Kit Le Fever
Makoto Kitayama/Shingetsu Project
Dave Kleiner & Liz Pagan
The Kinks (UK) see:
Soldier Blue (2003, 10.16) ***½/TT½Soldier Blue
Jesus (2004?, 14.49) ***½/TTJesus
Sweden's Kit Le Fever have, confusingly, named themselves after a bit-part actor who had a few roles in the '80s, which probably seems like a long time ago if you're young (he said, bitterly). Like so many artists involved with Änglagård's Mattias Olsson, they have a melancholy, Scandinavian air about them, mixed with a noise æsthetic that rears its ugly head occasionally. Now, I don't believe either of these EPs has ever been commercially available, but three of the tracks are available for download from Mattias' studio site, until/unless they ever come out properly.
The first of these, probably called Soldier Blue (you can see how vague all this is, can't you?), opens with a typically melancholy title track, after which Marvin is rather more raucous, opening with a punchy (Fender Precision?) bass line, leaving Impulser as another beautiful downer. I suspect Mattias plays the Mellotron, with cellos and strings (and maybe choir) on the title track and flutes and pitchbent strings on Impulser.
Their next three-tracker, probably entitled Jesus, probably came out the following year (lots of 'probablys' here). All three tracks have raucous elements, possibly mixing these with their melancholy side more effectively than before. Make Over features cellos, flutes and strings in an almighty Mellotronic mélange, with more strings on Leaving, although Jesus is probably actually the best track here.
So; only one of these two EPs appears to be available by any means at all, which isn't to say the rest of the material won't creep out gently at some indeterminate point in the future. If you like Mattias' productions, you stand a good chance of liking this, and if you don't, you probably won't, which seems as fair an appraisal as I can muster up. For what it's worth, I do...
Silk Road (1980, 42.10) ****/T
|Silk Road Theme
The Great River
The Great Wall of China
Flying Celestial Nymphs
Silk Road Fantasy
Silk Road II (1980, 43.13) ****/TT½
|In the Silence
Takla Makan Desert
Magical Sand Dance
Kitaro in Person Digital (1980, 46.04) ****/TTTT
Magical Sand Dancing
Ki (1981, 44.10) ****/TTTRevelation
Stream of Being
Cloud in the Sky
Tunhuang (1981, 42.55) ***½/TLord of the Wind
Sacred Journey I
Lord of the Sand
Sacred Journey II
Kitaro, a.k.a. Masanori Takahashi, had been around since the mid-'70s as drummer (apparently) with the Far East Family Band, but broke away to start his solo career as a synthesist in what has unfortunately come to be known as the 'new age' field. In all fairness, his best work is well above the 'elevator music' of most of the genre's exponents, although he hasn't produced anything of any great interest for the better part of two decades now. His discography's as confusing as that of many Japanese artists, with one notorious website claiming that many of his albums were released anything up to two years before they were recorded. Yes, well...
His best-known work to this day is probably the music he produced for the epic 'Silk Road' TV series, which followed the old silk route across Asia, covering the various areas' history, geography etc. His fourth album (I think), 1980's Silk Road is marvellous 'relaxing' music, perfectly suited to its role as background soundtrack stuff, while also having just enough substance to make it listenable in its own right. Although there are twelve tracks listed, the album consists of two seamless side-long pieces, with only changes in mood to distinguish between tracks. Apart from the ubiquitous synths and percussion, Kitaro plays 'Mellotrone' (male voice?) choirs on only two definite tracks, though there could be more hidden in the mix. Silk Road II, from later the same year is more of the same, with the extra added ingredient of 'Tron strings along with the choirs, heard to good effect on In The Silence and Magical Sand Dance.
Recorded in the September of that year, Kitaro in Person Digital was his third album of 1980, capturing him live in Tokyo with a band, now notable for the inclusion of a young Ryo Okumoto on synths and Mellotron, (much) later of Spock's Beard. Kitaro plays 'Tron, too, and the album benefits from a more 'live' sound, although there isn't a note out of place, or any applause, which makes you wonder quite how much studio polishing may have been done. The standout 'Tron track is Magical Sand Dancing, with dirty great slabs of (quite raw) strings and choir all over the place, although all the highlighted tracks have worthwhile use, with flutes cropping up occasionally, too.
