E.” (a song for everyone) delivers some of their goofiest lyrics ever, and pull it off with charm, while also taking you on a delirious space rock ride. “Stardust” offers a lilting acoustic side with harmonies like a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Yes. “In Every Dream Home (There’s A Dream Of Something Else)” is a pun on the Roxy Music song, but rather than arty glam, it’s a heavy psych stomper that bridges into some Jethro Tull flute, but sweetened with some great vocal melodies.
The band offers another respite in intensity with the folky “The Maypole” and “A Pacific Sonata” which evolves in stages from the bucolic splendor of Van Morrison‘s Astral Weeks to Tim Buckley‘s cosmic wails of Starsailor to an elongated crescendo that Can (RIP Holger Czukay) might have whipped up in a jam between Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. You might still be reflecting on that amazing 15:39 centerpiece and have to replay the more heavier rocking “The Cuckoo,” before they unleash the full-on psych prog majesty of “Ship Of Fools.”
Albums this long are usually more difficult to get into, but The Tower, as impressively forbidding as it seems from a distance, is remarkably easy to get into and enjoy. It’s just a stunning album, and I’ll probably have to spend at least a month re-listening to the band’s entire massive catalog before I can confidently say it’s their best, but it’s definitely a contender. | Buy