Auf der Maur
God & Other Stories (1993, 44.18) ***/T½
|Big Dumb Song
The Lost Weekend Starts Here
|St Paul's Mambo
On Saturday Night
No Food is Blue
Ha Ha Ha
Big Dumb Song Again
Peter Astor is a veteran of fêted '80s British indie outfits The Loft and The Weather Prophets, going solo upon the dissolution of the latter at the end of the decade, 1993's God & Other Stories being his fourth album in four years, before he took a lengthy break from music. It's a very respectable singer-songwriter effort, full of well-constructed songs like Another Sunday or Ha Ha Ha and few (if any) '80s production hangovers, which is a bonus.
The album was recorded at Brian O'Shaughnessy's studio in Walthamstow, East London, who's used Radio Massacre International's Mellotron on occasion. Owner Duncan Goddard actually plays it this time round, with faint strings on On Saturday Night and much more upfront ones on Another Sunday and closer Big Dumb Song Again, to generally good effect. Overall, this is the kind of album which should appeal to fans of, say, Lloyd Cole or even Elvis Costello, and with two decent 'Tron tracks, is just about worth picking up for the Mellotron fan, too. Most acceptable.
The Black Chord (2012, 47.07) ****½/TTTTCocoon
The Black Chord
Barefoot in the Head
Regular readers of this site surely need no introduction to Astra; psychedelic hard rock/proggers from California, their Mellotronically sampletastic debut The Weirding got many of us exceedingly hot under the collar, even if it, shall we say, lacked originality in places. Three years on, The Black Chord is, if anything, even better, avoiding its predecessor's inclinations towards faint plagiarism, sounding exactly like Astra, but more original. All six tracks are superb, but mention must be made of the title track, which is, frankly, fucking massive and elemental closer Barefoot In The Head, named in honour of Brian Aldiss' most experimental (not to mention druggy) novel. There may be no one riff here quite as memorable as that one from The Weirding itself, but the overall impression is of a band who've found their feet and know exactly where they're going.
Richard Vaughan and Conor Riley both play real Mellotron this time round, heavily encouraged by producer Ian Lehrfeld to use Brian 'Moog Cookbook' Kehew's lairy purple M400, although I hear that the band's Memotron still made it onto a few tracks. It's almost irrelevant to detail their use; suffice to say, they use brass, strings and choirs across all six tracks, notable Mellotronic moments including the filthy solo brass melody that opens the title track and the huge, discordant string chord in Barefoot In The Head.
Do you need any more encouragement to go out and buy this? You know, BUY, as against 'find a free download'? A superb album, already up there as a contender for album of the year at Planet Mellotron. Buy. Now. Incidentally (and amusingly), the CD booklet, which devotes a page to each of the five band members, includes several pics from their sole UK gig to date from 2010, my hired-in M400 clearly evident in one shot.
See: Samples | Silver Sunshine
In Search of the Soul Trees (2008, 50.27) ***½/TPart One
Asturias (named for a region in the far north of Spain) are effectively Yoh Ohyama's solo project, recording three albums from the late '80s to the early '90s before picking up again in 2003. 2008's In Search of the Soul Trees is his third album since 'reforming', a far more symphonic prog proposition than his original rather neo-works, moving through several different feels across its length, as you'd expect. Picking out individual highlights is difficult, as the album really should be listened to as a whole, but busy opener Spirits, the violin-led Woods and the reflective Paradise are possibly the tracks where his approach works best.
Akira Hanamoto plays real-sounding Mellotron, with strings on Spirits and Reincarnation, although all other potential parts sound generic. Overall, a decent and surprisingly non-synthetic modern Japanese progressive release, in a vaguely Mike Oldfield-ish direction, although that shouldn't put you off if you're not a fan of his work, either. Er... Not much Mellotron, though, so don't bother on that account.
