I may not have delved as far into Norwegian prog rock as I'd hoped but I learned enough last year to jump all over a new Motorpsycho album when it shows up. As is often the case, this is a generous one. It's a double album containing thirteen tracks that last almost eighty-five minutes. Its heart is a song called N.O.X., which runs almost three quarters of an hour on its own across five parts, with most of it instrumental.
While we might expect N.O.X. to cover one disc and everything else another, this breaks down quite a bit differently: four tracks before N.O.X. and four after it, with that dominant track broken up across the two discs. It's unfair generalisation, but the opening four seem a lot more experimental and less soft than the closing four. The album closes on Like Chrome, which is rather like Steely Dan on verses and Steely Dan attempting a Bond theme when it heats up.
Now, there's quiet material at the beginning of the album, but it isn't really soft. One of my favourite pieces here is The Same Old Rock (One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy), which is very much like a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis track. It's quiet until it isn't and it isn't until it is again. One minute it's flute and other little decorations, the next the drums and emphasis kick in suddenly and infectiously. There's a lot of impeccable dynamic play in this one.
One thing I really like about this album, and especially that track because of what it does, is how lo-fi the drums sound. The whole album is carefully and expertly produced, but the drums are simply good old fashioned down to earth one man beating the crap out of the kit drums. There's absolutely no aim of overproduction at all and that makes Tomas Järmyr's work here wildly engaging, often a tribal call to action.
I also really like the first four tracks here. They veer in and out of Genesis, King Crimson and whoever else, delivering intricate guitar, delicate melodies and those thumping drums. I'm less fond of the closing four, though they're decent enough. There isn't a poor song here, let alone a bad one, and which will leap out at you may come down to personal taste as much as quality.
The most obvious track, of course, is N.O.X., in between all of the two minute interludes and eight or nine minute complexities. This is a seriously ambitious song and it's the heart of the album. It's a lot more King Crimson and a lot more Genesis, but with some Mike Oldfield too, I think, to add an emulsion of commerciality to something often psychedelic and experimental.
The first part, Circles Around the Sun, Pt. 1, is the wildest this album gets, which of course means that it has the most overt King Crimson influence, especially in the jazzier sections. There's Hawkwind here too, not least in the vocal distortions and the psychedelic flow of things. Where the earlier violin and what occasionally sounds like a brass section come in, I have no idea, but they fit really nicely. This is a trippy nine minute opening section, catching us up in a maelstrom to keep us captive for the rest.
The fourth part, Night of Pan, is the most commercial, at least in its long instrumental sections, but a lot of the second part, Ouroboros (Strange Loop) works in a similar manner. These are hypnotic pieces that never get old however long they run on (the former for fifteen minutes, the latter for eight). The whole album ought to play really nicely on headphones in the dark, but these instrumental stretches of N.O.X. especially with their hypnotic rhythms and swirling decorations. The third part, Ascension, makes me feel like I'm floating, because the more overt pulsing of the earlier parts calms to a soothing level, before building back up for the rest. I'm keen to see how this plays on headphones.
I gave The Crucible, my Motorpsycho review from last year, a 7/10 as a splitting the difference attempt between two songs I adored and one, twice as long, that I didn't care for as much. This is twice as long an album but it's more consistent and I think I have to split between a bunch of 9/10 songs and some 7/10s, with much of the album in between. I'm going to be playing this one a lot.