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Tony Spada
Sparklehorse
Sparks


Soul P  (US)

Soul P, 'The Premiere'

The Premiere  (2006,  58.47)  **/½

The Arrival
I'm Here
Whoa Whoa!
Goodness
Step Clap
You Make Me
We Don't Know
I'm Grindin'
Do My Thang
You Can
Money More
I'm the Street
Hey Young Man
Hold on
Hear My Cry
All I Want

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

What happens when you combine two of my least favourite genres in one album? Soul P is that unholiest (ho ho) of genre mash-ups, a Christian rapper, although it doesn't seem to be that obvious from his 'rhymes', as I believe they're known. He found his way to the proverbial mythical deity through a dysfunctional childhood and several spells in chokey, 'giving his life to The Lord' a mere 24 hours after attending a Bible group, which has to make the sceptical reader wonder what was going on in the guy's head.

Anyway, 2006's The Premiere is, unsurprisingly, his debut album, and the one thing I can say in its favour is that the lyrics aren't about ho's (excuse the apostrophe - otherwise it's spelled hos, which looks ridiculous), bling and the like, which isn't to say it was a pleasant listening experience, being the usual collection of musically tedious efforts with him blathering on about something or other over the top. Funniest track? I'm The Street, with its heavenly choirs (a sampled one, by the sound of it) and a rap about how he Got God.

Jeff Roach plays Mellotron, unbelievably, with a few skronky-sounding string notes in the album's first proper track, I'm Here, but I don't hear it anywhere else, just the ubiquitous 'strings' with which Roach is also credited. You don't want to hear this, do you? Do you?

MySpace

SoulenginE  (Italy)  see: Samples

Soulwax  (Belgium)

Soulwax, 'Much Against Everyone's Advice'

Much Against Everyone's Advice  (1999,  45.37)  ***/T

Conversation Intercom
Saturday
When Logics Die
Much Against Everyone's Advice
Overweight Karate Kid
Proverbial Pants
The Salty Knowledge of Tears
Flying Without Wings
More Than This
Too Many DJ's
Temptingly Yours
Scream
Funny

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Soulwax's two chief members, brothers David and Stephen Dewaele, also operate as 2 Many DJs, which might give you some idea of where they're coming from. Their second album as Soulwax, 1999's Much Against Everyone's Advice, is an indie/electro crossover effort, which means, for the rest of us, noisy indie-pop overlaid with laptop electronica, which may or (more likely) may not be up your street. It seems to be perfectly good at what it does, and didn't have me reaching for the bucket, although I don't really feel qualified to pontificate at length on the music, you'll probably be pleased to hear.

Jason Falkner of Jellyfish and The Grays (not to mention Pugwash collaboration fame) plays Chamberlin here, though whether he carted one over to Belgium or they recorded in the States, I'm not sure. He also arranges the strings, so what's what can sometimes only be a matter for conjecture. Definite flutes on Proverbial Pants, but nothing else particularly obvious, which doesn't mean it isn't there.

The brothers have probably recorded more remixes of other people's tracks than produced their own, tackling names such as Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams and The Chemical Brothers, alongside their countrymen dEUS and Zita Swoon. I've no idea whether any of their remix work is even vaguely listenable for the non-dance scene fan, but Much Against Everyone's Advice has its moments, although overall, it tends to irritate, I'm afraid. One minor 'Tron track, so you're probably best off going elsewhere.

Official site

Sound of Ceres  (US)  see: Samples

Soundgarden  (US)

Soundgarden, 'Superunknown'

Superunknown  (1994,  70.11)  ***½/½

Let Me Drown
My Wave
Fell on Black Days
Mailman
Superunknown
Head Down
Black Hole Sun
Spoonman
Limo Wreck
The Day I Tried to Live
Kickstand
Fresh Tendrils
4th of July
Half
Like Suicide

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

In many ways, Soundgarden were the perfect 'grunge' band, whatever you ever took that nomenclature to mean; just the right balance between the new and the old, with decent songs to boot. To be honest with you, it sounds like good ol' fashioned hard rock to me, albeit with a more contemporary, downtuned edge; a world away from the horrors of '80s hair metal, anyway, which has to be good. Their third album, 1991's Badmotorfinger, was tipped to be their breakthrough record, but they actually had to wait until its belated follow-up, '94's Superunknown, which sold massively on the back of its hit, the superb Black Hole Sun. The rest of the album isn't bad, but not quite the second coming various online reviews had led me to expect.

