Motorpsycho’s 1996 fifth album ‘Blissard’ is a signpost in the psychedelic titans’ long career. It marks the start of their turn away from the Stooges-loving blurt of their early albums and into a more experimental phase. Like its 1994 predecessor ‘Timothy’s Monster’, it is now getting the box set treatment. Inside the clamshell box are the original 53-minute album, a second CD of seven tunes recorded in somewhat more basic conditions than the album itself (four unreleased), a scrapped version of the main album (including a couple of tunes that didn’t make the album) and a 20-song CD of B-sides and other odds and ends, a poster of the band with song notes and credits on the back and a chunky booklet of liner notes and art.
The original album was recorded in the autumn of 1995 at Atlantis Grammofon (formerly Metronome, where ABBA recorded some of their songs). The band charts much the same course as on ‘Timothy’s Monster’, at least for the first four songs, but also makes wide use of their newfound love of alternate tunings. On ‘Nerve Tattoo‘ - as band pal Tommy Olsson notes in his introductory essay to the release - the band takes a left turn. The spoken word parts on ‘True Middle‘ leak in from some unknown Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. ‘S.T.G’. tears along into wiggly mayhem, ‘Manmower’ lurks in lonely gloom, and ‘Fool’s Gold’ is a four-track bedroom recording of acoustic sad-sackery. ‘Nathan Daniel’s Tune From Hawaii’ lets producer Deathprod finish things off with some sampled ambient guitar work. Listening again it is easy to see why fans rank it as one of the band’s best.
The seven songs on Disc 2 - titled ‘When the World Sleeps’ - were put down on tape in December 1994 at a Trondheim art space. Most were then stuck on the shelf. A few of the songs, if not the recordings, were resuscitated for their next album, 1997 ‘Angels and Daemons at Play’. They kick off with ‘Stalemate’. An earlier version of the ‘Angels’ song, it is a slow burner with some echoing vocals and strummed guitar that stretches the later, jauntier version by a few more minutes. ‘Flick of the Wrist’ was another tune, later re-recorded and trimmed a bit for the 1997 ‘Starmelt’ EP , and is a fairly straight-ahead stomper that ends with a serious guitar workout.
‘When the World Sleeps’ is another moody offering, with Space Echo and oscillations putting it in good company with ‘Stalemate’. The set’s liner notes say its main riff was cannibalized for the intro of ‘In the Family’ on ‘Angels’; it sounds quite different on this earlier, spookier tune. The band also covered Dutch combo the Alabama Kids ‘Black Wa’bbit’. It sounds quite a bit like Motorpsycho’s earlier output. (As for the Kids, touted as a combination of Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr., they later transformed into stoner rock outfit 35007.) Also on the CD are ‘The Ballad of Patrick and Putrick’, acoustic strummer ‘7th Dream’ and the buzzing ‘Mad Sun’, all of which have made previous EP appearances but are nice to hear in context.
The third CD, ‘The Pidah Mixes’, gets its name from Pieter ‘Pidah’ Kloos who engineered the Atlantis Grammofon sessions. These tracks were mixed without the overdubs laid down later at Rodeloekka Studios in Oslo. They might seem a bit crisper than the later versions, but some of the sonic elements on the final album are gone - opener ‘Sinful, Wind-Borne’ and ‘Nerve Tattoo’ are stripped of their violins, and ‘‘s Numbness’ loses its soundbite intro, and some of its backing vocals. The Pidah mixes version of ‘’s Numbness’ also keeps the guitars to the forefront, a decision replicated over much of Disc 3’s version.
Perhaps most important to fans interested in hearing the unknown, two of the tunes were scrapped for the original album: ‘The Matter With Her’, which was to be track No. 4, is a lively tune with some upbeat keyboards that the band reworked, then handed off to Trondelag’s Sanderfinger, a group whose chipper sound suited it much better. ‘Like Always’ was later recorded for ‘Angels and Daemons at Play’, after a serious rewrite. The version on offer here is an energetic tune that makes a good counterpoint to its predecessor on the album, ‘Manmower’. The Pidah version of ‘Blissard’ also tacks the second crack at ‘Stalemate’ on the end, drops ‘Nathan Daniel’s Tune From Hawaii’ and makes a few changes to the running order, such as shifting ‘True Middle’ closer to the end. It’s a satisfying album, but at a time when the band was stretching out it does include some treading water.
Disc Four, ‘The Ones Who Got Away’, is a boon to those who missed out on the ‘Nerve Tattoo’ and ‘Manmower’ EPs, as it offers up the remaining songs from those works (including their charging version of the Who’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Sterling Says’, a fuzzed out tribute to the Velvet Underground. There is also another version of ‘Mad Sun’ from a split single.
For serious Motorpsychotics, there is a also a sextet of song sketches by Bent Saether, some of which formed the basis for other tunes.
They are followed by another version of ‘Drug Thing’. There are also five tracks, dubbed’The Atlantis Psychosis Files’. A pair of Hammond organ instrumentals originally released as a seven-inch called ‘Death Prod Recording te Juerg Mager Trio’ are quite pretty. The first of a pair of ‘secret tracks’, ‘Atlantis Swing’ comes from ‘Angels and Daemons at Play’ and is half a look forward to their western album, ‘The Tussler’ and half nonsense. ‘Jazz pa Troendska’ is an instrumental keyboard noodling. There is also ‘Famijen tar plats i studion/Fyra kvaeller Session’, which sounds suspiciously like a bunch of messing around.
For Motorpsycho fans, the whole package is well worth it (though repeat listens of ‘Famijen tar plats i studion/Fyra kvaeller Session’ seem unlikely ...). There is even enough meat for non-fans, but they might be better served by the original CD.