Out in the Streets (1986, 11.18) ***½/TTFarewell
Out in the Streets
Crystal Days (1987, 33.53) ***/T½
Ain't No Crime
Ikarosu no Tsubasa
|Illusion of the Empty Room
Remember Tomorrow (N.G)
In Your Dreams
Asylum's 1986 EP, Out in the Streets, sounds like an '80s Japanese take on the proggier end of the metal scene, almost accidentally inventing prog-metal a few years early, although track three is punkier. Best track? Probably Out In The Streets itself. Ybo²'s Masashi Kitamura plays Mellotron, with a brief string part on opener Farewell, skronky flutes and strings on Finale and cellos (and strings?) on the title track.
1987's Crystal Days gives us an odd cross between punk and metal, with the occasional burst of something proggier. The album's eclecticism is also its downfall, as the impression given is of two different albums co-existing on the same piece of vinyl, often within the same song. Better tracks include Ikarosu No Tsubasa, Illusion Of The Empty Room and closer Enbukyoku, but it's all a little hit-and-miss, to be honest. Kitamura, this time billed as 'Joseph "K"', plays Mellotron on two tracks, with distant strings and flutes on the title track and upfront strings on Enbukyoku, although only the latter's really worth hearing for its Mellotron use. I haven't heard the expanded CD version of the album, but I doubt whether there are any more Kitamura contributions.
I'm not sure who might actually wish to hear these now; they have their moments, but they're too few and far between to make them anything more than historical curios.
So Long, Astoria (2003, 57.21) **½/½
|So Long, Astoria
Takeoffs and Landings
In This Diary
Unopened Letter to the World
The Saddest Song
The Hero Dies in This One
|All You Can Ever Learn is What You Already Know
The Boys of Summer
Looking Back on Today
Eight of Nine
I Won't Spend Another Night Alone
The Saddest Song (acoustic)
The title of the Ataris' fourth album, So Long, Astoria, resonates fairly well with me at the moment, as the Powers That Be move in to demolish the grand old Astoria Theatre on London's Charing Cross Road, the city's last good-sized central venue. The band seem to play a rather derivative kind of pop/punk, although there is the odd interesting moment on the album, chiefly the rare ones where they use non-standard chords. The record seems to go on forever, although it's actually under an hour; when will bands learn that if you play a high-octane style, making long albums just doesn't work? If you edited out its best bits (do I mean the worst bits?), its star rating would probably rise a little, but the sheer drudgery of trawling through such a long album grinds the listener down eventually, at least if they're me.
Next to no Mellotron from Kris Roe, with the occasional 'Strawberry Fields'-style flute part in The Hero Dies In This One, one of the album's songs with slightly more interesting chords. So; overlong and boring with next to no 'Tron. Marvellous. Incidentally, their follow-up, 2007's Welcome the Night, is supposed to have some 'Tron input from Bob Hoag. Guess what: it hasn't.
Caribe Atómico (1998, 44.33) ***/T
El Desinflar de Tu Cariño
Humo y Alquitrán
Aterciopelados ('Velvety Ones') are apparently Colombia's top Latin rock act, and going by their fourth album, 1998's Caribe Atómico (literally, 'Atomic Caribbean'), they successfully fuse message politics, Colombian folk musics, more general Latin influences and Western pop/rock to create a heady whole that packs 'em in back home. As their countrywoman Shakira has proven, South American music can travel, although it seems to fight an uphill battle away from Latin areas. I'll leave track-by-track breakdowns of the album to those who understand this music better; suffice to say, it's very little like Santana, although the rhythmic base is similar, and is more likely to appeal to Spanish speakers and those who prefer dancing to chin-stroking.
Andres Levin produced the NYC-recorded album, adding various obscure keyboards as he saw fit, including an Ondioline and a Mellotron, although you'll have to strain pretty hard to hear the latter until the closing minutes of the album, where there's a full-on and definitely genuine flute part on Días, with what sound likes a single string note thrown in, as if Levin was messing about with the track selector. Anyway, yer rock/prog/Western music generally fan is probably not going to get much out of this, but it seems to be good at what it does. Oh, and if you want European credibility, Roxy Music guitarist and all-round Colombian Phil Manzanera produced their previous record, La Pipa de la Paz.
