Antony & the Johnsons
Dan Ar Bras
Antioch (1981, 41.52) */TT
|I Will Thank You Lord
I Can Feel Your Presence
God So Loved the World
Litany of Praise
Love for You
We Are Signs
Speak to the Wind
|Worthy is the Lamb
Blessed Are They
Holy Holy Holy
Dying You Destroyed
Lamb of God
Antioch took a slightly different approach to their Jesus rock, in the just-pre-CCM days of 1981, being essentially an accompanied church choir, multiple voices singing every song in massed unison or harmony to a largely acoustic backing. The same material with different lyrics and competent singers might at least vaguely approach acceptability, but this appalling, goddy sludge is more than flesh and blood can bear. Lowpoints? All of it, really, although the spoken-word sections in Blessed Are They and Dying You Destroyed are particularly awful. Incidentally, the five tracks on side two from Kyrie to Lamb Of God live under the umbrella of the 'Antioch Mass', although they're all separate pieces.
Dan Marcil plays Mellotron, with a cello line on Mary's Song, a string part (plus real flute) on Love For You, strings and (definitely Mellotronic) background choirs on Speak To The Wind and strings on Worthy Is The Lamb, the only thing that even remotely made this worth listening to. Quite horrible. Avoid.
The Crying Light (2009, 39.24) ***/½
|Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground
Epilepsy is Dancing
Kiss My Name
The Crying Light
Daylight and the Sun
|Dust and Water
British-born Antony Hegarty lurched into the public's consciousness with his second album, 2005's I am a Bird Now, fawned over by the press and thrown into the limelight after fifteen years of near-obscurity in New York. I seem to be almost alone in simply 'not getting' where he's coming from; imagine a camp torch singer attempting some of Kate Bush's quieter material and you might be getting close, complete with wavery voice and odd phrasing. His third release, 2009's The Crying Light, carries on in a similar vein, typified by its opening track, Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground. Nope, sorry, don't get it, although Aeon stands out slightly from the pack.
Although there doesn't seem to be any mention on the album, the single of Epilepsy Is Dancing credits Antony with Mellotron, which presumably provides the distant strings on the track, although the album overall features real ones. You're probably either going to love this stuff or hate it (the old cliché); I fall into the latter camp (pun intended), which isn't to say it's bad music, simply music I don't like. Either way, don't bother for the Mellotron.
Aphélandra (2001, recorded 1976, 34.36) ****/T½Airs
Aphélandra's sole, eponymous album is one of those 'lost tapes' affairs, recorded in 1976, but not released until 2001. Unlike many similar, it's actually deserving of release, being a decent French symphonic progressive effort, with some excellent piano work from Philippe Grancher, who released a solo album the same year, 3000 Miles Away. Actually, the more I listen to this, the more of a shame it seems that it wasn't released at the time, although then it would've been an utter obscurity ripe for a Musea reissue, rather than an unreleased utter obscurity that appeared 25 years after the event. Opener Airs, which would've taken up the whole of side one had this ever appeared on vinyl, is probably the album's best track, with notable interplay between Grancher's piano and guest Didier Lockwood's ripping violin. Clearlight's Cyrille Verdeaux also guests, although the band do a pretty good job on their own. The album's chief flaw is its stylistic inconsistency, with the title track being a bit of a waste of time, although there's enough good material here to make the whole worthwhile. There are (French-language) vocals, though most of the album's instrumental, so foreign-language phobics shouldn't have too much trouble.
The oddest thing about the record is Grancher's Mellotron use; he's credited with it, but it's difficult to work out exactly where it's used. Most of the album's massed vocal work appears to be real, although it could be Mellotron on 'side two', while the only obvious strings are a background part towards the end of Airs. This leaves the album's main use being the church organ in Pat, the tapes slipping authentically at one point, although there's nothing else obvious, accounting for the low T rating. Aphélandra's release is, generally speaking, a good thing, and while it doesn't hang together quite as well as it might, it's worth hearing, though not for the Mellotron.
