elephant9 with Reine Fiske – Atlantis + Motorpsycho – Blissard 4CD

Motorpsycho and Stale Storløkken collaborated on the epic double album (and live show), The Death Defying Unicorn earlier in the year. Storløkken’s since been busy touring with Supersilent and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, but it would be a shame if this superb new album from his elephant9 trio went unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Motorpsycho archaeology project has unearthed a previously unheard album from the Blissard era…

elephant9 with Reine Fiske – Atlantis
This is a stunner. The oppening salvo, “Black Hole” typifies much of Atlantis, with monolithic, relentlessly exhilarating rhythms coursing along steely traceries radiating from Storløkken’s electric keyboards. Elsewhere those traceries shimmer with exceptional delicacy; witness the hymnal intro to “Atlantis”, entwining with exquisite sensitivity around the keen, incisive electric guitar of Reine Fisk.

Fisk is a veteran musician, best known outside Norway for his work with Dungen and Terje Rypdal. He joins elephant9 on four of Atlantis‘s seven tracks. Having first joined elephant9 onstage at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, the completeness of his integration with the trio, especially on the epic title track, is astounding.

On “Atlantis”, Fiske plays both soaring solos and textural embellishments that combine dynamically with Storløkken’s electric piano, coursing over multiple false plateaus to a final pinnacle of rarefied sound (and, less pleasingly, a sudden, confounding fade-out).

Fiske’s use of nylon-string guitar and bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertson’s switch to 12-string acoustic on the shimmering “A Foot in the Bath” evokes Jimmy Page’s resonant acoustic on the folkier moments of Led Zeppelin III or Physical Graffiti, but the following “Psychedelic Backfire” is the album’s heaviest offering: a glowering intro preceding a remorseless bass-grind, doom-drum accumulation of sonic mass alleviated only by a lowering, slow-grind middle section.

Elsewhere, Eiltertsen’s churning bass melds with Torstein Lofthus’s polyrhythmic pulse in irresistibly compacted, propulsive rhythms, over which Storløkken’s overdriven Fender Rhodes and whorling Hammond sound like gloriously funked-up extrapolations on John Lord’s space-truckin’ solos for Deep Purple, but the Emerson Lake and Palmer comparisons make more sense on Atlantis than they have on previous elephant9 albums: there’s a comparable monomaniacal intensity to Storløkken’s immersion in music of comparable ambition.

The closing number, sans Fiske, aurally pans in on a frenetic live jam of funky, fuzzed-up deep-bass groove, bustling percussion and bristling Hammond, the trio careening through what could be the musical chicanes of an ultimate, adrenaline-fuelled car-chase soundtrack. This will no doubt make for a thunderous live show climax. Bring it on.

Motorpsycho – Blissard 4CD
Blissard, a real curate’s egg in its original single-disc form, begins with a run of songs that rank among Motorpsycho’s most commercial. Thereafter it flirts with both grunge and instrumental epics, only to end on a downbeat note with a duet for voice and banjo, and a solo mood piece by Deathprod, aka producer/Motorpsycho auxiliary Helge Sten.

Still, for my money, Blissard is at least as good an album as the acknowledged ‘classic’ that preceded it, Timothy’s Monster, and this 4CD edition proves more essential than last year’s trawl through Timothy‘s archives.

For a start, it includes an entire ‘lost’ Motorpsycho album, When the World Sleeps, which the band simply grew out of and canned in favour of the sessions that ultimately led to Blissard. I’ll come back to it.

There’s also the first version of Blissard, expensively recorded at Atlantis Studios in Stockholm (yes, Atlantis was recorded there too) and mixed by Pieter ‘Pidah’ Kloos (hence: The Pidah Mixes). This the band also canned, apparently because they detected in the “cassette dubs” of the final mixes (auditioned in a van, en-route home to Oslo) a “hi-fi lack of energy and dullness”.

There’s also the Atlantis Psychosis Files – 20 minutes of experimental self-indulgence, recorded at Atlantis while Pidah was busy mixing. Among these tracks, those included as ‘hidden’ bonuses on both Blissard and its eventual follow-up, Angels & Demons at Play, which now need no CD rewind trickery to access.

Other odds & sods collected here, including a full-blooded romp through The Who’s “Heaven and Hell”, saw light of day on the Manmower and Nerve Tattoo EPs, the tracks of which are all present and correct.

There’s very little duplication of material across the four CDs, but there is an early “Drug Thing”, recorded in a half-finished studio, plus two versions of “Mad Sun and three of “Stalemate”, none of which made it onto Blissard.

The band didn’t nail “Stalemate” until the final sessions for Angels & Demons. Here it is as first recorded for the discarded When The World Sleeps album, and again for Blissard, mixed by Pidah but subsequently discarded. The final version incorporates elements from a track titled “That Dying Breed”, which is included here as part of a six-song sequence of proto-Blissard rehearsal tapes from 1995: tracks that were variously cannibalised or, in two cases, “simply forgotten”.

The Pidah version of Blissard is more coherent than the final release, and has a raw vigour (I obviously don’t hear it as the band did). It includes two dropped tracks – the Dinosaur Jnr.-like “Like Always” and “The Matter with Her” – that are strong melodically, and would’ve made decent singles (the latter did, in fact, in a version by Sanderfinger).

The comparative unrefinement of these mixes sometimes works in their favour. The Pidah mix of “The Nerve Tattoo”, for example, sounds better in some respects without the violins that graced the Blissard single version.

More important for Motorpsycho fans than these early Blissard mixes, the ‘lost’ album, When the World Sleeps, is a thing unto itself, with a completely different vibe to Blissard. It’s a more brooding and arguably a more powerful album on the whole, though shades of Crazy Horse on “Flick of the Wrist” suggest one reason why its authors might have thought it insufficiently Motorpsycho.

Of the three tracks here that made it onto EPs (“The Ballad of Patrick and Putrick”, the home demo “7th Dream”, and “Mad Sun”), the latter two make for a diffuse ending to the album, despite “Mad Sun”‘s ramshackle vigour, which mirrors Blissard‘s mixed blessing ending; but the four unreleased tracks that make up it’s bulk are powerful stuff.

“The Ballad of Patrick and Putrick” is a narcotised grunge epic, shuffling from one instrumental chorus to another via mumbled vocal verses and strummed acoustic guitars. Best of all, a superb cover of tour-mates Alabama Kids’ “Black W’abbit” is a psych-rock monster that competes with Blissard‘s “S.T.G.” as the standout track of the whole collection.

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1 comment
  1. Great write-ups on two amazing bands. I bought elephant9 after reading this posting. An absolute killer release. Upon sharing with a fellow music fanatic, he described the album aptly stating “time capsule” — implying that this jewel is ahead of its time.

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