Neptune City (2007, 39.58) **½/TT
Together We're Both Alone
The Way it is
Brooklyn's on Fire!
|Kill the Headlights
Nicole Atkins' Neptune City is one of those faux-'60s records that sound impressive, although upon further investigation are found to contain very little real content. Bold and brassy, the album grabs your attention immediately, but despite high points like the string melody in Together We're Both Alone (surely the album's best track?), it ultimately disappoints, trying to be something it just isn't. Swamped in strings, vibes and other easy listening instrumental staples, Atkins' strident contralto lays waste to the whole album, although, of course, if that's what you actually want...
Two Mellotron players are credited, Martin Gjerstad and Daniel "Shaolun" Chen, exclusively, it seems on Mellotron vibes, with parts on all the highlighted tracks above, some more obviously Mellotronic (notably Cool Enough) than others. Overall, then, pre-psych '60s pop with some rather non-standard 'Tron. To be honest, just don't.
Atlantis Philharmonic (1974, 36.04) ****/TTTAtlantis
Atlantis Philharmonic were an American progressive duo comprising percussionist Royce Gibson and Joe DiFazio on everything else; amazingly, I'm told they managed to do it live, with DiFazio playing keyboards, bass pedals and guitar simultaneously (!) (thanks, David). Their sole release, Atlantis Philharmonic, is a mixture of magnificently pompous, overblown pieces like Atlantis and Atlas, and gentler songs along the lines of Woodsman, although even the quieter sections carry an undertone of menace. DiFazio was obviously a good all-rounder, as his keyboard playing sounds classically-trained, and his guitar and vocal work are perfectly respectable, too.
Three Mellotron tracks; Atlantis and My Friend have some reasonable string parts, but the real highlight is the lengthy, orchestrated strings part in Woodsman. I think this one track is almost the decider on its own; an absolute killer. You may find the album a bit on the heavy side, but if you don't mind a bit of 'oomph' in your prog, and you can actually find a copy (the CD is long deleted), go for it.
Blå Vardag (1979, 38.34/57.12) ****/TTTElisabiten
Den Vita Tranans Våg
Björnstorp [from the Mosaik LP]
Atlas were one of the many lower-division progressive bands from the '70s, particularly the tail-end of the decade. Blå Vardag (Blue Tuesday) was recorded in '78 and released in '79, just as the scene was coming to a close, at least for a while. Fully instrumental, Atlas had a jazzy feel in places, mixed with more traditional symphonic progressive rock. Much Fender Rhodes and MiniMoog from the two keyboard players, Erik Björn Nielsen and Björn Ekborn, with a little Mellotron thrown in for good measure on three of the album's five tracks, the most 'Tron-heavy track being the album closer, Den Vita Tranans Våg. While by no means a Mellotron Classic, this is an excellent album, well worth any prog fan's time.
The CD reissue includes three bonus tracks, one of which is the only 'Tron track from the post-Atlas Mosaik album from 1982. There's also some very nice Mellotron on CD closer Sebastian, rescued from a radio recording.
Lady of Shalott (2002, recorded 1977, 121.31) ****/T½
|Lady of Shalott
Cuckoo (Love's Labour's Lost)
Love is Waiting for a Lover
Cuckoo - alternate version
Lady of Shalott (live)
|Catharsis (by Isotopy)
Nightmare (by Me El-Ma)
Toridtagitar (by Me El-Ma)
The Children Dance (by Me El-Ma)
Is this deluge of utterly obscure progressive bands ever going to stop? Hopefully not, going by the standards set by this double-disc set. Atmosphera were Israel's first symphonic prog outfit, including future members of Zingale, who are just about the only other one anyone's ever heard of and would'ja believe... they're excellent? There's a heavy Yes influence in what they were doing, with both Efraim Barak's vocals and Moti Fonseca's guitar style mirroring those of their Yes counterparts, which is in no way to decry the band's achievements; the material is well-written and recorded, and it's a real shame it wasn't released at the time. The CD booklet gives the band's full history, explaining how yet another promising outfit fell by the wayside; at least tapes a) were made and b) survived...
