Album review: Motorpsycho gives 'jam-band' a good name on 'Roadworks'
It's tough, when talking about the Norwegian band Motorpsycho — as this writer has done in the pages of this paper more times than is probably reasonable — to not get a bit miffed about how little success they have had in the United States. Really, if we're being honest — and, to hell with it, let's be — it's hard not to get frustrated with the United States itself for not being cool enough to really grasp what these guys are doing, and what they have done. That's right, Lady Liberty: this week, I'm coming directly for you.
Okay, maybe that got a little out of hand, there, but the point stands: Norway's kings of psych-rock should be on the radar of every thesaurus-clutching Pitchfork writer, but they're mostly a band that works in Europe playing the kinds of big festivals that they should be playing in the U.S. These things are hard to explain, but it probably has to do with the fact that Americans don't like to hear singers singing in English with non-American accents. Again, people of this country, get your acts together. Because you're missing out on a band that should be appreciated as much as groups like Sonic Youth or Mastodon or really any of the club-packing, relatively-yet-not-outrageously successful rockers of the last, oh, 30 or 40 years.
The band's latest release is a low-key live album, the fifth installment of their "Roadwork" series that began almost 20 years ago, when the band was already a decade into their career. "Field Notes, Europe 2017: The Fantastic Expedition of Järmyr, Ryan, Sæther & Lo" is the subtitle, here, and it indicates the kinds of sci-fi pomp that are present throughout the release. Motorpsycho has gone through several phases in their time on the planet, including stints as clean-cut popsters, heavy metal bruisers, and artsy indie-rockers. All that stuff is still in there, but the band has spent the last decade going full psych-prog, and this album puts that side of them on full display.
Put it this way: there are seven tracks on this release, and, save for a two-minute interstitial, not a one of them is under 11 minutes. In fact, the longest is 30, and the next longest after that is 24. These guys are fully engaged in presenting themselves as cosmic explorers not just playing a bunch of songs for people, but making an attempt to hypnotize, to transport, to offer up an experience that no other band can, at least not since the heyday of someone like Hawkwind, who, even at their weirdest, still kept their tunes to somewhat-traditional lengths.
Last year's "The Tower" was the first with new drummer Tomas Jarmyr, and he's ably taken the throne from Kenneth Kapstad, who was so good, he should've been irreplaceable. But this latest "Roadwork" proves that he was the right guy for the job. He's a bit more straightforward than Kapstad, but he's able to dazzle with flurries of notes when that's what's needed.
Highlights are hard to pick. It's not like one track is that much better than another, and, when the band is improvising for half of a 30-minute song, the only way to truly appreciate their music is to sit back and let it wash over you. Sit and listen to "Ship of Fools" and be wowed as a herky-jerky repeating figure begins to morph and change and sound almost normal, while, gradually, the band adds great washes of distortion and feedback and then, when it all seems like white noise, they stop on a dime and sing harmonized lines. Check out "Lacuna/Sunrise," when it goes into a long stretch of ambient music without drums or vocals, the Mellotron guiding the way.
It's just such a shame that Americans can't see this band do their thing at Lollapalooza or something. They're remarkable on album and even more so live.
Album: "Roadwork, Vol. 5: Field Notes, Europe 2017: The Fantastic Expedition of Järmyr, Ryan, Sæther & Lo"
Personnel: Bent Saether (vocals, bass), Hans Magnus Ryan (vocals, guitar), Tomas Jarmyr (drums), Kristoffer Lo (guitar, keyboards)