Sixpence None the Richer
Sky Cries Mary
Sky Shadow Obelisk
Sinkadus (Sweden) see:
The Enchanter Persuaded (2003, 50.09) ****/TTTDwarf Reaching the Arch Wonder
Through the Valley
The Wicker Chair
Sundown in the New Arcades (Milky Way Echo)
Sinoia Caves (named for a formation in Zimbabwe) are a Black Mountain side-project; effectively Jeremy Schmidt solo, in fact. The Enchanter Persuaded is no more or less an electronic album, at heart, although it utilises Floydian drones (spot the Echoes 'pings' in Sundown In The New Arcades) alongside the Tangsesque synths and yes, Schmidt is an analogue nut, claiming to own 'no modern gear at all', which is pretty hardcore, even by my standards. Track lengths vary wildly; two are under three minutes, while another two top the quarter hour, although all share an instrumental commonality.
Mellotron on several tracks, with choirs on opener Dwarf Reaching The Arch Wonder, strings and choir on Through The Valley, full-on phased strings and a choir melody part on The Wicker Chair and choir stabs and strings on closer Evil Ball, although three of those are on short(er) tracks. All in all, then, a fine electronic album that avoids all the usual EM clichés while getting a load of real 'Tron in there. Result!
See: Black Mountain
Sister Cristina (2014, 46.04) **/½
Like a Virgin
Somewhere Only We Know
Blessed Be Your Name
Perto, Longe ou Depois (Ordinary World)
Ursuline nun Sister Cristina Scuccia won The Voice of Italy in 2014, the local version of The Voice, of course, which, it turns out, began as a Dutch show. Sister Cristina (I think the chair on the sleeve's alluding to the show) gives the rest of the world a chance to hear her cover Madonna, Coldplay, Duran Duran and Keane, amongst others. No Einstürzende Neubauten, then? I'm disappointed. She's got a great voice (big surprise there), albeit in a modern pop vein, while the production and choice of material is exactly what you'd expect of a Voice winner, only... sung by a nun. Like A Virgin? Whatever.
Patrick Warren does his increasingly-rare Chamberlin thing, with a few seconds of identifiable strings on closer L'Amore Vincerà, but that's yer lot. Y'know, I wanted to be nicer about this, but it defeated me. Current pop nonsense.
Fortress (2000, 58.11) **/½
|Change Your Mind
Shame on Me
|Strange Cup of Tea
It took me until the last track on Sister Hazel's tedious Fortress to pin down where I'd previously heard their style: Counting Crows. Yup, the same vapid, empty, scene-stealing bombast allied to a kind of fake Americana, full of pointless anthemic nonsense. So: tell it like it is. Say what you think. Don't beat around the bush. I tried, you know, I tried... I failed. This is rubbish. I've heard worse, which is why it doesn't get an ever lower rating, but fourteen bloody songs of this were enough to well and truly grind me down. Had the album only contained eight tracks, I mightn't have found it quite so relentlessly awful, but it doesn't.
Kim Bullard and Jamie Muhoberac both play Mellotron, allegedly, but the only places it even might be are the strings on Shame On Me and Your Winter. So; not good. Not good at all. Very little Mellotron. Don't.
Sixpence None the Richer (1997, 47.51/50.33) **/½
|We Have Forgotten
The Waiting Room
Easy to Ignore
I Can't Catch You
|The Lines Of My Earth
I Won't Stay Long
[Later copies add:
There She Goes]
Divine Discontent (2002, 55.10) **/T
|Breathe Your Name
Down and Out of Time
Don't Dream it's Over
Waiting on the Sun
Melody of You
|I've Been Waiting
Eyes Wide Open
Tension is a Passing Note
A Million Parachutes
Christmas in Heaven (1996) ***/T[Sixpence None the Richer contribute]
You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Sixpence None the Richer is said band's third album proper, and I have to say, a right load of wussy old crud it is, too. They don't help themselves in my book by being Christians - y'know, I don't bleat on to you about what I believe (or don't); do me the same courtesy. The first two tracks actually sound they could be a continuation of each other, they're that similar - same key, tempo, feel... I don't know how God-bothering this record actually is; I caught a lyrical reference to a 'burning bush', so the omens aren't good, but it's far from being the most offensive thing about it, beaten hollow by their general tediousness and Leigh Nash's irritating, whiny voice. Mellotron flutes on Anything from Mellotron Player To The Christian Community, John Mark Painter, alongside real strings. Anyway, I'm highly amused to see their cover of the La's There She Goes on later copies of the album; I mean, haven't they read the fucking lyrics? Speaking of which, I was force-fed UK radio station Virgin Radio on a job I was on recently, and was exceedingly amused to be played, all in one day, the Stranglers' Golden Brown, The Chilis' Under The Bridge and There She Goes. "Good morning, and today is heroin chic day on Virgin Radio!" Fantastic. All they missed was Waiting For The Man.