The 'Tron is slightly thinner on the ground on '81's Ki, although there's some prominent strings on opener Revelation and Sun, plus flutes and choirs here and there. Kitaro's formula was already well-worn by this time, with little real variation between most of his albums, but he seemed (and still seems) to be onto a winner, and he's remained more palatable than most of his rivals, although that seems rather too strong a word to use in such a gentle genre. Tunhuang seems to be another in the Silk Road series - I believe there's a fourth album as well, though I don't know which one it is. It's the same old stuff, though maybe a little blander; to my knowledge, it's also his last Mellotron album, although there isn't an awful lot on it. In fact, apart from the choirs on Lord Of The Wind, which may or may not be 'Tron, the only other use is the strings and choir on Mandala; it's fairly obvious he was winding it down even then.
Well, playing five Kitaro albums in a day is actually slightly mind-numbing; it's all very pleasant, but the essential blandness of his style makes it difficult to actually listen to the music, as against simply hearing it. Nonetheless, the first four of these albums are so faultless that I'd feel churlish giving them any less than four stars, and there isn't really anything wrong with Tunhuang, either, to be honest. There is blander new age stuff about, but if you like a bit of bite to your music, you're probably better off steering clear.
It seems that Kitaro's Mellotron use was tightly concentrated around the 1980/81 period, although at least he managed five albums'-worth in that time. There's none on '82's Millennium (***½), so I'd imagine he was into early samplers by that time; he was/is the sort of artist that synth manufacturers were wetting themselves to have play their latest creations. The surprising thing is that he didn't use a 'Tron until 1980, despite presumably having had access to one years earlier. Anyway, it has to be said that much of his use is background choirs, but if you're going to buy one Kitaro album for its 'Tron input, make it In Person Digital, with Ki and possibly Silk Road II in reserve, although I still maintain that the original Silk Road is actually his creative peak. By the way, I believe there's another live album around, from '81-ish, but as it was a Japanese-only release, I'm unlikely to ever find a copy cheap, but should I hear it, I'll report back if relevant.
See: Far East Family Band | Ryo Okumoto
Hikaru Sazanami (1998, 42.19) ***½/TTBudokan
Heels of Boots
Heart of Stone
Kitayama was vocalist and head honcho with late-'70s Japanese proggers Shingetsu, who also had an album of odds'n'sods released under the name Serenade. After Shingetsu's demise, he recorded a couple of poorly-received demos, causing him to quit the music business for a good decade, until the CD issue of a couple of Shingetsu albums and the aforementioned Serenade title. Having had his interest revitalised, he finally came up with an album's-worth of new material in 1998 under the above name.
Hikaru Sazanami, which sounds like someone's name, though I have no idea whose, is a bit of a mixed bag, if not exactly a curate's egg. The tracks were all recorded between 1996 and '97, although they were written any time between 1972 and '96, and include unrecorded Serenade and Shingetsu material. The album consists of a full-on prog piece at either end, a more modern proggish effort next track in, and three shorter vocal/piano/string quartet songs in the middle that could possibly have been single material with different arrangements. While Blue and, to a lesser extent, Heart Of Stone are quite reasonable prog pieces, it's only really Budokan and the title track that concern us here.
I don't know if Budokan is named after the famed Tokyo concert hall; it seems more likely that both the venue and the song are named for something else, but it's the album's one full-on 'Tron track. The sleevenotes state that they'd started by recording it with Mellotron samples, then decided that nothing but the real thing would do (more of this attitude, please!), at which point someone called Haneda 'found one in the back of his house'. As you do. I mean, how many people just happen to have a forgotten Mellotron lying around? Anyway, it sounds great, with strings splattered all over the track in true scattergun style by Kazuto Shimizu, reminding one rather of King Crimson in places, not least because of Haruhiko Tsuda's Frippish guitar style. There's more strings towards the end of Hikaru Sazanami itself, but that's yer lot, I'm afraid.
So, while not a classic, I think Hikaru Sazanami has enough decent material on it to make a purchase worthwhile, although it decidedly dips in the middle. Not that much 'Tron, really, but again, what there is, is excellent. A cautious recommendation.
See: Shingetsu | Serenade
The Kite (1991, 47.57) ***/½
|Days of Youth
The Road of Hope
These Four Walls
Diamonds to Dust
World of Lies
The Kite, from Toronto, played a highly commercial variety of progressive rock, not unlike sometime Yes member Billy Sherwood's World Trade, combining AOR hooks with intricate instrumental work on 1991's The Kite, produced by Rush collaborator Terry Brown. Squirming in horror already? Fair point, but this is actually an awful lot less, er, awful than that description might suggest, although those allergic to 4/4, major keys and heinous synth patches may wish to go elsewhere. Best tracks? Opener Days Of Youth, These Four Walls and Breaking Point, while Masquerading sounds like Saga, for better or worse.