End of the World (1968, 35.13) ***½/TT½End of the World
Don't Try to Catch a River
Rain and Tears
The Grass is No Green
Valley of Sadness
You Always Stand in My Way
The Shepherd and the Moon
Day of the Fool
It's Five o'Clock (1969, 34.00) **½/TIt's Five o'Clock
Take Your Time
Let Me Love, Let Me Live
Good Time So Fine
Such a Funny Night
Aphrodite's Child were, of course, the launching pad for both Demis Roussos and the rather more sublime Vangelis (Evangelos Papathanassiou), who left Greece, heading for England, but found themselves waylaid in Paris, where they recorded their debut, End of the World. It's decent enough psych-pop, if rarely that adventurous, but they reached their apogee on their last album and meisterwerk, 1972's double 666, for which they're chiefly remembered.
End of the World is actually pretty good, if not quite the equal of the leading UK/US bands, and it spawned a huge hit across Europe with the rather wimpy Rain And Tears, but we'll forgive them for that. Best tracks are probably the last two, The Shepherd And The Moon and Day Of The Fool, with the latter stretching out into a creepy ethereal Hammond-fest, paving the way for the band's later progressive adventures. Now, a lot has been made of Vangelis' dislike of Mellotrons, consistently refusing to use one on his symphonic electronic late '70s albums (although I believe his additional live keyboard players were issued with them, interestingly). However, anyone who tells me there's no Mellotron on End of the World has no idea what they sound like, to be honest; either a MkII or an early M300 are all over the thing, although seemingly not on the track I was initially told had some, Rain And Tears. Anyway, the album's Mellotronic highlights are You Always Stand In My Way, loaded with what sound like MkII strings and brass, and the string-heavy (M300?) Day Of The Fool, very clearly a 'Tron, plus what sounds like various Mellotronic woodwinds on Don't Try To Catch A River.
Their second album, It's Five o'Clock, starts off in a similar vein to its predecessor, but by its conclusion it's shifted heavily into Zorba the Greek territory; it's hardly surprising old Demis ended up as he did. In comparison to the albums on either side of it, this is a bit of a dud, to be honest. The first couple of tracks are OK, but they seem unable to sustain the momentum, and Vangelis also cuts back drastically on his Mellotron use. Background strings on the opening title track and more upfront flutes on Anabella are all you're going to get, so it's a resounding 'no' on all fronts, then.
End of the World is no classic, but it's an album that original psych-pop fans should enjoy, with the added bonus of a handful of good 'Tron tracks. Forget about the follow-up and buy 666 instead.
See: Demis Roussos
|7" (1973) ***½/TTT½
Quandary & Solution
|7" (1974) ***½/TTT½
Detroit native Scott Campbell was an important figure in that city's underground punk scene during the '70s, although he started off (in his teens) as more of a psych survivor. As far as I know, he released just two singles under the Apparition moniker, on his own, seminal Nebula imprint, 1973's Apparition EP and the same track the following year, albeit quite possibly a different, more professional version.
The '73 version opens with a low-fi, out of tune Mellotron string line, carrying on in a similar, no-budget style, Campbell playing all instruments himself; I can't help thinking that he should possibly have found himself a real drummer. The song? Decent enough psych, dated for the time, but, with forty years' hindsight, actually pretty damn' good, in its own way; an almost solo Mellotron flute part merely adds to its appeal. The second track, Quandary & Solution, is even more dated, not to mention Mellotron-free, but the flip is practically a solo Mellotron piece, Arthur Sokoluk's heavily echoed vocals being the only other component, with flute, cello and chordal string parts all merging into a gentle, harmonious whole.
Assuming the other version of Apparition I've heard is the one to be found on the following year's 7", it's a slightly less low-fi take, the arrangement tightened up considerably, with better vocals, although purists might possibly say that what it gains in fidelity and professionalism, it loses in atmosphere and 'authenticity'. More of those Mellotron strings and flutes, anyway, making it well worth hearing for regular readers.