For some unknown reason, it took Sixpence etc. (who got their name from a C.S. Lewis book about being a God-botherer, apparently. Yeah, another one) five years to come up with another album, Divine Discontent; well, it wouldn't have been drug addiction, would it? Maybe that was why they covered There She Goes... Conspiracies? We gottem. Anyway, more slushy shite; they manage to bugger up Crowded House's sublime Don't Dream It's Over, simply by playing it in their usual style. I mean, where's the bloody Hammond solo, you tossers? Drivel. Couple of less awful tracks in Melody Of You and Paralyzed, but it's like polishing turds, really. Mellotron this time from Jerry Dale McFadden, with a passable flute part on Waiting On The Sun.
So; do NOT buy these records; they're shite. Y'know, these days, I seem to've lost what little tolerance I had for crud; I just can't be arsed any more. Why bother being nice? Call a spade a fucking shovel, then beat them to death with it. Shitehawks. Very little Mellotron, either (he says, vainly attempting to get back on course for a moment). I hope I never have to hear this band again. Ever.
Skafish (1980, 35.01) ***½/TTT
|Joan Fan Club
Maybe One Time
Obsessions of You
We'll See a Psychiatrist
Disgracing the Family Name
|No Liberation Here
Take it Out on You
Urgh! A Music War (1981) ***½/TT[Skafish contributes]
Sign of the Cross
The frankly bizarre Jim Skafish and cohorts burst out of Chicago in 1976, stunning (and frequently repelling) audiences wherever they played, while managing to pick up both critical acclaim and a growing fanbase of similarly alienated weirdos. It took them until 1980 to release their debut, Skafish, and a rather strange album it is, too, the nearest description I can find for it being 'symphonic new wave', which is actually an awful lot better than it sounds. There's considerable musical variety to be found amongst its grooves, with jerky and disturbing opener Joan Fan Club followed by the near-prog of Maybe One Time, with doowop pastiche, show tunes and up-to-the-minute noo wave all vying for space, usually all in the same song.
Keyboardist Javier Cruz and Skafish himself almost makes the album single-(double-?) handedly, adding a sheen of professionalism to every track, with great piano and Clavinet work mixed with contemporary polysynth sounds and, of course, a Mellotron. Half the album is graced with its presence, with string parts on Obsessions Of You, Romantic Lessons and No Liberation Here, with weird, phased choirs on We'll See A Psychiatrist. However, the album's full-on 'Tron classic is Maybe One Time, with a near-as-dammit prog string part, probably emanating more from the band's theatrical background than its musical one.
Skafish released one more album on IRS, with a couple of independent cassettes appearing subsequently. He's paid the price for being original, though, being now largely forgotten, although I remember the fuss the British music press made of (or about) him at the time. Do yourself a favour; if quirky, original music sounds like it might just be your thing, try to find a second-hand copy of this, and luxuriate in its eclecticism, not to mention its excellent Mellotron work.
Incidentally, there's one more Skafish 'Tron track available (I use the term loosely); a live recording of Sign Of The Cross was available on Urgh! A Music War, an IRS label sampler released in 1981; worth hearing if you can find a copy. Here's the clip from the film, M400 occasionally visible.