Only one 'Tron track, the grinding Mailman, credited to drummer Matt Cameron, although producer Michael Beinhorn is reputed to have had some input as well. In fact, all you get is a brief strings part with a nice pitchbend at the end, so it seems rather unlikely that it took two people to play it. So; good at what it does, but not one for progheads, unsurprisingly.

See: Hater | Truly

Soundtrack of Our Lives  (Sweden)

Soundtrack of Our Lives, 'Welcome to the Infant Freebase'

Welcome to the Infant Freebase  (1996,  70.10)  ***½/T

Mantra Slider
Firmament Vacation (A
  Soundtrack of Our Lives)
Underground Indian
Chromosome Layer
Instant Repeater '99
Embryonic Rendezvous
Four Ages (Part II)
Grand Canaria
Endless Song
Confrontation Camp
Blow My Cool
Senior Breakdown
Bendover Babies
The Homo Habilis Blues
For Good
Magic Muslims
Rest in Piece
Retro Man
Theme from Hållö
Legend in His Own Mind
Soundtrack of Our Lives, 'Behind the Music'

Behind the Music  (2002,  57.35)  ****/T½

Infra Riot
Sister Surround
In Someone Else's Mind
Mind the Gap
Broken Imaginary Time
21st Century Rip Off
Tonight
Keep the Line Movin'
Nevermore
Independent Luxury
Ten Years Ahead
Still Aging
In Your Veins
The Flood
Into the Next Sun
Soundtrack of Our Lives, 'Origin Vol.I'

Origin Vol.I  (2004,  60.38)  ***½/T

Believe I've Found
Transcendental Suicide
Bigtime
Heading for a Breakdown
Mother One Track Mind
Midnight Children
Lone Summer Dream

Royal Explosion (Part II)
Wheels of Boredom
Borderline
Song for the Others
Age of No Reply
[bonus tracks:
To Somewhere Else
World Bank]

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

I'm not entirely sure how to describe Soundtrack of Our Lives. Indie/psych? Progressive pop? They seem to be influenced by both '60s/'70s stuff, but have an undeniably current edge to their sound, too. Their debut, the strangely-titled Welcome to the Infant Freebase, sets out their stall from the off, being a mixture of '60s psych and '90s indie, with the emphasis on the former. Good material all round, though better was to come and it's not all what you'd call entirely original; the lascivious Bendover Babies rips off Waterloo Sunset something rotten, but we'll forgive them, 'cos the album's really rather good. Mellotron (real?) on one track only, with some Strawberry Fields-style flutes and a nice upfront string part on Embryonic Rendezvous, but that would appear to be it.

Behind the Music is their third album, after the Mellotron-free Extended Revelation and seems to be the most advanced on the songwriting front; there's certainly some excellent material on it, particularly Mind The Gap and the excellent Nevermore. Martin Hederos plays Mellotron on three tracks that I can hear; Mind The Gap and The Flood have string parts buried in the mix, but Tonight, a piano ballad, has some great upfront strings, though 1½ 'Tron tracks probably isn't enough to make purchase worthwhile on that front. However, Behind the Music's actually a damn' good album, especially if you like your pop intelligent and retro; don't let the 'death masks' sleeve put you off - it's certainly a striking design, if a little macabre.

While perfectly good, to my ears, Origin Vol.I doesn't quite reach the heady songwriting heights of its predecessor, not helped by opening the album with a track that sounds a lot like Oasis. It's beginning to look like Behind the Music is going to be their classic, although they may well pull another rabbit out of the hat in the future. Two Mellotron tracks again, with some fairly standard flutes on Midnight Children and strings on Lone Summer Dream, with an unidentified sound on one of the 'bonus' tracks, World Bank (what's 'bonus' about it, anyway?), which may or may not be Mellotron strings.

So; a good band, with one real career highlight so far. Somewhat ordinary Mellotron use across all three of these albums, so don't bother on account of that, but buy Behind the Music if you reckon they could be your thang.