Guitar Zeus (1995, 57.57/69.19) ***/T
|Dislocated (Paul Gilbert)
This Time Around (Yngwie Malmsteen/Doug Pinnick)
Safe (Neal Schon)
4 Miles High (Steve Morse/Jennifer Batten)
So Long (Doug Aldrich)
Nobody Knew (Black White House) (Brian May)
Guitar Zeus Part 1 (Jennifer Batten)
Killing Time (Ty Tabor)
|Where You Belong (Slash)
Days Are Nights (Ted Nugent)
Time to Set Alarms (Elliot Easton/Bob Daisley)
Under the Moon & Sun (Mick Mars)
Guitar Zeus Part 2 (Leslie West)
[European ed. adds:
Where You Belong (Paul Gilbert)
Under the Moon & Sun (Edgar Winter)]
Guitar Zeus 2 (1997, 63.46/72.48) **½/½
|Stash (Stevie Salas)
Code 19 (Zakk Wylde)
Perfect Day (Warren DeMartini)
Gonna Rain (Richie Sambora)
Gavotte in E Major (Stuart Smith)
The Score (Ted Nugent)
Out of Mind (Neal Schon)
Guitar Zoo (C.C. Deville)
|Nothin' (John Norum)
Trippin' Again (Ty Tabor)
Dead Wrong (Dweezil Zappa)
Doing Fine (Vivian Campbell)
My Own Advice (Kenji Kitajima)
[Japanese ed. adds:
Where You Belong (Paul Gilbert)
G.Z. Blues (Seymour Duncan/Steven Seagal)]
Carmine Appice's been around seemingly forever, co-founding Vanilla Fudge in the mid-'60s and going on to form Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice, also playing with Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne and a host of others. Presumably finding himself at a loose end in the '90s, post- the execrable King Kobra, he struck on the idea of the Guitar Zeus series, sticking a string of name players onto a consistent rhythm section, making the resulting albums a far more cohesive proposition than most various artists efforts. After the initial '95 release, '97 brought the follow-up, followed by Guitar Zeus Japan and (wait for it) Guitar Zeus Korea. Um, Korea? The same Korea that's produced a glut of world-class guitarists? That Korea? I'm sure ol' Carmine has his reasons, but I can't imagine this one doing too well internationally. Speaking of which, the latest entries in the series are Guitar Zeus International and (gulp), a partial compilation, Ultimate Guitar Zeus, at which point he's hopefully (please?) realised that he's milked the franchise dry.
The original Guitar Zeus is good enough at what it does, I suppose, although an hour of rather uninspired hard rock is about 45 minutes more than I can stand, generally speaking. Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor from the criminally-underrated King's X both guest, Pinnick adding his distinctive vocals to a couple of tracks, although regular series vocalist Kelly Keeling doesn't half sound like him in places. The rest of the guest stars sound more or (mostly) less distinctive, the 'more' category being inhabited chiefly by Tabor and Ted Nugent, the one player whose style really stands out here, amazingly. Even Brian May's usually distinctive style fails to cut through on his contribution, while most of the rest sound pretty much like each other, not least the wildly overrated Slash. Keeling and bassist Tony Franklin add Mellotron to a couple of tracks, with flutes on the gentle chorus of Safe and a handful of volume-pedalled string chords on Killing Time, barely gleaning the album a whole T.
Guitar Zeus 2 is, essentially, more of the same. You expected anything else? Something I'll say in these albums' favour is that unrestrained shredding has largely been kept in check, even amongst the participating exponents, which has to be a bonus. Unfortunately, none of the album's material seems to be in any way memorable and the guitarists are almost all entirely interchangeable. As for some of the choices... Members of both Ratt and Poison? Are you sure? Ten years after their respective heydays? Even ol' Ted's contribution is less iconic this time round. Basically, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in; one such album is a novelty: more is actually less. Only one obvious 'Tron track (from Keeling) this time round, with 'Strawberry Fields' flutes on Perfect Day, so you're even less likely to want this one than its predecessor on the 'Tron front, I'd wager.
So; a sort-of vanity project, although Carmine's drumming doesn't especially stand out, and the series is designed to showcase guitarists, not percussionists. I'm not at all sure the idea holds that much water, but guitar heads will probably want to own at least these two volumes. Little Mellotron, though, particularly on the second disc.