See: Urgh! A Music War
Let Come What May (2008, 37.45) ***½/TLet Come What May
Run From My Mind
Pardon My Kicking Your Ass
I'll be quite honest here and say I have little knowledge of the US ska-punk scene. I've heard the dullsville No Doubt (well, any band who could foist the blandola Gwen Stefani on the world...), but the rest of the scene remains a mystery to me. Anyway, the nice chaps from Skamasutra (great name) have sent me their debut album, Let Come What May, containing not only some real 'Tron, but a brief burst of ye olde Taurus pedals, too. So, wossit like? Well, nothing like Madness or The Specials, that's for sure. If you haven't heard this stuff before, imagine a ska outfit whose guitarist whacks the distortion on and goes for the full punk/metal riffing thing, usually for the chorus, while the rest of the band carry on as before, with plenty of brass filling in the gaps, in this case, alto/baritone sax and trombone. Lyrically, the band come from the 'life lesson' school; being messed about by unfaithful women (Killing Time, She's Mine), growing up (the fiery title track), war and racism ((Mural War, Colorblind), with reasonable musical variety keeping things interesting.
Vocalist/trombonist Nick Gilbert plays keyboards on a couple of tracks, including Mellotron, with a few choir chords at the beginning of Run From My Mind, and some more at the close of their 'prog epic', Rising Sun, along with those bass pedals, although the wobbly flute-ish sound at the beginning of the song is the credited Korg synth (model unknown). So; while you're not going to go out to buy this for its Mellotron content, if you have any interest in high-energy contemporary music with a bit of thought put into it, you could do an awful lot worse than Let Come What May. Nice one, chaps; let's hope you can keep the momentum up for your next effort.
|7" (1975) **½/T½
Hold on to Love
Too Much, I'm in Love
I met Peter Skellern a couple of times in the mid-'80s: he was one of two keyboard players in a pick-up band a well-connected friend of mine put together for a couple of gigs, the other being Gentle Giant's Kerry Minnear, who played my MiniMoog as I've never seen it played, before or since. Sadly, Skellern came across as a bit of a miserable bugger, although everyone else involved was really friendly; maybe he didn't really want to be there. Of course, he played Hold On To Love, also re-recording it for the band's four-song demo, presumably now that strange thing, a rarity of a rather uncollectable artist.
I've always been under the impression that it was also the title track of Skellern's album of the same name (right), but although that's technically correct, it turns out that the long-player's actually a compilation chucked out by Decca, the label he was leaving for Island. It seems Decca never quite knew what to do with Skellern, a man as happy writing comic songs as serious ones, even though his preferred oeuvre was material that sounded like it hailed from another era, which should've fitted in pretty well with the label's rather dated approach. The album contained tracks from his debut, 1972's She's a Lady and '74's ...Not Without a Friend (though nothing from Holding My Own, a jokey effort from later the same year), plus single-only tracks, not least both sides of his second and last chart-botherer from earlier that year.
Hold On To Love itself is a memorable, laid-back, Rhodes-driven piece that got to no.14 in the UK in March '75, still very recognisable well over three decades later. I wasn't sure on an initial (re-)listen, but the track's high string line is definitely a Mellotron, ditto the part running right through the flip, Too Much, I'm In Love. Do you need to hear either of these tracks? Depends on how much you revere mid-'70s easy-listening pop, I suppose. The Mellotron is played and EQ'd to sound as much like real strings as possible (budgetary restrictions, no doubt), so we're not exactly talking 'lost Mellotron classic' here. Pleasant, but unremarkable.
See: Cliff Richard
Fake Chemical State (2006, 35.54) **½/½
|Alone in My Room
Just Let the Sun in
Don't Need a Reason
Take on Me
Falling for You
Deborah Anne "Skin" Dyer, ex-Skunk Anansie, embarked on a solo career after the band split (they've now tentatively reformed), 2006's Fake Chemical State being her second (and latest, to date) release. It's an odd mixture of almost-punk and commercial hard rock, certainly more commercial than I believe Skunk Anansie ever were. The punkier tracks (opener Alone In My Room, She's On) work better than the poppy stuff (Purple, Don't Need A Reason) or the slushy ballads (Nothing But, closer Falling For You), but none of it's that great, frankly.
Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes, a million productions) plays credited Mellotron, with background strings on Nothing But. Overall, one to keep Ms Dyer's fans happy, but not something that's really going to excite the public at large, I fear. Hardly any Mellotron, either.
