They Might Be Giants
Third Eye Blind
Thirty Days Out
Tesseract (1997, 39.32) ****/T
Cast of Thousands
The Vitamin Mine
Allegro Assai (Bach Violin Concerto
in A Minor, 3rd Movement)
Vantage Point Instrumental
BayProg: Progressive Rock From the San Francisco Bay Area (2002, 5.29) ***½/TTT[Tesseract contribute]
On the Edge of an Eclipse
Tesseract (a four-dimensional shape, in case you were wondering) appear to be run by Mellotronists Yahoo! Groups list moderator Don Tillman, who also plays guitar and other keyboards. Tesseract is a good, varied album, with a strong American feel about it, Karen Bentley's violin making for an inevitable Kansas comparison, although there are considerable differences between the two bands. It's hard to pick out highlights, although they tackle the Bach piece particularly well, given how difficult it can be to do classical music justice in a rock setting. Heisenberg's Daughter and Vantage Point Instrumental are particularly good on the melody front, but there isn't a bad track on the album.
Maybe surprisingly, the only obvious Mellotron on the album is a little strings and choir on Heisenberg's Daughter, to the extent that a whole 'T' might be overstating the case a bit, so although this isn't exactly what you'd call a 'Tron album, it's more than worthy of the progressive fan's time. What's more, if you're an American resident, you can get it from the band's website for a fantastically reasonable $12. Buy.
Incidentally, Tesseract got a 'tron track onto 2002's BayProg various artists CD, with cellos and strings on the Crimson-esque On The Edge Of An Eclipse.
Les Fleurs du Mal (2012, 45.36/48.17) ***/½
|Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son
Une Fleur dans le Cœur
Mon Amour, Mon Ami
Je N'ai Besoin Que de Tendresse
La Licorne d'Or
J'ai le Mal de Toi
Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son
2012's Les Fleurs du Mal reduces Therion's viking quotient, while retaining most of their earlier albums' insanely overblown elements. In an unlikely turn of events, it seems the album consists entirely of covers of French-language songs from the '60s and '70s, many written by Serge Gainsbourg, original performers including France Gall, Léonie, Victoire Scott and Sylvie Vartan. As a result, despite the metal backing on most tracks, their chanson origins frequently leak through, notably on the upbeat Je N'ai Besoin Que De Tendresse and bonus track Les Sucettes.
Mattias 'Änglagård' Olsson plays Mellotron on three tracks, with, er, something on Mon Amour, Mon Ami: mandolins? Brass? We also get background strings on Lilith, although whatever he adds to En Alabama is effectively inaudible.
See: Samples etc.
John Henry (1994, 57.18) ****/T
Sleeping in the Flowers
I Should Be Allowed to Think
Why Must I Be Sad?
O, Do Not Forsake Me
No One Knows My Plan
A Self Called Nowhere
Meet James Ensor
Out of Jail
The End of the Tour
Factory Showroom (1996, 42.33) ***½/T
Till My Head Falls Off
How Can I Sing Like a Girl?
Exquisite Dead Guy
New York City
Your Own Worst Enemy
XTC vs. Adam Ant
James K. Polk
I Can Hear You
The Bells Are Ringing
They Might Be Giants certainly have a way with a tune; I hadn't played John Henry in several years when I played it for review, and many of the melodies have obviously stuck like glue. Their fifth release, it was the first to feature a 'proper' band playing alongside Johns Flansburgh and Linnell, and the difference is immediately apparent, with a cohesive 'band' sound, and little of the accordion that plagued their earlier records. The lyrics (and tunes, for that matter) are as quirky as ever, with highlights including Snail Shell, I Should Be Allowed To Think and Meet James Ensor, but there isn't actually a bad track on the record, which is an achievement in itself. Although it's not credited in the CD booklet, Linnell has admitted that he stuck some 'Tron onto a couple of tracks. Window has some flute chords, while The End Of The Tour features some lovely string chordal work, though neither track is exactly smothered in the thing.
The band followed up with a shorter effort, '96's Factory Showroom, featuring a similarly quirky combination of styles as on John Henry, including the 'typical' TMBG of Metal Detector, New York City and their ode to the 11th president of the US (apparently), James K. Polk, replete with Theremin. Battling it out with them are the cod-Philly soul of S-E-X-X-Y and the noo wave of Till My Head Falls Off, while the outrageously murky I Can Hear You was recorded on an Edison cylinder machine. Linnell on Mellotron again, with a 'stabby' choir part, complete with very real-sounding key-click on How Can I Sing Like A Girl? and flutes on the preposterous XTC Vs. Adam Ant (like, there's a contest?).