See: Beck, Bogert & Appice | Ozzy Osbourne | Journey | Leslie West | Stevie Salas Colorcode | Black Label Society
Tidal (1996, 51.38) ***/TTTT½
|Sleep to Dream
Slow Like Honey
The First Taste
Never is a Promise
The Child is Gone
When the Pawn (1999, 43.01) ***/TTT
|On the Bound
To Your Love
Fast as You Can
The Way Things Are
Extraordinary Machine (2005, 50.34) ***/TT
Get Him Back
Better Version of Me
Tymps (the Sick in the Head Song)
|Please, Please, Please
Red, Red, Red
Not About Love
Waltz (Better Than Fine)
Pleasantville (1998, 9.08) ***/T½[Fiona Apple contributes]
Across the Universe
Please Send Me Someone to Love
Fiona Apple is one of those Lilith Fair types, like a more acoustic version of Alanis Morissette, but with a worse voice (?!), aiming fairly and squarely at a female audience. You know, "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman"; er, didn't somebody else write that? She's far from prolific, with only two releases in over six years, but there are advantages to not flooding the market with substandard work, although it may just be that she writes very slowly.
I can't really say I'm into this stuff very much, to be honest, but there's shitloads of Patrick Warren and Jon Brion (the usual suspects again)'s Chamberlin to be heard, particularly on Tidal. Unsurprisingly, more strings than anything else, though I'm sure I caught some brass on Sleep To Dream and there are cellos all over the place. Actually, this is something of a classic Chamberlin album, whatever I might think of the music. Particular highlights are The Child Is Gone and Carrion, but with Chamby on all but one track, it's practically a demonstration record for the instrument.
Ms Apple's second album sports the unfeasibly lengthy and pretentious title When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing 'Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth is the Greatest of Heights and if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and if You Fall it Won't Matter, 'Cuz You'll Know That You're Right (Guinness Book of Records, anyone?), commonly (and unsurprisingly) known as When the Pawn. Patrick Warren is credited with Chamberlin on four tracks, but producer Jon Brion presumably plays one on opener On The Bound, too. Warren's use is as good as on Tidal; it's just a shame it's not on more tracks; again, mostly strings, but there may be bits of cello and brass in there, too. Like Never Is A Promise from Tidal, several tracks have real strings on them, so maybe she's heading more in that general direction, which would be a bit of a pity, as what tape replay there is here is excellent.
Fiona's third album has a rather tumultuous history; originally produced by Brion again, work dragged on and tracks were leaked, although the (supposedly) finished article never appeared (for what it's worth, it has no obvious tape-replay input). Recording began again with a different production team, including The Moog Cookbook's Brian Kehew, the eventual result, Extraordinary Machine, finally appearing in 2005, removing the original album's best track, Used To Love Him. Genius. Musically, the released version is fairly typical Apple; offbeat, quirky singer-songwriter stuff with vaudeville influences. Co-producer Mike Elizondo plays Mellotron, with Jebin Bruni and Zac Rae (more usual suspects, then) on Chamberlins, with upfront flutes on O' Sailor, background ones on Better Version Of Me and very obvious strings on Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song) and Red Red Red. It's perfectly possible that it's on other tracks, but, as so often with the instrument, it's hard to tell it apart from actual orchestral instruments, proving that old Harry Chamberlin was right all along.
So; can't say I'm over-keen on the music, but Tidal is a killer Chamberlin record, and When the Pawn and Extraordinary Machine aren't too bad on that front, either. Probably worth it for the Chamberlin alone. Startling.
Electric Jewels (1973, 38.01) ***½/½Weeping Widow
Just Like That
You Opened Up My Eyes
Come on Along
Lady Run, Lady Hide
I Can Hear You Callin'
The Band Has Just Begun
The Whole World's Goin' Crazy (1976, 34.51) ***/T
Wings of Love
Like a Lover, Like a Song
|Kick Willy Rd.
The Whole World's Goin' Crazy
Amazingly, for a band who only picked up any sort of recognition outside Canada with 1979's Harder, Faster, 1973's Electric Jewels was April Wine's third album, although they had originally formed as far back as 1969. It completely belies their early reputation as a not-very-hard rock band, notable for filling their albums with, er, filler; most of the album's material is typical early-'70s hard rock, opening with the excellent Weeping Widow, with its deceptively quiet first few bars and the boogie of Just Like That. There are some quieter numbers; You Opened My Eyes and the (real) strings-driven Lady Run, Lady Hide are pretty drippy, but most of the album sticks to their new, rockin' template. Vocalist/guitarist Myles Goodwyn adds Mellotron to one track, with some nice string surges in Electric Jewels itself, although while the strings at the beginning of Lady Run, Lady Hide sound real, or at least, un-Mellotronic, they sound more 'Tronlike towards the end of the track. Could this be another example of those surprisingly realistic M300 strings?