Official site

Wim Soutaer  (Belgium)  see: Samples

South  (UK)

South, 'From Here on in'

From Here on in  (2001,  70.12)  ***/TTT½

Broken Head I
Paint the Silence
Keep Close

I Know What You're Like
All in for Nothing (reprise)
Here on in

Run on Time
Broken Head II
Sight of Me
By the Time You Catch Your Heart
Live Between the Lines (Back Again)
Recovered Now
Southern Climbs
By the Time You Catch Your Heart (reprise)
All in for Nothing
Broken Head III
South, 'With the Tides'

With the Tides  (2003,  42.45)  **½/T

Motiveless Crime
Colours in Waves
Loosen Your Hold
Natural Disasters
Fragile Day
9 Lives
Same Old Story
Mend These Trends
Silver Sun
Straight Lines to Badlands
What I Find
Threadbare

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

To quote from South's website: "Rock, dance, electronica, folksy acoustics, orchestral soundscapes, South have always been impossible to pin down". Y'reckon? Going by their 2001 album, From Here on in, I'd say 'indie-schmindie' covers it fairly well. OK, it's not a bad album, as such, but it does nothing new or exciting, at least to my ears. Maybe I'm the wrong generation to appreciate it. It's also overlong; I mean, what is this obsession with filling a CD, just because you can? 70 minutes is ridiculous; once upon a time this would've been called a 'double album', and a band may have (just possibly) made one in their entire career. OK, so bands don't spit albums out one a year any more, so it could easily be argued that they're actually producing less material by releasing a long CD every two or three years. That doesn't make these behemoths any easier to listen to, though...

Anyway, there's loads of Mellotron on offer here, which is one bonus, played by any or all of the trio: Joel Cadbury, Brett Shaw or Jamie McDonald. The album opens with the huge fuck-off strings of Broken Head I, with a flute melody riding over the top, with strings and cellos on Paint The Silence, cellos on Keep Close, strings on All In For Nothing (Reprise), flutes on Here On In... Basically, it's all over the place, although only a handful of tracks use it to any great effect, to be honest, chiefly the first and third versions of Broken Head that bookend the album. For what it's worth, that's a real, credited cello on By The Time You Catch Your Heart and Southern Climbs.

In direct contrast, there's very little 'Tron (credited, this time) on With the Tides, two years later. The album's even less interesting than its predecessor, wussing along like a good'un for most of its length, making listening to it a most joyous experience. It's almost as if the band have no idea how to write a song. Er... OK, Silver Sun's not bad, but it's pretty much on its own here. Anyway, producer Dave Eringa allegedly plays Mellotron on Colours In Waves, but the distant, high strings on the track could come from anywhere, frankly, although the uncredited strings and cellos in Straight Lines To Badlands are rather more obvious.

The problem with all of this is the same problem I have with so many 'Mellotron' albums since the mid-'90s: is it real? You may ask, of course, does it matter? Out there in the real world, no; on Planet Mellotron, yes. OK, so the sound is (loosely) the same, but without the vagaries of a tape-replay system, the sounds become sterile, and just like any other sample. You could well argue that, in the mix, you're not going to notice, but bands have a bad habit of trying to make the samples stand up on their own, which is where it all falls down. Saying that, South could well have used a real Mellotron; it's hard to say. Something about it sounds fake, though; the flutes in the left channel on Here On In are just too 'regular' for their own good - none of the grit you'd expect from a real 'Tron. In absolute fairness, nowhere on the sleeve are Mellotrons mentioned, which puts them well above many other acts I could name, who seem to think that 'Mellotron samples' is actually equivalent to 'Mellotron'. It isn't. Anyway, under UK law, one is innocent until proven guilty, which is where I'll leave this particular case.

So; average UK indie, loads of Mellotron, although it may very well be sampled. Your choice.

