The Motor Primitives

The Motor Primitives

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Rock - General | Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Total Song Plays: 275   
Member Since: 2004
   Last Login: over 30 days ago

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Review: Wisconsin State Journal

Rob Thomas, Wisconsin State Journal, Jun 16, 2005
I had expected something a little brasher and rawer from a band that in a recent press release exhorted local media to (and I'm paraphrasing here) "get your finger out of your nose and come see our live show."

But the debut album from Madison's The Motor Primitives isn't so brash at all. In fact, it's a dynamite collection of superbly-crafted pop-rock songs that carry real weight. Led by singer-songwriter Pam Barrett, who has the kind of dreamy yet direct singing voice that invites Chrissie Hynde comparisons, the MPs play melodic rock with surprisingly sophisticated arrangements. In all the right ways, this sounds like a band's fifth album, not its first.

A sinewy groove slithers through "Universal Man," while "Behind the Clouds" is a sparkling pop song where guitars and vocals pair up to satisfying effect. The jittery "He Said, She Said" and the hypnotic seven-minute-long "Beautiful Mind" show the band can rock the house when they want to. But this is a rock album for grown-ups, one invites the listener inside rather than rushing out to greet them, and certainly one of the finest local debuts of the year.

Review: Rick's Cafe Magazine

Rick Tvedt, Rick's Cafe, July 2005
The Motor Primitives is the newest entry in the Boat Records catalog and a logical choice to carry on the label's penchant for melodic, accessible rock music and well-tailored songwriting. Part pop, part roots rock with occasional jazz, alt-country and samba flourishes, the Motor Primitives are quintessentially Madison' homegrown and crafty without being overly polished.

The focus here is squarely on the lyrics as they sit alone on top of the mix, and there's good reason for that. Pam Barrett, who wrote all of the CD's twelve +1 songs, is an exceptional lyricist and her smooth voice is by turns sultry and sassy. The Pretenders comparisons are undeniable as she coaxes the same hypnotic tremolo from her voice as Chrissie Hynde and at times a similar half-spoken sarcasm. At other points a comparison to Aimee Mann seems more appropriate. Barrett's softer side comes to the fore in "Say It," with a beautifully melodic chorus augmented with hushed backing vocals. Here the vocal tremolo is used to great effect as well as on the acoustic ballad "Always Been This Way."

In addition to "say It" there are several other tracks that bear mentioning. The band rocks on "Are You Really There?" a well-reasoned stab at the Establishment and "Perfect World," a radio-ready hit that features the album's grittiest guitar tones and a killer lick. "Universal Man" swings coolly while the chorus is one of the other melodic highlights of the album. Just when you think you've got the MP modus operandi figured out they come along with "Beautiful Mind," a cool-groove roller, and "favorite Dream," A country-leaning rocker with a polka beat.

The Motor Primitives was recorded at Ultimate Audio with Tom Blain engineering and mastering. The group's bassist and multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Sanborn, is credited as producer and at first blush the recording has an almost reserved vibe to it. But with repeated listening the songs begin to sink in and hook the listener. The pristine quality of the mix, although a tad over-compressed, reveals a surprisingly strong identity for a debut recording. Nary a hint of distortion can be detected on this collection, the guitars are mostly clear and shimmering and instrumentally The Motor Primitives recalls Blind Man's Zoo-era 10,000 Maniacs. Guitarist Kat Spring does a splendid job fleshing out the personality that Barrett brings to the songs, making her an ideal right-hand woman to Barrett's earnestness. There is little doubt that Sanborn has the producer's gene and where the Motor Primitives go from here will be one of the more interesting and no doubt enjoyable journeys for both the band and its fans.

Review: Isthmus Magazine

Tom Laskin, The Isthmus, April 15, 2005
The Motor Primitives aren't working to become the "it" band of the Madison club scene. They all have full-time jobs, and a few have advanced degrees. In fact, at 28 lead guitarist Kat Spring qualifies as the baby of the group, and any rock 'n' roll fantasies the easygoing Canadian might harbor are balanced out by the rigors of finishing a dissertation in film studies.

Despite the outside commitments, the Motor Primitives (whose name derives from neuroscience, not the grease pit) are definitely a serious band. Frankly, watching them gallop through an hour-long set of melodic, strangely portentous folk-rock at the Slipper Club last week, I was struck by how much focus and drive they display on stage. You won't find any punky flailing in a Motor Primitives set, just a practiced foursome putting over well-turned folk-rock. In front of a modest, friendly crowd, chief songwriter Pam Barrett employed a throaty, quavering vocal style on hooky '60s-flavored originals like "Perfect World" and "Look Away" and communicated an emotional maturity that just isn't apparent in most local singers. The interplay between drummer Robin Davies, bassist Matthew Sandborn and guitarist Spring also added an extra level of complexity to Barrett's songs.

Having studio habitué Sandborn and longtime local musician Davies (Tar Babies, Booty Froot, the Bar Tabbies, etc.) in the band clearly helps ground the Motor Primitives. But having experienced players involved may not be as important as the band's very visible willingness to bring out -- and, when it's appropriate, lean on -- each other's strengths. After just two years of playing local clubs, the members of the Motor Primitives have learned their place in the music and are more than willing to subsume individual ambitions for the sake of a compelling group sound.

During a relaxed, attitude-free interview at the Slipper Club, Barrett even goes out of her way to praise Sandborn for "massaging the arrangements" and turning her strong guitar-based originals into full-blown pop tunes. And the other band members nod in agreement.

Which isn't to say that the Motor Primitives are shy, self-effacing and just grateful to have a few gigs. They're currently working on a debut CD, and they admit that keeping up a regular schedule of local live shows is as important as it's ever been to them. They may be mature, but they're not about to settle into a comfortable routine of one-a-month rocking.

They're also open to bigger opportunities. But the music veterans in the band know that turning a well-paced live set of hummable songs isn't so easy. Asked about how he'd like to see their career evolve, the matter-of-fact Sandborn squints hard behind his glasses, then says quietly, "I don't know what it takes to get on Conan O'Brien or one of those shows, but we'd be great. The question is, How do you get there?"