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Charty Chart Chat: Motorpsycho Rules!

Review of Phanerothyme taken from the
Canadian e-zine
CHARTATTACK, 2002-05-14.
English. Found at the chartattack site.

The following review has been over due for way too long. Motorpsycho's album, Phanerothyme was (and still remains) my favourite album for 2001. Their previous album, Let Them Eat Cake was my favourite album of 2000. Only Pavement in the '90s and XTC in the '80s rival the success of one band for completely capturing my attention. My interest in this Norwegian trio, who have been recording under this name since 1989 (and with this line-up since 1990), is so great that I traveled to Germany last year in order to see them play live, twice. I've never done that for any other band in the past, though I did go to Europe back in the day with the intention of seeing XTC play live in London before the band retired from live performances.

Phanerothyme is a tight pop album that merges many of the rock styles of the early '70s, from Pink Floyd and Allman Brothers to The Beach Boys and The Doors. So many references in fact – it's like listening to the rock equivalent of a hip-hop album from the Nature Brothers clan. It's not that Motorpsycho is ripping anyone off, it's more that they know and understand the history of modern music. Throughout the album, I'm continually trying to spot the influences, which only improves the experience.

Motorpsycho - «Let Them Eat Cake» - cover - front
Let Them Eat Cake

The album begins with "Bedroom Eyes," a quiet Nick Drake-tinged folk ballad. This beginning is followed by an energetic mix of acoustic guitars that slide into some tense electric guitar-picking of Hans Ryan (known to all as sNAH) and the imaginative basslines by Bent Saether (who wrote and sings lead on the first three songs on the album) on "For Free" and "B.S." Adding his capable support through out the album is auxiliary band member Baard Slagsvold who sings, plays a multiple of keyboards and does the lion share of orchestral arrangements. (He even sang lead on one song during the Motorpsycho Berlin show!)

The musicality of Phanerothyme is fantastic. Outside of the multiple-instrument list credited to the aforementioned four band members, this album features five brass and wind instruments and a string quintet.

Motorpsycho - «Phanerothyme» - cover - front

The musical head-turner is definitely the "Up-With-People"-like "Go To California" which merges many of the aforementioned bands into on song. The tune begins with vocal leads of sNAH, followed by bassist Bent. The chorus features perfectly arranged Beach Boy-like harmonies. Then the fun really kicks in. The five minute-plus solos of keyboard, guitar and flute aurally merges the instrumental solos of The Doors' "Light My Fire" spliced with "Riders In The Storm."

"Painting The Night Unreal" featuring Bent's wonderful Robert Plantesque vocal histrionics, this is a lighter-waving rock classic, with bits of Wings guitars abound this song. "The Slow Phaseout" is the obvious AM pop hit... if there is such a beast these days. Cool Brit-pop "Supermuffed" guitars swirl around and Bent's joyful vocals and sweet Bacharachian string and horn arrangements.

The album ends as it began on a quiet note, book ending the light, yet rocking album with a sad song courtesy of drummer Hakon Gebhardt. "When You're Dead" features Gebhardt taking center stage singing and playing banjo backed by an imaginative orchestral arrangement and more great bass and guitar additions. It was this song that ended the band's three hour-plus show in Berlin, with Gebhardt at center stage and Bent filling capably on drums, a charming end to both a great album and a great show.

Chris Burland