Skin Alley (1969, 41.55) ***½/T½Living in Sin
Mother Please Help Your Child
Concerto Grosso (Take Heed)
(Going Down the) Highway
Skin Alley's eponymous debut used to be available only as part of a 2-on-1 CD with its follow-up, To Pagham and Beyond, with a track missing, but has subsequently been issued in its own right. It's a reasonably good, jazzy progressive album that usually gets missed out when the roots of prog are discussed although, unlike its more-heralded contemporaries, it hasn't aged that well, to be honest. There's only two Mellotron tracks, played by Krzysztaf-Henryk Juskiewicz and Thomas Crimble; Tell Me has some upfront MkII strings and brass, while Night Time has some more background strings, but that would appear to be that.
It's rumoured that their fourth and last effort, Skin Tight, has some Mellotronic input, but not only does it not seem to be credited, but nothing's audible, either, so scrap that one. Bizarrely, this album and its predecessor, Two Quid Deal, were released in the States by Stax (!), who presumably sold next to no copies of either. So; Skin Alley: OK album, OK 'Tron, nothing special. Your choice.
Snake Charming Music (2009, 40.15) ****/TTT
Snake Charming Music No.1
Snake Charming Music No.2
Falls Cut (2010, 48.17) ****/TTT½March of Falls Cut
Dance of the Crackle King
Weis Et. No.15
Hallucinations for Ensemble
Sklenik (hothouse, or glasshouse, in Czech and associated languages) are a current US instrumental progressive trio, dedicated to the almost lost art of keeping it analog(ue); the pictures on their website show a Hammond C3 (not the more common-in-the-States B) topped with ARPs Osyssey and Axxe, a Farfisa and what looks like a 'poor man's Moog', a Realistic MG-1. What's more, guitarist Jamie (J.P.) Kožuško doubles on electric bassoon, which has to be the coolest 'unusual instrumental credit' I've seen in a while.
Their second album, 2009's Snake Charming Music, is an intriguing combination of synth-heavy progressive, more readily identifiable symphonic styles and even (very briefly) prog metal on Recluse, albeit more in a '70s way than a '90s one. Best tracks? Hard to say, although the ten-minute Astral Ars stands out on an initial listen. Keys man Andy Legler plays a borrowed M400, with bursts of choir towards the end of Astral Ars, strings and choir on Outtro, with a more major string part and more choirs on Castle Green, flutes and solo strings on Amongst Clouds and strings on Recluse to finish things off nicely.
Sklenik quickly followed up with 2010's Falls Cut, every bit as good as its predecessor; fast work by most bands' standards these days. Again, a mixture of progressive styles, the lengthy New Jerusalem coming across vaguely like an instrumental Uriah Heep, with a slightly medieval feel to some of the tracks. More Mellotron than before, with major choir use on opener March Of Falls Cut, strings in New Jersusalem's quiet section, heavily-reverbed flutes on Fairhope Suite, with strings and choirs later on, choirs on Weis Et. No.15, little choir swells on Hallucinations For Ensemble and more choirs on closer Wills Creek.
Never mind the Mellotron, listen to the music! Sklenik are one of the best new progressive bands I've heard in a while and with their DIY ethos, there's no reason they can't go on producing music of this quality for as long as they'd like. Seemingly only available from their website (come on, lads, CD Baby!), these are both well worth hearing for a breath of fresh air in a foetid, overcrowded and under-talented progressive scene.
A Return to the Inner Experience (1994, 70.03) ***/T
Moving Like Water
2000 Light Years From Home
When the Fear Stops
Lay Down Your Head
|Ocean Which Humanity is
Buss to Gate 23
We Will Fall
Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves (1996, 73.46) ***½/T
An Ant, the Stars, an Owl and its Prey
Queen of the Slug Theater
|The Headless Man (Another Song)
How to describe the Hendrix-paraphrasing Sky Cries Mary? Psychedelic dance indie? They seem to have elements of all those genres on '94's A Return to the Inner Experience, for better or worse, although ultimately, they become mired in the 'indie' part of the equation, at least to my ears, making a 70-minute album a good half hour too long. It has its moments, not least the cut-up Buss To Gate 23 (buss??) and Velvets-esque closer We Will Fall, but it does all drag rather, leaving this listener twitching with boredom after a while. Joseph E. Howard's Mellotron only obviously appears on a couple of tracks, although several others could include it buried in the mix, not least their 'more psych than the original' cover of the Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home. Of the definite use, there are a few string chords here and there on Ocean Which Humanity Is, and some rather more adventurous stuff on Buss To Gate 23, with dissonant string and flute parts, although that would appear to be it.
