Motorpsycho have had a bit of a fascinating career in a stylistic sense, beginning their life as an alternative/indie group in the 90’s with psychedelic and space wanderings every now and then, before transforming into one of the best of the retro-prog groups of the 2010’s. The vast majority of these retro-prog groups are corny and soppy prog-by-numbers, and focus far more on what makes something prog as opposed to what makes something good music, taking influence from the 70’s in the worst possible ways. Motorpsycho admittedly aren’t completely prog most of the time – much of their recent success has been in emulating psychedelic jam rock more than progressive rock, but they create their distinct 70’s atmosphere using the same tools as the bands back in the day – soaring guitars, organs, mellotrons, rich bass, flat drums. But in addition to all of that, the band know exactly how to make a brilliant melody or a brilliant jam, and put their songcraft far above how progressive they appear to be.
Here Be Monsters is the latest in a long string of psych-rock records from the band, which started proper with 2010’s fantastically immersing Heavy Metal Fruit, though the band have been dabbling in the style since their indie rock heyday in the mid-90’s. Long songs and intense jams are on the cards, but always with a beautifully intricate atmosphere and an excellent song base. Often with these albums it’s the jams that pull me in – the intensity of a track like “Gullible’s Travails” is not something that can be ignored – but it’s the band’s exquisite melodies and organ-led atmospheres that grew on me and made the band something of a favourite of mine, and all of that is here on Here Be Monsters, albeit to different combinations.
This is a much softer record than their previous few, continuing on the trend that 2014’s Behind the Sun began. There’s a lot more of the serene organ atmospheres and a lot less of the ruthless balls-to-the-wall psychedelic jamming, which I admittedly miss a bit. But a track like the instrumental “Running with Scissors” is just too pleasant and relaxed to really complain about, with the band striking a perfect balance between a classic sound and a good quality recording, complete with some subtle improvisations and a wonderful organ motif.
But there is a bit of the other side, the ferocious jamming that one would associate with a record like Heavy Metal Fruit, although nothing here is quite as violent as that album. “I.M.S.” builds up a strong driving bass groove before unleashing into a classic droning section, stringing together some rich vocal parts along the way. 17-minute finale “Big Black Dog” merges these two schools in an all-encompassing finish, with some gorgeous psych pop melodies in the quiet sections and some excellent effects-laden guitar solos in the heavier parts. It’s undeniably the highlight of the record and contains some excellent structuring and moods throughout its length, which never seems to feel as daunting as it looks on paper.
I have no serious complaints about Here Be Monsters, but at the same time I would never call it a masterpiece. The band have made this album or albums very similar to this before, and while the quality execution is undeniably admirable for a band 18 albums into their career, it doesn’t strike me as being a particularly essential album. The band create a wonderful atmosphere and explore some good tunes and good jams, and for those looking for a psychedelic rock album in 2016 I can not recommend one better than this, but the band have done better things than this before.