The title track and Cuckoo are both 16-minute epics, moving through all the requisite changes that the style demands, and although Tomorrow and Love Is Waiting For A Lover are cleaned up rehearsal tapes, I've heard an awful lot worse, although I'm not convinced the songwriting's quite up to the standard of the first two tracks. Now, the oddity here, and the reason the album's on this site at all is the alternate version of Cuckoo. As far as I can work out, it utilises elements of the other version, but with the intro and outro piano sections taken from a demo, and much overdubbing of keyboards, including the Mark II and M400 Mellotrons also used by Rockfour from original keyboardist Yuval Rivlin. Much upfront 'Tron, with strings and flutes probably from the Mark II, and M400 choirs, all complementing the piece very nicely, as do the ARP 2600, Hammond and Rhodes, amongst other vintage gear.
The second disc comprises various live and radio session tracks, a VCD video-only track and some post-Atmosphera things, including three from drummer Me El-Ma. To be quite honest, your life wouldn't be incomplete if you never heard most of this stuff, but I can perfectly well understand the urge to make everything available, although I suspect many of you will find the El-Ma stuff quite hard going. 'Weird shit' is, I believe, the appropriate expression. I haven't yet managed to play the video material, though I expect it's worth seeing, but I'm not entirely sure the listening public wouldn't be better served by a one-CD version, too, though that would almost certainly be too expensive a proposition to make it worthwhile. Anyway, disc one is excellent, with one 'Tron epic, albeit with recent overdubs.
L'Araignée-Mal (1975, 44.03/56.03) ****/½Le Photographe Exorciste
Le Voleur d'Extase
Imaginez le Temps
Les Robots Debiles
Le Cimetiere de Plastique
Cazotte No.1 (live)]
I've owned copies of Atoll's first and third releases, Musiciens/Magiciens (***½) and Tertio (***½) for a while, finding them both 'good but not great', so I was completely blown away by L'Araignée-Mal, with its prog/fusion crossover feel, complete with great material. The only piece that sounds more jazz than prog is Cazotte No.1, reprised with a live version on Musea's CD reissue, with the rest of the material inserting some jazziness into the excellent symphonic prog, replete with violin.
Keyboard man Michel Taillet only seems to play clavinet and a gorgeous-sounding Eminent string synth (similar to the Solina, I believe), with Bruno Gehin guesting on most of the keys, particularly Rhodes and some superb MiniMoog work. Gehin's also credited with Mellotron, but apart from a single string note on Le Photographe Exorciste that may or may not be, the only thing I can hear is (I think) a few flute chords on the first part of the excellent side-long title track, so I really wouldn't go here for 'Tron. However... if you like your prog symphonic and a little jazzy, buy this immediately, while it's still in print. Superb.
T4B (2009, 40.24) ***½/T½
Don't Do it
There seems to be some confusion over The Atomic Bitchwax' fourth album, known variously as T4B, TAB4 or The Atomic Bitchwax 4, possibly with two different running orders. It's actually a pretty decent hard rock album from the old school; y'know, proper riffs'n'shit, of the kind that seem to have gone entirely out of fashion, replaced by, er... What do modern metal bands use instead of the classic 'riff' structure? I don't like it, but I can't even work out what it is. Anyway, the terribly-named The Atomic Bitchwax don't do it, which is a blessing, and not even in disguise. Top tracks include
Bassist Chris Kosnik doubles on Mellotron, with strings all over opener Revival, to the point where you wonder how they could do it live without (my guess is they just won't play it) and closer Wreck You, sounding reasonably real, although it gets harder and harder to tell for sure... So; good album in its genre, assuming you like said genre, with a couple of decent 'Tron tracks. Tentatively, buy.
In Thrall (1993, 48.13) ***½/TT½
|No Tears Tonight
Angels in the Trees
Living in Another Time
Fall So Far
Murray Attaway was frontman with well-respected gentlemen Guadalcanal Diary, possibly the best 'Athens, Georgia scene' band, certainly superior to what R.E.M. became. After their (first) split, Attaway signed with Geffen and recorded the really rather good In Thrall, carrying on his former band's adventures with jangly guitars and meaningful songs. I really hate to keep quoting favoured artists as influences, in true 'Record Collector' style, but parts of this album don't half sound like Richard Thompson at his most upbeat, especially in the guitar department, which is no bad thing. I suspect it'll take a few more plays for its charms to make themselves fully apparent (quite when I'll find the time to do this, I've no idea), but there doesn't seem to be a bad track on the album, which is pretty good going by anyone's standards.