There's supposed to be some Mellotron on 2000's main theme for Malcolm In The Middle, but not to my ears, while 2002's No! uses samples. Two reasonably satisfying albums of great, quirky (that word again) little songs, then, although neither are really worth purchasing for their Mellotronic content. Buy anyway.
See: Samples etc. | Mono Puff | Mono Puff (samples)
The Water Road (2008, 73.11) ****½/TTTT½The Long Fianchetto
Tacenda for You
When the Moon is in the River of Heaven
The Water Road
Thieves' Kitchen fell on their feet the day Thomas Johnson (a.k.a. Tomas Jonsson) joined. Those of you who've been watching/listening will have already made the connection; he was Änglagård's keyboard player for both their periods of activity, and recommendations don't come much higher than that. At the time of writing, he's living and studying in the UK, although I'm not entirely sure whether the band pursued him, or he answered a 'keyboard player wanted' ad; either way, his arrival is the musical step up they need to take them to the next level. Artistically speaking, of course, there's no money to be made in the wild'n'wacky world of prog, and everyone involved knows it, which hasn't stopped them from making an album as good as their fourth, The Water Road.
Thieves' Kitchen specialise in a slightly fusionesque form of prog, interestingly managing to sound like no-one else particularly in the process; Johnson's arrival (he writes or co-writes most of the album's material) shifts the balance towards the prog end of the spectrum, unsurprisingly, although some tracks retain a jazzy edge. By and large, though, we're talking symphonic prog as it was, is and ever shall be, with several guests to spice things up a little, not least Änglagård's erstwhile flautist, Anna Holmgren, as if the connection needed reinforcing. Vocals on most tracks from Amy Darby, so this isn't that much like Änglagård, although the band must realise comparisons are inevitable.
Thomas flew over to Mattias Olsson's Roth-Händle studio in Stockholm to overdub many of the album's keyboard parts; aside from the Mellotron, there are apparently various Optigan and Orchestron interjections, though they're not that easy to spot. As for the Mellotron, lengthy opener The Long Fianchetto has a few short string parts, plus what sounds like Mellotron vibes, but Thomas goes to town properly on his own Änglagårdesque composition, Returglas, with strings, cellos and brass all over. The strings crop up everywhere on the album, with other sounds dropping in and out as needed; choirs on Chameleon, church organ on Om Tare, flutes on the title track... A veritable 'Tron-fest, in fact.
So; do you like progressive rock? Do you like Mellotrons? Then buy this album, pronto. Thieves' Kitchen have come on leaps and bounds from their debut (reviewed here), and that wasn't bad... One criticism? It's too long, but that seems to be standard practice in the age of the 80-minute CD. Anyway, this really is one of the best new prog albums I've heard in a long time, and certainly one of the best from the UK. Buy. Now.
See: Samples etc. | Änglagård
I, Thighpaulsandra (2001, 136.15) ***/T
The Angelica Declaration
Abuse Foundation IV
Michel Publicity Window
We, the Descending
|Limping Across the Sky
Home Butt Club
Celine and Julie Go Boating
Beneath the Frozen Lake of Stars
The Michel Publicity Window E.P. (2001, 23.39) ***/TMichel Publicity Window (Remix)
Hovercar Von Düsseldorf
Double Vulgar (2003, 76.48) **½/TThe Bush Administration Project
On the Horns of Magda Reuth
The Circumcision of Christ
He Tastes of the Sea
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales Breaches Reality
Rape Scene [as Thighpaulsandra with Siôn Orgon & Martin Schellard] (2004, 46.18) **½/½Joyful Misuse of the Gomco Clamp
The Busy Jew
His Lavish Showroom
Chamber Music (2005, 49.10) **½/½Cast in Dead Homes
A Blizzard of Altars
Bleeding Text for the Cripplethrush
The Unwilling Wardens of Ice
The Golden Communion (2015, 116.59) ***/½
Did He Fall?
The Foot Garden
A Devil in Every Hedgerow
The Golden Communion
The Sinking Stone
|On the Register
The More I Know Men, the Better I Like Dogs
Tim "Thighpaulsandra" Lewis has worked with several main players in the '90s UK experimental scene, not least Spiritualized, Coil and Julian Cope. His first solo release was 2000's Some Head EP, followed up a year later by the portentously-titled sprawling double-disc set I, Thighpaulsandra. In the same ballpark as his Cope collaboration, Queen Elizabeth, its track lengths vary from three minutes to over half an hour, ranging stylistically from piano balladry through Copeian heavy psych to avant-noise, although its default setting is a kind of Spiritualized-esque krautrock that's likely to incite either jubilation or despair in the listener (or both?).