Official site

South San Gabriel  (US)

South San Gabriel, 'Welcome, Convalescence'

Welcome, Convalescence  (2003,  44.15)  ***/T

New Brookland
Saint Augustine
Smelling Medicinal
Everglades
Like a Madman
Evangline
Ariza/184
The Splinter Angelic

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

South San Gabriel (helmed by Will Johnson) are the alter-egos of Texan outfit Centro-matic, formed to play their quieter material, leaving their noisier stuff for the parent band. 2003's Welcome, Convalescence was their debut album, following a split single with Okkervil River and begins by fooling the listener into thinking it's going to be straightforward Americana. It's not long, however, before the weird electronica kicks in, juxtaposed neatly with the downbeat, country-influenced material that actually constitutes the band's raison d'être.

Joe Butcher plays Mellotron, amongst other things, though not that much, with what I take to be high-end cellos on Everglades and definite flutes on Evangeline, both sounds nicely enhancing the windblown, eerie feel of the record. This is an album of understated, quiet material that manages to be haunted and ominous without going all goth on us, although even forty-odd minutes of it can prove a bit much if you're not in the mood. Two OK 'Tron tracks, but you probably won't want this for that alone.

MySpace

See: Will Johnson

Joe South  (US)

Joe South, 'Don't it Make You Want to Go Home'

Don't it Make You Want to Go Home?  (1969,  38.16)  ***/TTT

Clock Up on the Wall
Bittersweet
Shelter
What Makes Lovers Hurt One Another?
Before it's Too Late
Children
Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Be a Believer
A Million Miles Away
Don't it Make You Want to Go Home?

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Although Joe South (born Souter) is best known as a songwriter (Hush, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden), he had a briefly successful career as a performer, in an early country/soul style. I believe there were problems surrounding his debut, 1968's Introspect, leading to him re-recording some its tracks the following year for Games People Play; alleged tape-replay work on the album, but a close listen doesn't reveal anything.

He followed up quickly with Don't it Make You Want to Go Home?, full of more homilies to his dislike of the modern world along the lines of Clock Up On The Wall, with its innovative 'ticking clock' percussion, and major hits Walk A Mile In My Shoes and the early eco-warning of the title track. Just when you think you've got the album licked, though, A Million Miles Away comes along and shatters your expectations with its found dialogue and heavily echoed guitar, so maybe it's not that clear-cut after all. Barbara South (wife of his brother and drummer, Tommy) plays Chamberlin on the album, and how... Every highlighted track above contains strings, most have brass as well, with flutes on Children and the title track, although the strings on the latter are real.

After another few albums in quick succession, Tommy South committed suicide, plunging Joe into a deep depression, leading him to escape to Hawaii and effectively ending his career. His name in the history books is assured, but it's a tragedy he didn't go on to write for the biggest names of the '80s and earn a mint in the process. This album's unlikely to appeal to anyone raised on '70s rock, but perfectly good at what it does and stuffed with Chamberlin to boot.

Official site

Space Ritual  (UK)

Space Ritual, 'Otherworld'

Otherworld  (2007,  62.01)  ***/T

The Return
Otherworld
Black Corridor
Bubbles
Communique II
Ritual of the Ravaged Earth
ASDF
Sonic Savages
Droid Love
Time Crime
Arrival in Utopia
Atomik
The Riddle
Notes From a Cold Planet
Walking Backwards

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Space Ritual? Rings a bell? It's the name ex-Hawk (and alleged band namer) Nik Turner has used for his own outfit since the drawn-out legal shenanigans with the litigious Dave Brock some years back. Although they've existed for over a decade at the time of writing, 2007's Otherworld is their first full-length studio release, a bit of a hodge-podge of styles, to be honest, veering between the excellent, mid-paced title track with its sax-led chorus riff, ambient material (Black Corridor, ASDF), 'tribal' rhythms (Communique II) and the expected synth-driven biker rock (much of the rest). Unsurprisingly, the lyrical content concentrates on the expected themes, largely space flight, dystopian societies and ecological disaster, the last notably on Notes From A Cold Planet.

Dave Anderson, studio owner and bassist on the album, assures me that they used a real Mellotron that had been hired in for another session, "Because it was there". John Greves plays it, with polyphonic flutes on the title track and Atomik, although the latter sound sampled; a possibility, as I get the impression that a sample set was also present during the sessions. This is probably a little too long for its own good, but contains enough good material to keep the typical old-school Hawkwind fan happy. In fact, it's probably the best Hawks album since the '80s.