This album is absolutely stuffed with Chamberlin, with the odd bit of Mellotron creeping in, and all in the days before both instruments were routinely sampled. Saying that, with contributors of the stature of Jon Brion and Patrick Warren, samples aren't really in the offing, I'm glad to say. Attaway himself and Tony Berg also play various tape-replay instruments, while Brion gets some of his beloved Optigan in, too. Anyway, a weird Chamby flute pattern on No Tears Tonight, what I presume to be 'Tron cellos and Chamby brass on Under Jets, 'Tron flutes on Allegory, along with Chamberlin something. Chamby 'Strawberry Fields'-style somethings (not flutes) on Living In Another Time and Chamby solo male voices on My Book makes for a pretty good 'Tron/Chamby effort, although most of the parts are typically brief; whad'ya think this is? Prog?
So; good album for jangly guitar fetishists, or simply lovers of good songs. Reasonable tape-replay work, so worth picking up second-hand, at least. Incidentally, it seems In Thrall is Attaway's only solo album released to date, although he has worked on at least one other. Guadalcanal Diary have an on/off career, but Attaway doesn't even seem to have his own website.
Official Guadalcanal Diary site
Audrye Sessions (2009, 48.37) *½/½
|Turn Me Off
The Paper Face
New Year's Day
Where You'll Find Me
|Nothing Pure Can Stay
She Had to Leave
The Crows Came in
Dust and Bones
Audrye Sessions are an Oakland-based indieslop crew, who apparently fondly imagine that their eponymous debut sounds like a cross between The Beatles and Muse. Well, possibly the worst excesses of the latter, but The Beatles? Are you 'avin a laff? Audrye Sessions actually sounds more like Coldplay duking it out with Travis, in exactly the way that you might imagine those two bands would fight: wetly, with tears before bedtime. Frankly, this is completely horrible; I blame U2. The band's awfulness may possibly be encapsulated by their re-recording of opener Turn Me Off in Simlish, an artificial language used in the Sims range of computer games, thus making a triviality even more trivial. Great. Amazingly, there is actually a 'best track', Nothing Pure Can Stay, which, after two minutes of the usual drivel, suddenly kicks into a genuinely good riff. Sadly, it's over all too soon.
Andrew Scheps is credited with Mellotron, but the only even possible use is the strings on closer Dust And Bones (the album's second least-offensive track), although they sound more like real ones to my ears. Listen, this is a terrible, terrible album. Please don't buy it.
Keep it Hid (2009, 50.04) ***/T
|Trouble Weighs a Ton
I Want Some More
Heartbroken, In Disrepair
Because I Should
Whispered Words (Pretty Lies)
When the Night Comes
Keep it Hid
My Last Mistake
When I Left the Room
Mellotron (Chamberlin?) used:
Dan Auerbach is the non-drumming half of The Black Keys, so it's no surprise that some of 2009's Keep it Hid sounds a lot like the parent outfit's r'n'b/soul/garage rock mash-up, raucous yet tuneful, although the acoustic tracks are less expected, not least opener Trouble Weighs A Ton and closer Goin' Home. Best tracks? Possibly Whispered Words (Pretty Lies), with an excellent speed-up to the end and Street Walkin', although nothing here really disappoints.
Auerbach plays pretty much everything on the album, including the keyboard string part on When The Night Comes. But what is it? It sounds 'grimy' enough to be a tape-replay instrument, but doesn't quite sound like a Mellotron. A Chamberlin? Not actually tape-replay at all? I'll keep this here until/if I find out for certain, anyway. Overall, although every individual track on the album works well, some of them don't appear to be the best of friends, accounting for the relatively low star rating, while fifty minutes is probably about ten too long, but if you're a Black Keys fan already, don't let that put you off.