Keys man Bryan Vamos plays real Mellotron (whose? Brown's?) on Breaking Point, with a lush, chordal string part in the quiet middle eight, although, sadly, that seems to be our lot. Y'know, for all its failings and a grande helping of fromage, this album has a certain joie de vivre missing from many of its more earnest competitors.
3:47 EST [a.k.a. Klaatu] (1976, 36.46) ***½/TTCalling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft
Anus of Uranus
True Life Hero
Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III
Sir Army Suit (1978, 35.57) ***/T
|A Routine Day
Everybody Took a Holiday
Perpetual Motion Machine
Sun Set: 1973-1981 (2005, 152.19) ***½/T½
|Hanus of Uranus
Sub Rosa Subway
For You Girl
True Life Hero
Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III
We're Off You Know
|Around the Universe in 80 Days
Long Live Politzania
The Loneliest of Creatures
So Said the Lighthouse Keeper
A Routine Day
|Everybody Took a Holiday Day
Tokeymor Field (demo)
Sir Rupert Said
Sell Out, Sell Out (demo)
Howl at the Moon (demo)
I Can't Help it
|Set the World on Fire (demo)
Dog Star (demo)
All Good Things (demo)
There's Something Happening
I Don't Wanna Go Home (demo)
At the End of the Rainbow
Mrs. Toad's Cookies
As you probably know, Klaatu (named after the phrase needed to activate the robot in 'The Day the Earth Stood Still') caused a minor furore when their debut, 3:47 EST appeared in the mid-'70s, as the music press decided it was The Beatles. The evidence? Slim, to be honest. Beatlesy intelligent pop, with a singer who sounded a lot like Paul, no musicians' credits or pics on the sleeve, a general air of mystery, not to mention that selfsame robot appearing on a Ringo album cover... Of course, it didn't take long for the truth to emerge; they were a Canadian trio who just happened to sound a bit like The Beatles and who favoured anonymity. I don't believe there was ever any attempt to deceive; hardly their fault if people got the wrong end of the stick, was it?
Anyway, 3:47 EST [a.k.a. Klaatu] does that mid-'70s semi-progressive pop/rock thing very well indeed, even though it spawned a Cover From Hell in the awful Carpenters' version of its opener, Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft. And no, I don't subscribe to the theory that Richard and Karen are so out they're in, or whatever. The original, however, is really quite nice and less 'rock' than tracks like Anus Of Uranus and True Life Hero. According to their website, Dee Long plays the Mellotron on Calling Occupants, with shedloads of strings, flutes, cellos and choir, while John Woloschuk adds more of the same to Doctor Marvello. There are real strings here, too, on Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III and others, but the two 'Tron Tracks are most definitely that.
There's no Mellotron on the following year's Hope (***½), but third time round, Sir Army Suit is something of a return to the band's roots, sadly without any killer songs. It's something of a mixed bag, to be honest, chopping and changing between styles with bewildering regularity, and is rather harder to recommend than their earlier work. Two 'Tron tracks, with flutes under real strings on opener A Routine Day, and a little strings pitchbend work on Silly Boys, but that would seem to be it.
Over two decades after the trio's dissolution, the two-disc Sun Set: 1973-1981 appeared in 2005, comprising previously unreleased versions of material from all four Klaatu albums, plus outtakes. The jewel in the crown for fans of the band is undoubtedly the original, orchestral mix of the Hope album, other highlights including a handful of previously-unreleased tracks plus early, single versions of tracks from their debut. Playing the set sequentially shows how their songwriting changed over the course of eight years, the later material, sadly, faring badly in comparison to the earlier. I'd hoped for another Mellotron track or two, but the three on the set are three of the four on the two studio albums above, with no obvious changes in arrangement.
As far as their debut's concerned, 'reasonably good with one Mellotron Classic' is probably the best way to describe it. Calling Occupants is very silly, but also quite wonderful in its own way. Buy if you see it cheap, but don't go too far out of your way for Sir Army Suit, while Sun Set could be regarded as the band's one truly essential album, mopping up the entire contents of their first two releases, albeit in slightly different versions.