By 1976's The Whole World's Goin' Crazy their lineup only contained one original member, and their early reputation had clearly returned to haunt them. To be blunt, going by this album, you can see why it took them so long to break out of their home country, although it was available abroad (there's definitely a UK version). It's... boring. OK, that's probably a little harsh, but it's completely run-of-the-mill US-style hard rock of the period, with nothing to really differentiate it from a thousand other bands; in fact, they did pretty well, all things considered. It starts OK, although Gimme Love is never going to be on anyone's list of all-time favourites (is it?), and Wings Of Love isn't bad, but tracks like the clichéd Rock'n'Roll Woman, or the tedious rock'n'roll of the title track, complete with 'helium' backing vocals are just plain bad. The album's sole 'Tron track is the balladic Like A Lover, Like A Song, with much of the track's instrumentation (all the piano and Mellotron) provided by 'Serge Locas', quite certainly Serge Locat of Harmonium, another Montreal-based band (although April Wine actually originally hailed from the unlikely environs of Halifax, Nova Scotia). It's a pretty typical mid-'70s piano ballad, to be honest, although Locat's initially background Mellotron strings rise up to the front of the mix towards the end of the song.
So; one reasonably good and one entirely average album, only one so-so 'Tron track on each. Your choice.
The Fury of the Aquabats! (1997, 51.19) ***/T½
Cat With 2 Heads!
Story of Nothing!
Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates!
|Attacked By Snakes!
Powdered Milk Man!
Phantasma del Mar!
The Aquabats vs the Floating Eye of Death! (1999, 46.14) ***/T½
Lovers of Loving Love!
The Man With Glooey Hands!
|The Ballad Of Mr. Bonkers!
The Thing on the Bass Amp!
Hello, Good Night!
The Aquabats (or Aquabats!) are a California-based ska band with a natty line in matching superhero costumes, all tying in with their constantly evolving formation mythos. Actually, they look like they're a lot of fun live, with members taking on nom de plumes and choreographed battles with their legion of enemies, not least Powdered Milk Man and the Floating Eye of Death. Ridiculous? Yup, but why not? Compared to the legions of overly-earnest indie twats, The Aquabats! are a breath of fresh air, albeit not the most profound band you'll ever encounter. Like they'd care.
1997's The Fury of the Aquabats! is their second effort, and if I may lay a criticism at its door, it's that it's too long; this kind of stuff (like punk) works best in short bursts, so fifty minutes at once is a bit of an ordeal. It's also a bit single-dimensional musically, but then, it's ska - not exactly a style known for its innovation or variety, right? This is music written to be played live, in the proverbial sweaty club, so, all things considered, it comes across pretty well on one of those shiny little discs. I'm not sure if it's actually possible to nominate a 'best track', but Captain Hampton And The Midget Pirates! made me chuckle, which isn't a bad thing on a grey Wednesday morning. Mellotron from two players, Charles Wallace Gray (a.k.a. Ultra Kyu, a.k.a. The Mysterious Kyu) and James Randall Briggs (a.k.a. Jaime the Robot, a.k.a. The Robot, a.k.a. Jimmy the Robot), with choirs on Cat With 2 Heads! and Playdough Revisited!, backing up the band's own b/vs and a string part on Attacked By Snakes! It all sounds reasonably authentic, though who knows?
Two years on, and The Aquabats vs the Floating Eye of Death! (technically The Aquabats vs the Floating Eye of Death! and Other Amazing Adventures, Vol.1), while still ska-influenced, has moved the goalposts to include new wave-style textures, with more straightforward rhythms and an increased reliance on synths. Somehow, this is slightly less appealing than its predecessor, although the lyrics are every bit as silly; maybe they NEED the ska? Anyway, no idea who plays the 'Tron this time round, but apart from the probably-not flutes on Monsters Wedding!, the only obvious parts are the choirs on The Thing on the Bass Amp! and the full-on attack of cellos, strings and flutes on closer Hello, Good Night!