See: Black Keys | Ray LaMontagne | Lana Del Rey
Auf der Maur (2004, 51.59) ***/½
|Lightning is My Girl
Followed the Waves
Real a Lie
Beast of Honor
I'll Be Anything You Want
My Foggy Notion
|Would if I Could
I Need I Want I Will
Bassist Melissa Auf der Maur is best known for her years in Courtney Love's Hole (so to speak), although she's also worked with The Smashing Pumpkins and Rufus Wainwright, amongst others. She kicked off her solo career with 2004's Auf der Maur, slotting fairly and squarely into the 'alternative metal' bracket, taking influences from the modern metal, punk and indie genres, not least her various ex-bands. The end result is an album that's likely to appeal to fans of The Pumpkins et al. and less likely to grab those for whom rock peaked in the '70s, although it features occasional nods towards the 'classic' era.
Melissa plays Chamberlin, with, of all things, a solo female vocal part on the powerpop of Would If I Could (think: that bizarre solo male voice, but, er, higher), making this possibly the only album on this site to feature the sound. Auf der Maur has its moments, although it's unlikely to get anyone over, say, forty too hot under the collar. One minor but interesting Chamby track is far from enough to make it worth hearing on that account, though.
Befour [Brian Auger & the Trinity] (1970, 32.26/46.41) ***½/T
|I Wanna Take You Higher
No Time to Live
Adagio per Archi e Organo
Just You and Me
Rain Forest Talking
Fire in the Mind]
Closer to it! [Brian Auger's Oblivion Express] (1973, 36.30/59.48) ***/T
|Whenever You're Ready
Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Light on the Path
Compared to What
Inner City Blues
Voices of Other Times
Whenever You're Ready
|Happiness is Just Around the Bend
Inner City Blues
Voices of Other Times]
After his groundbreaking work with Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger first made albums with the Driscoll-less Trinity, then shifted over to his own Oblivion Express, to explore the boundaries of jazz and rock more closely; whether or not you consider this a good thing will be tightly bound up with how you feel about jazz. 1970's Befour consists largely (solely?) of Augered-up covers, with loads of ripping (if predictably jazzy) Hammond work, with classical adaptation Adagio Per Archi E Organo being particularly impressive. Mellotron strings (in the left channel only for some reason) on another classical piece, Pavane, but not enough to make a purchase worthwhile, methinks.
Three years on, and Auger was on his fourth Oblivion Express LP, Closer to it, and I really have to say here, if you ain't into jazz, you ain't gonna get it. I didn't... It's all impeccably played and arranged, but this is a jazz-rock record without much of the rock, to be honest. I mean, compared to, say, Airto Moreira's work, this is so... white. I find it difficult to pick out any highlights from something that's just so tame; suffice to say, this is jazz (Have I already said that?). Mellotron on one track, with an unexciting string part in the background on Inner City Blues, with the same on the extra version of the track on the CD.
So; whitey-boy jazz, albeit exceptionally well-played. You either love this stuff or you don't; it's pretty much innovation-free, like so much jazz from the last three or four decades, and there's very little excitement to be had listening to Closer to it, although Befour is rather better. Very little 'Tron, so don't bother on that account, either.
See: Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity
Girls Sing (2007, 61.05) ***/T
Auktyon/Аукцьіон (duh, Auction) are a St. Petersburg-based band, whose origins date back to the dying days of the old guard in Russia, actually forming as early as 1983. 2007's Girls Sing (or Девушки Поют) is something like their twelfth album, sung in Russian, as are all their releases, with a heavy Russian folk-influenced sound mixed in with the New York avant-garde crowd (John Medeski, Marc Ribot) with whom they worked on the recording. It's actually really difficult to describe this music; suffice to say, if you're after something a bit different and already appreciate the Medeski sound, you may well get something from it.
For once, Medeski plays Chamberlin, rather than Mellotron, with skronky pitchbent flutes on Zhdat (Ждать) and the tiniest smattering of the same on Dolgi (Допги). As is so often the case with the instrument, it could be on other tracks, but with several real woodwinds also present, it seems unlikely. So; a strange album, but a not entirely unpleasing one either, with one decent Chamby track.
See: John Medeski | Marc Ribot