Official site

See: Nik Turner | Hawkwind

Space Twins  (US)

Space Twins, 'The End of Imagining'

The End of Imagining  (2003,  34.35)  ***/T

Rust Colored Sun
Rings of Saturn
There's Always Tomorrow
Yellow Camaro
Nothing for Love
Running Out of Time
Trudy Truelove
Happy Days
Louder Than Lies
Can't You See?
Nico
Birds in the Street

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

The Space Twins were a Weezer side-project, led by Brian Bell, originally intended as no more than a joke. After they became more serious, they released three single during the '90s, their only album, The End of Imagining, appearing in 2003, after which the band slowly dissolved. It contains a combination of regulation powerpop (Nothing For Love, Trudy Truelove), lightweight psych (opener Rust Colored Sun) and even sort-of hard rock (Yellow Camaro), although, despite its short length, there are too many 'so-so' efforts to gain it more than three stars.

Jason Falkner (Jellyfish, Grays) plays Chamberlin on Rust Colored Sun, with strings all over the track, including a few seconds of solo Chamby at the end. Overall, a decent enough album, without being particularly startling. Recommended to powerpop fans for a handful of tracks, while those wishing to hear the Chamberlin in all its glory should try to track down Rust Colored Sun.

Official site

Spacehog  (UK)

Spacehog, 'The Hogyssey'

The Hogyssey  (2001,  51.29)  **½/T

Jupiter's Moon
This is America
I Want to Live
Earthquake
A Real Waste of Food
Perpetual Drag
Dancing on My Own
And it is
The Hogyessy
The Strangest Dream
At Least I Got Laid
The Horror
I Can't Hear You

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Spacehog were (actually are, since they've recently reformed) Britpop johnny-come-latelys, their glammy take on the style sounding like a low-budget Suede. 2001's The Hogyssey (originally, before a threatened injunction, 2001: A Space Hogyssey. Ho ho) is a patchy effort, better tracks including Earthquake, Perpetual Drag (largely for its explicitly Bowie-esque guitar line) and, against all the odds, the title track, a bizarre, funk take on Richard Strauss' Also Sprach (Thus Spake) Zarathustra, better known, of course, as the title music to 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I said, ho. And ho again.

An uncredited musician (producer Paul Ebersold?) plays Mellotron flutes, cellos and strings on Dancing On My Own, not only sounding pretty real, but also being the three sounds found on the M400's original 'standard' frame. But why does our mystery man play the German national anthem on the strings over the end of the track? Another Strauss reference? Overall, then, a slightly confused release, with moments of brightness shining through the general murk, with one decent Mellotron track. Hmmm. Incidentally, the timing above is for the actual music, ignoring over ten minutes of silence between the last two tracks.

MySpace

Tony Spada  (US)

Tony Spada, 'Balance of Power'

Balance of Power  (1993,  54.04)  ***½/T

Balance of Power
Opposite Ways
Touch Sensitive
Royal Tradition
Heat Treat
Matador
The Sun Song
Rhymes
The Final Act

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Tony Spada was the guitarist and main move and shaker behind early-'80s US proggers Holding Pattern, whose sole release was an eponymous mini-album in 1981. It took Spada over a decade to follow it with his first solo release, and I think it's fair to say his style has changed considerably in the interim. Balance of Power's base is as much fusion as prog, although without the frenetic energy of a typical fusion outfit. I also hear hints of Steve Hackett, particularly on the opening title track, and I believe there's a large slice of Steve Morse, too. Much of the (mostly instrumental) material is good without being in any way outstanding, although the album's one vocal track (and its longest), closer The Final Act, is really quite excellent.

Although ex-Holding Pattern keys man Mark Tannenbaum plays on several tracks, all the 'Tron parts are played by bassist Tony Castellano, although it has to be said that it's utterly inaudible on the title track. Touch Sensitive fares a little better, with a fairly upfront strings part that sounds shaky enough to be 'real', although The Sun Song is, again, pretty minimal. I can, however, hear what sounds like 'Tron choir on The Final Act, so I do wonder slightly about the veracity of the detailed credits. Hmmm.