Two albums on, '96's Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves is rather more cohesive, the band seemingly finding their musical feet properly. Although there's still a dance element to the record, it's better described as 'modern psych', its fourteen tracks spread over a long, yet rarely dull seventy-plus minutes. Gordon Raphael plays 'backwards Mellotron' on the curiously-titled An Ant, The Stars, An Owl And Its Prey and indeed, the repeating string line sounds slightly odd, although the flute seems perfectly normal.
Return... is an overlong psych indie-fest, with decent bits here and there, but a classic neither in the musical nor Mellotronic realms, while Moonbathing...'s a big improvement all round on both fronts.
Una Lux Una Sonas (2011, 32.35) ***½/TColony Collapse
Una Lux Una Sonas
Dead Star Valley
Sky Shadow Obelisk are Peter Scartabello's solo doom project, whose brief debut, 2011's Una Lux Una Sonas (from renowned sixteenth-century madrigal composer Luca Marenzio), is vastly more interesting than most of the genre's practitioners; Scartabello clearly listens to a great deal of music outside the genre in which he works, a 'trick' from which many of his competitors could learn. Saying that, Colony Collapse's opening vocal salvo is in full-on grunting mode, although he shifts into 'regular' singing during the lengthy quiet section, maintaining the style until the end of the piece, with only one more grunting part on the rest of the album. The heavy sections are suitably heavy, although far less clichéd than usual, while the slow parts, as you'd expect by now, display more imagination than the (black) mass of similar bands doing the rounds, not least the recorders on the title track.
David McNally plays his own Mellotron on Colony Collapse, with a suitably eerie string part, although the cello on the track is real. Overall, if you're allergic to grinding guitars at a funereal pace, you're probably best off avoiding Una Lux Una Sonas, but if you're partial to a bit of doom, this is a much better bet, at least to my ears, than many better-known artists. Worth a flutter.
Official Peter Scartabello site
Great Civilizations (2011, 41.35) **/TTT
|No One Can Tell
Capsized Jackknifed Crisis
Am I Second
Nothing's Ever Easy
Tracey Jayney Girl
|All I Hear is Snow
Skysaw (originally and ill-advisedly known as This) are drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's post-Smashing Pumpkins project, completed by guitarist Anthony Pirog and multi-instrumentalist Mike Reina. Their debut, 2011's Great Civilizations, makes a brave attempt to be a modern take on '60s orchestral pop combines with, er, the Pumpkins, but ends up as a bit of a sloppy mess, sadly. Opener No One Can Tell isn't too bad on its own, but when it's the first of ten similar efforts, its failings become all too obvious.
Reina plays his own M400, with choir and strings on No One Can Tell, strings on Am I Second, Nothing's Ever Easy and Tracey Jayney Girl, strings, flutes and cellos on All I Hear Is Snow and flutes and choir on closer Sad Reasons, making for an album rather more satisfying Mellotronically than musically. Is it worth it for the Mellotron? Despite relatively heavy use, I'm really not sure I can say it is. Very dull.
See: Smashing Pumpkins
The Skywatchers Handbook (2010, 36.50/52.16) ***½/T½ (TTT)
|Dead Flowers for Her
The Curious Village
Rhythm of Ashes
Serves Me Right
The Lunar Tune
Do You Want to Go to Space
|Ever Felt the Sky?