What's the best way to approach this band? Essentially, if their lyrics don't raise a smile, don't bother, I'd say. Anyway, two 'good at what they do' albums, one good 'Tron track (Hello, Good Night!) and several average ones.
Snow Lion (1996, 38.37/43.50) ***/T
Incident v Nastas'ino
Velikaja Zheleznodorozhnaja Simfonija
Ta, Kotoruju Ja Ljublju]
Led by the legendary Boris Grebenshikov, Aquarium/Аквариум have released a slew of albums from the very early '80s up to the present day. 1996's Snow Lion/Снежный Лев is, apparently, one of his/their 'Russian period' releases, a folk-rock album that combines Russian and Celtic influences with rock'n'roll and a dozen other disparate styles. Eclectic? Yup. Highlights? Celtic opener Serebrjanaja Roza/Серебряная Роза, Dubrovskij/Дубровский and Chernyj Brahman/Черный Брахман; the slower stuff, basically.
Pavel tells me that the Google translation of one site reads something like, "...We were back in London. A Mellotron (it's the same thing that plays at the beginning of 'Zheleznodorozhnaja Symphony') was waiting for us in the studio ever since the 'Navigator'." [Note: their previous, seemingly Mellotron-free release]. Now, it seems that their studio was just down the road from where I lived at the time and I did hire my machine out once that year, but this definitely isn't that session (it was for a dance version of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, bizarrely). A studio machine? A hired-in one? Who knows? Anyway, we get background choirs on Istrebitel'/Истребитель and, as the man says, flutes all over Velikaja Zheleznodorozhnaja Simfonija/Великая Железнодорожная Симфония, in fairly pleasing style. Will you buy this album for it, though? Of course not, but if a Celtic/Russian stew sounds like your bag, you may wish to hear it for that.
See: Samples etc. | Boris Grebenshikov
Allez Dire à la Ville (1978, 43.05) ***/TT
|Allez Dire à la Ville
Les Oiseaux et les Electrons de Brenilis
Toi Fils de Roi Fils de Rien (Tu Lis Ton
Farewell Bob Brown
|Requiem pour le Jet
L'Amour le Nucleaire et le Crepuscule
Plainte de Yann Vari Perrot
Breton Dan Ar Bras (born Le Bras, later Ar Braz) started his career in Alan Stivell's band, going on to solo success, culminating in the 1990s, with his vast group of Celtic musicians (including Stivell), L'Héritage des Celtes. Allez Dire à la Ville was his fourth solo album, following a brief (and unrecorded) stint in a struggling Fairport Convention in 1976, and is probably best described as mainstream Celtic folk/rock, not a million miles away from what Scotland's Runrig would do a decade later. As a result, traditional tunes such as Farewell Bob Brown and Suite Ecossaise, enhanced by Ar Bras' electric guitar, rub shoulders with acoustic balladry (Les Saisons) and straightforward rock tunes (Requiem Pour Le Jet and the title track), which haven't aged well, but probably helped to sell the record at the time.
Unusually for a European album, Allez Dire à la Ville features a Chamberlin (quite certainly the same one that graces Magma's Attahk, recorded the same year), played variously by Magma's Benoît Widemann and Patrick Audoin. Three credited tracks, with a clear, orchestral-style string part in L'Amour Kerne and subtler parts in Toi Fils De Roi Fils De Rien (Tu Lis Ton Ascendance) and Plainte De Yann Vari Perrot, all of which sound like they could easily have been played by real strings; maybe they couldn't afford them?
As an entrée to Ar Bras' work, I wouldn't have thought Allez Dire à la Ville was your first port of call, although having not actually heard any of his other work, I couldn't say what would be. It's not a bad album as such, just a little bitty and dated in places, with the synth in, say, L'Amour Le Nucleaire Et Le Crepuscule sounding rather out of context next to its folkier tracks. As far as the Chamberlin goes, you've got three tracks of real strings-substitutes, but they sound pretty good anyway. Not bad, but don't pay too much.