So, not bad, but a long way from outstanding. Not really worth it for the 'Tron, either.

Official Holding Pattern site

See: Holding Pattern

Sparklehorse  (US)

Sparklehorse, 'Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot'

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot  (1995,  47.30)  ****/½

Homecoming Queen
Weird Sisters
850 Double Pumper Holley
Rainmaker
Spirit Ditch
Tears on Fresh Fruit
Saturday
Cow
Little Bastard Choo Choo
Hammering the Cramps
Most Beautiful Widow in Town
Heart of Darkness
Ballad of a Cold Lost Marble
Someday I Will Treat You Good
Sad & Beautiful World
Gasoline Horseys
Sparklehorse, 'It's a Wonderful Life'

It's a Wonderful Life  (2001,  60.33)  ****/TTT

It's a Wonderful Life
Gold Day

Piano Fire
Sea of Teeth
Apple Bed
King of Nails
Eyepennies
Dog Door
More Yellow Birds
Little Fat Baby
Comfort Me
Babies on The Sun
Sparklehorse, 'Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain'

Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain  (2006,  53.10)  ***½/T

Don't Take My Sunshine Away
Getting it Wrong
Shade and Honey
See the Light
Return to Me
Some Sweet Day
Ghost in the Sky
Mountains
Morning Hollow
It's Not So Hard
Knives of Summertime
Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Current availability:

Mellotrons/Chamberlins used:

Sparklehorse is essentially Mark Linkous plus friends, who play a melancholy kind of fucked-up Americana/alt.country/whatyouwannacallit. They debuted with '95's Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (no, I don't know), and you know what? It's really rather excellent. Mix equal parts ('real') country, indie guitar-thrash, American folk and probably a few other things, the end result being a very listenable blend of Linkous' influences, with some damn' good songwriting into the bargain. Although not that long, the album probably outstays its welcome slightly towards the end, but the first half is something I can see myself playing repeatedly if I let myself. Linkous plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks, notably the weird little FX-laden Little Bastard Choo Choo, where a cheap chord organ vies with 'Tron strings (and flutes?), and possibly even FX tapes, although the flutes (?) on Heart Of Darkness are next to inaudible.

There's no 'Tron on '98's Good Morning Spider, but it's on several tracks on 2001's It's a Wonderful Life, along with a Chamberlin. To confuse the issue, Dave Fridmann from Mercury Rev plays on the latter, and he's known for his not-entirely-honest approach to what constitutes a 'Mellotron'. Clue: you can't play one from a MIDI keyboard. Then there's a quote from Linkous about 'the only decent Mellotron's the new Mark VI', so who knows if any of it's real? Anyway, the album is beautiful in its melancholy, downbeat without being miserable for the sake of it; this is what Americana should sound like. Mind you, Dog Door channels Tom Waits, with a truly bonkers vocal, so it's not all 3 m.p.h. stuff [n.b. Upon checking the liner notes, it becomes apparent that it IS Tom Waits. That explains that one, then...). As for the tape-replay (assuming it's real), Linkous plays ghostly Chamby flutes and cellos on the opening title track, with more overt versions of both on Gold Day. He's on Mellotron flutes on Sea Of Teeth, with drummer Scott Minor on Chamby, then nothing until Alan Weatherhead's distant Mellotron and Chamby strings and woodwinds (oboe?) on More Yellow Birds. Dave Fridmann plays Chamby flutes and choir on Comfort Me (sample alert! Sample alert!), and finally, some very wobbly strings on closer Babies On The Sun, with Fridmann on 'Chamby' and Linkous on Mellotron.

It took Linkous five years to release another Sparklehorse album, 2006's (deep breath) Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (yup; another mis-use of the term 'light year'). And it's... another Sparklehorse album, you'll probably be pleased to hear. Nothing startling, nothing particularly new, but a solid, dependable Linkous record, despite difficult-to-ignore clunkers like the flat top guitar string on Return To Me. Said track is the first of a mere two credited tape-replay efforts here, with distant Chamberlin flutes from Linkous. The other is the lengthy closing title track, with Linkous on Chamby again and Dave Fridmann on Chamby and Mellotron, although none are that obvious, with (Mellotron?) flute melodies and (presumably Chamby) strings throughout.