See: Terry Draper
Motten (1995, 56.33) ***/TT
You Can Do What You Can
Oh, it's No Difference
Green White Ghost
Live CZ (1997, 64.58) ***/T
|I Got the Wheel
Generator Keep Smiling
Sand - Heat
The Rain Keeps Falling
Klik - Klak Hönen
Should Do That
Check Out the Fear I
Check Out the Fear II
Between Coma & Consciousness (2002, 54.21) ***/T½
|Now More Than Ever
She Wraps It Up
What's It Worth
I Once Wrote Some Poems
Klar were a Czech psychedelic trio, whose debut, 1995's Motten, is as schizophrenic a release as you're likely to encounter all year, shifting between the near-dissonance of opener Einleitung, the African (er, Malian?) chants of Mali, SATO's Farfisa-driven early Floyd vibe and the twin-acoustic attack of Píse Ň and that's just the first four tracks. Drums/keys man Volkmar Miedtke plays Mellotron, with a flute melody running right through Einleitung, high-end cello on Mali, an upfront, semi-dissonant string part on Gichtattacke, interweaving flute lines on Hatajoga and more flutes on Intermezzo, all clearly real.
1997's Live CZ sounds little like a live album to me, with not only no audience noise, but too many audible parts for a trio, unless sequencers were used. It's a more improvisational effort than Motten, faintly resembling '80s King Crimson in places, while Should Do That heavily echoes Hawkwind's You Shouldn't Do That, from 1971's seminal In Search of Space. Miedtke adds Mellotron to just one track, with a blaring string part on closer Check Out The Fear II, once again sounding choppy enough to be real.
The band subsequently split, only to reconvene one last time for 2002's Between Coma & Consciousness, a less cohesive effort than its predecessor, although tracks like Firebrand and The Birds are up to standard. Miedtke on Mellotron again, with a brief string part at the end of Firebrand, more of the same on Wondering and Tapeworm and full-on string and cello parts opening closer I Once Wrote Some Poems, although it's mostly rather low-key.
I have no idea whether or not any of these titles is still actually in print, the 'availability' details above being the last-known sources. While somewhat random in places, they all have enough decent material on them to make them worth hearing for the jaded psychonaut, with enough Mellotron for fans of the instrument, although, due to their slightly random nature, I feel unable to give them higher star ratings.
Salesman (2001, 41.32) ***/T
|Love is as Big as a Horse
The Other Side of That Rainbow
The Dogs of Summer
My Golden Age
That's When You Die
Here's to the Rocky Road
Married couple Dave Kleiner and Liz Pagan's third album together, Salesman, features (I believe) Kleiner's wry observations on life, love etc., performed in the duo's inimitable style. Highlights? Depends on your sense of humour, but the title track, the ludicrous Mexican Rabbi and Good Friday (a.k.a. the crucifixion from the other side) stand out, at least lyrically.
Dave Amels plays what sounds like real Mellotron on two tracks, with clicky flutes on The Dogs Of Summer, although nothing audible on That's When You Die. Wacky American humour is both like, yet unlike wacky British humour (and absolutely nothing like wacky German humour, but that's another story). Both have their plus points, some of which are evident here. Worth a listen.
The Person I am (1980, 36.38) **/T
|The Person I am
I'll Never See You Again
What to Do With Momma
Poor Little Raindrop
The Man in My Musicbox
Sing My Song
It Could Never Be
You're Only Here for a While
|Listen to Me Boy
Follow Me in Your Memories
1980's The Person I am is at least the second album by Mary (now Dr. Mary) Kleinsorge, a Kansas-based singer-songwriter. The album specialises in sweet, balladic material that actually hasn't dated too badly, largely due to its renunciation of anything more complex than acoustic guitar, voice and occasional accompaniment, the one exception being the excruciating, whitey-boy funk version of Disney's Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da that horribly closes the record. Best track? Possibly The Man In My Musicbox, with its musical box-faking glockenspiel work.
The Mellotron player is uncredited, but seems likely to be engineer Randy Wills, playing distant strings on opener The Person I Am and Sing My Song, plus cellos and strings on It Could Never Be, none of it to any great effect, to be honest. It seems that Dr. Mary sells the remaining copies of her albums through her website, if only on cassette, but I'd be hard-pushed to recommend this to any but the most fanatical of folk collectors.
American Girls (2012, 32.17) ***/T
Love is a Gun
Floridians Klik play a form of modern, female-fronted alt.rock/metal, strong on melody, at its best (in my humble opinion, of course) on its heavier tracks, notably the opening kind-of title track, Glass House and Bang Bang. That'll be the first three tracks, then. The rest? Common-or-garden alt.rock (Avenue, 29 Footsteps), reasonable heavy-end-of-powerpop (Lemon Tree) and rather limp balladry (closer One Question).
Producer Sylvia Massy (presumably) plays her M400, with background strings on Love Is A Gun and One Question, the latter also utilising generic string samples for the stabby bits. Not the most exciting album ever, then, but has its moments.