Keep Watching the Sky
[iTunes bonus tracks:
When Up Falls Down
The Sirens of Scopuli
Licked By Love]
|CDS (2011, 15.50) ***/TT½
Serves Me Right (single mix)
The Fool and the Star
Serves Me Right (serves me impeccably mix by Unit Delta +)
Serves Me Right (remixed by Saint John Chadwick Junior School)
Skywatchers are an I Monster offshoot, comprising both members of that outfit, Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling, plus Kevin Pearce, although they're listed in their eponymous album's booklet as 'Venik, Aden and Radjor'. Concentrating on the folk/psych/prog end of I Monster's thang, The Skywatchers Handbook is a very listenable release and while the parent band's lounge proclivities leak through (Rhythm Of Ashes, Small Lights), as do their 'dance' (whatever you take that to mean) ones (Ever Felt The Sky?), the album's overall feel is more Floyd than Chemical Brothers. Jarrod plays his M400 (ex-Pallas/Add N to (X)) to a couple of tracks, with strings and flutes on Do You Want To Go To Space Young Man? and strings, flutes and stabbed choir chords on Small Lights, plus no fewer than three iTunes bonus tracks, with choir, strings and inaudible flutes on the lengthy When Up Falls Down, strings on the rocking The Sirens Of Scopuli and strings and more inaudible flutes on Licked By Love.
Serves Me Right, one of the dancier tracks from the album, turns up as a single early in 2011, embellished with a 'proper b-side and two remixes of the title tune, Gosling adding Mellotron vibes, strings and flutes to the haunted The Fool And The Star and strings, flutes and brass to Serves Me Right (Remixed By Saint John Chadwick Junior School), only slightly less odd than it sounds, adding another two worthy 'Tron tracks to the rapidly growing I Monster/Skywatchers collection. Incidentally, the beautiful series of paintings in the package are more than worthy of mention.
Overall, then, more an album for the psych/folk crowd than the lounge lizards, although I Monster's eclecticism still shines through, particularly on the bonus tracks (which is probably why they're...). Recommended.
See: I Monster | Regal Worm
Slack Alice (1974, 39.42) ***/TT½Put Me on the Railroad
Mama's Gonna Boogie
Southsea Island Girl
Na-Ma-Nihcam (Soldier of the World)
London-based Slack Alice, fronted by Alice Springs (her real name, surely?), were one of the many hopeful outfits who trawled their live show around the UK in the early '70s, when there was still money to be made on the gig circuit for relatively unknown bands. The bulk of their repertoire on Slack Alice stuck pretty closely to the R'n'B format - pub rock, frankly - with the occasional diversion into acoustic balladry (Gravelstone Cottage) or, bizarrely, pseudo-vaudeville (Slack Alice itself), the supposed tale of how the band got their name. Springs' vocal style veers between raucous (the rock'n'roll numbers) and really quite melodic (the quieter ones, funnily enough), when she actually stands out from the crowd slightly.
Keys man John Cook liked his Mellotron, assuming it wasn't a studio machine, adding some pretty major strings to Gravelstone Cottage and Na-Ma-Nihcam (Soldier Of The World) and an unexpected part on Slack Alice, which is far more than I'd expected. This is unlikely to ever get a CD issue, as its style is desperately out of fashion and pretty uncollectible, but if you get a chance to hear it, at least two tracks are worth it for the 'Tron.
All Hands on the Bad One (2000, 36.58) **½/½
|The Ballad of a Ladyman
All Hands on the Bad One
You're No Rock n'Roll Fun
#1 Must Have
Was it a Lie?
Leave You Behind
Sleater-Kinney are your archetypal Riot Grrrl band: all-female, with a full-on feminist agenda, musically in the 'post-punk indie' camp. All Hands on the Bad One is their fifth album, and while I'm sure fans of the genre swoon over it, it leaves this reviewer a little cold. Their lyrical concerns are probably considered more important than the music used to deliver them (how often have we heard this before?), so anyone looking for a visceral musical thrill is probably best off looking elsewhere.
Sam Coomes plays Mellotron on Milkshake N'Honey, although it's buried under the other instrumentation for most of the song, only coming out to play with a sustained string chord at the end, sounding real enough, for what it's worth, which makes a nice change. So; Riot Grrrl indie. You'll either love it or hate it, I suspect, assuming you know anything about it at all. Next to no Mellotron, anyway, so don't even think about it on those grounds.