So; all albums are well worth a listen, though only It's a Wonderful Life for the Mellotron/Chamby, assuming any of it's real... n.b. Tragically, Linkous, a long-term sufferer from depression, killed himself in 2010, robbing us of any more of his work.

Official site

See: Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse

Sparkler  (US)  see: Samples

Sparks  (US)

Sparks, 'Kimono My House'

Kimono My House  (1974,  36.38)  ****/T½

This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Amateur Hour
Falling in Love With Myself Again
Here in Heaven
Thank God it's Not Christmas
Hasta Mañana, Monsieur

Talent is an Asset
Complaints
In My Family
Equator
Sparks, 'Propaganda'

Propaganda  (1974,  33.50)  ***½/½

Propaganda
At Home, at Work, at Play
Reinforcements
BC
Thanks But No Thanks
Don't Leave Me alone With Her
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
Something for the Girl With Everything
Achoo
Who Don't Like Kids
Bon Voyage
Sparks, 'Indiscreet'

Indiscreet  (1975,  41.36)  ****/T

Hospitality on Parade
Happy Hunting Ground
Without Using Hands
Get in the Swing
Under the Table With Her
How Are You Getting Home?
Pineapple
Tits
It Ain't 1918
The Lady is Lingering
In the Future
Looks, Looks, Looks
Miss the Start, Miss the End

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Ron and Russell Mael's legendary duo will always be remembered for the insane brilliance of This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us (no 'the', thanks!), but if there were any justice in this world, they'd be known for a string of witty and urbane albums, not 'just' a string of hits. The combination of Ron's songs and Russell's brilliantly camp delivery brought them success in the UK, although it took their native States a while to catch up (if it ever really did); Kimono My House was their third album, following their self-titled debut (originally being released under the name Halfnelson) and A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing.

Kimono opens with Ron's staccato electric piano and Russell's edgy, manic vocal callisthenics on the aforementioned This Town, which surely has to be one of the greatest singles ever, following it with the almost-as-good Amateur Hour. I mean, try these for lyrics, on the subject of... well, work it out for yourself:

'It's a lot like playing the violin,
You cannot start off and be Yehudi Menuhin'.

Sheer, utter, unbridled brilliance. All of which has nothing to do with Mellotrons. The only reason I know there's any on these albums is that, sick of listening to stuff purely for its Mellotronic content (hey, I like music for its own sake, OK?!), I resolved to play something else for a break. And heard a Mellotron. Typical... Yup, there it is; strings on Thank God It's Not Christmas, with a sustained note at the end featuring that distinctive 'Mellotron quaver', flutes and strings on the lyrically sublime Hasta Mañana, Monsieur and (according to this excellent page) a Mellotron sax solo on Equator. No idea where the Mellotron came from; the album was recorded in the UK, so I suspect it was a machine that was just lying around the studio. As they do. Or did. So, not the greatest use ever, but an abnormally cool album, so buy it anyway.

Propaganda isn't as consistent as Kimono, but as their second release of '74, they were probably spreading themselves a little thinly by this point. It opens brilliantly, with the a capella title track and the rocking At Home, At Work, At Play, but then it slackens off a bit, although the two singles, Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth and Something For The Girl With Everything are pretty cool. Most of the strings on the album are provided by an unnamed string synth, so the album's only Mellotronic interjection is on Never Turn Your Back..., with a few seconds of heavily phased strings halfway through. The following year's Indiscreet picks up somewhat and is probably their most diverse album yet, with the likes of the string quartet-led Under The Table With Her or the (again) excellent singles, Get In The Swing and Looks, Looks, Looks. Mellotron on one track only, with a few volume-pedalled choir chords on Without Using Hands, so barely any more use than on its predecessor, really. Bloody good album, though.

So, Sparks: one of the best pop groups ever? Discuss. Depends on your definition, I suppose, but it sounds like pop to me, even when it rocks. They're still making intelligent pop records to this day, consistently flying fearlessly in the face of fashion, which can't be bad. None of these three albums are exactly worth it on the 'Tron front, but they're all well worth hearing in their own right. Excellent.

Official site

See: FFS


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