See: Alan Stivell
The Red Thread (2001, 57.07) **½/T½
Screaming in the Trees
The Arab Strap named themselves after an obscure sex aid; so obscure, in fact, that I have absolutely no idea what it is. The mind boggles. [n.b. Just found it on Wikipedia. Lovely.] Anyway, the Scots duo had an early Belle & Sebastian connection, although the bands fell out over the latter's The Boy With the Arab Strap album. There is, in fact, some considerable similarity between the two outfits' styles, both playing quiet indie, although The Arab Strap's version is more electronic than the fey Belles' one. 2001's The Red Thread is their fourth album (of six; they split in 2006), and I think it's fair to say, you've really got to be into this stuff to get it; a couple of tracks were OK, but it quickly irritated the fuck out of me. Sorry, chaps.
With no actual credited Mellotron, conjecture is rife over what the band actually used. Somebody (probably multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton) plays Mellotron-sounding strings on Screaming In The Trees and cellos and strings on Haunt Me, confusingly combined with real strings on both tracks. I think, until/if I should find out otherwise, I think I'm going to have to leave this here, good people. I wouldn't really go too far out of your way for this; UK indie fans probably already own a copy, and the rest of you are unlikely to go ape over it, so without enough Mellotron to make it worth the effort, I'll have to say: don't.
See: Malcolm Middleton
Arachnoid (1979, 46.09/66.33) ***½/T½
In the Screen Side of Your Eyes
Toutes ces Images
L'adieu au Pierrot
Le Pierrot (live)
Piano Caveau (instrumental)]
Interesting one, this. Arachnoid are quite difficult to categorise on their sole, eponymous 1979 release, to be honest; a bit Genesis, a lot Crimson, definitely some Ange, maybe a bit jazzy... French-language vocals, but less 'harsh' than Ange, with two keyboard players. All the material's good (including the CD's bonus tracks), but cream of the crop has to be thirteen-minute opener Le Chamadère; runner-up: Toutes Ces Images.
I can hear Mellotron on four of the album's tracks, although François Faugieres also plays 'modified Farfisa organ', so like Ange, what sounds like Mellotron may not be, and vice versa... Definite parts include some volume-pedalled strings halfway through Le Chamadère, repeating towards the end of the track, occasional strings on In The Screen Side Of Your Eyes, occasional strings and choirs on Toutes Ces Images and more volume-pedalled strings on La Guêpe, various string parts sometimes combined with the Farifisa. All in all, a thoroughly decent effort; low-budget, but good material and great playing. Once again, well done Musea.
The Suburbs (2010, 63.57) **½/T
Ready to Start
City With No Children
Half Light I
Half Light II (No Celebration)
Month of May
We Used to Wait
Sprawl I (Flatland)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
The Suburbs (Continued)
Could somebody please explain to me just what, exactly, is supposed to be so wonderful about The Arcade Fire? They seem to personify North American indie with their rhythmically boring, lifeless songs; yeah, yeah, don't tell me: listen to the lyrics, right? Trouble is, I don't care. What about the music? What about the music, eh? Who cares about the fucking lyrics? What's the point in fantastic lyrics (all assuming they are) if the music's as dull as shite? Er... Their third album, The Suburbs, is essentially a concept piece about precisely that, although I'm of the opinion that fellow Canucks Rush covered the subject more than adequately in one song, Subdivisions (from 1982's Signals), but then I would, wouldn't I? Maybe I simply shouldn't bother reviewing music that other people love and I don't, eh? Pointless, really.
The Arcade Fire bought one of the first M4000 Mellotrons to roll off the production line (such as it is), members of the band allegedly using it on a track or two on the soundtrack to 2009's The Box; more news when/if the soundtrack's actually released. As far as The Suburbs is concerned, it's pretty difficult to tell where it might be for various reasons, not least the presence of real strings on much of the album and the 24 sounds available on the machine, making it just as likely that a band will use, say, oboes or bass clarinet as 'regular' strings, flutes or choirs. What we seem to get are an obvious string part on Half Light II (No Celebration) and strings and (eight voice) choir on Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), as far as I can ascertain. In fairness, any one track from this played in isolation isn't too bad, but the cumulative effect of over an hour of the stuff is enough to drive non-indie fans to fury. Good at what it does (he said, grudgingly), but little obvious Mellotron.