Yer man plays Mellotron, amongst other synthetic devices, with strings on The Angelica Declaration, Home Butt Club and the 32-minute Beneath The Frozen Lake Of Stars, all to passable, if not ecstatic effect. All in all, I, Thighpaulsandra is a massively ambitious album that probably achieves its objective, whatever that might be. Whether it's particularly listenable, at least in one sitting, is another matter... It's not for everyone, but it's definitely for someone. Not much Mellotron, in the way of Cope's similar albums, but it's hardly the album's defining feature, anyway. The contemporaneous The Michel Publicity Window E.P. adds one extra 'Tron track, Fouled, with background strings though, sadly, nothing on its finest moment, Hovercar Von Düsseldorf.
Lewis and Cope fell out over the latter's adverse reaction to the homoerotic S&M imagery on the former's 2003 release, Double Vulgar, an act I've seen described as 'homophobic', although having seen the images, I can understand, if not fully endorse Cope's alleged outburst. Suffice to say, the boundaries of good taste are not so much crossed as left in the same near-death state as some of the sleeve's 'models' appear to be. None of which has anything to do with the album's contents, which aren't dissimilar to those of I, Thighpaulsandra, which is another way of saying he doesn't seem to have progressed much in two years. On the subject of poor taste, the only Mellotron here is an atonal string part towards the end of The Circumcision Of Christ, which all seems a bit unnecessary, even to a known non-God-botherer such as myself.
To my surprise, given the bust-up with Cope, there are more Thighpaulsandra Mellotron albums, beginning with 2004's charmingly-titled Rape Scene. It sounds like more of the same, basically, defining features including the raucous bass solo on The Busy Jew, the tuneless distorted guitar on closer His Lavish Showroom and more of that genital-mutilation obsession on opener Joyful Misuse Of The Gomco Clamp. The album's only Mellotron use, from yer man again, is some occasional choir chords on the last-named, hardly enough to make it worth hearing on those grounds alone.
Ludicrously, I've seen the following year's Chamber Music listed as an EP, doubtless due to its mere four tracks, but at nearly fifty minutes, I think we can safely discard that particular misnomer. Guess what? It's another Thighpaulsandra album, sounding pretty much like every other Thighpaulsandra album, frankly, its best moment being when Martin Schellard suddenly breaks into a Frippish guitar part towards the end of Bleeding Text For The Cripplethrush. And who are those likely-looking lads in the sleeve photo? I think we should be told. Mr. T is credited with Mellotron, but the only possible sighting is the rather un-Mellotronlike choirs heard briefly in closer The Unwilling Wardens Of Ice, making this another 'barely worth it on that front'er.
After a ten-year gap between releases, 2015's The Golden Communion is almost two hours of avant-... what? Occasional bursts of metal guitar or straightforward, techno-inspired electronics are about the nearest this gets to 'normal', but there's little familiar enough here for the vast majority of listeners to grasp, which is clearly how Mr. Lewis likes it. Yer man's credited with Mellotron on The Foot Garden, but all I can hear is a few choir stabs towards the end of the track, although it's possible there are other Mellotronic sounds here and there. Real? Hard to say.
So, Mr Lewis... Pretty avant stuff, I'll give you that, although how objectively good it actually is can only be determined by the listener, I fear; admittedly, you could say the same about most music, but it particularly applies here. For those into the further reaches of Copeiana, I think, so without that much Mellotron, I have difficulty really recommending any of these to the casual listener.
See: Julian Cope | Coil | Queen Elizabeth | Loka
Thin Lizzy (1971, 39.12/55.14) ***/T
|The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle
Honesty is No Excuse
Look What the Wind Blew in
Return of the Farmer's Son
Clifton Grange Hotel
|Saga of the Ageing Orphan
Remembering Part 2
Old Moon Madness
Things Ain't Working Out Down at the Farm]
Shades of a Blue Orphanage (1972) ***/TThe Rise and Dear Demise of the Funky Nomadic Tribes
I Don't Want to Forget How to Jive
Call the Police
Shades of a Blue Orphanage
Thin Lizzy's first two albums bear practically no relation to the Lizzy everyone knows from later in the decade, the material being bluesy, laid-back and extremely lyrical, although I believe they always rocked more on stage. After an initial (and fantastically rare) single, followed by the still very rare New Day EP, the band released their eponymous debut, with poignant numbers like Diddy Levine, Look What The Wind Blew In and Remembering, heavily influenced by Phil Lynott's Dublin upbringing. Honesty Is No Excuse is the sole Mellotron track here, with an orchestrated string part put down by Ivor Raymonde. The song isn't the best on the album, being a 3/4 acoustic strumalong, and the 'Tron part doesn't really enhance it much, I'm afraid to say.
Shades of a Blue Orphanage's title track, yet another Lynott homage to his hometown childhood, is another gentle acoustic number with Mellotron strings, this time played by rather excellent Irish folk-rockers' Mellow Candle's Clodagh Simonds, and rather less orchestrated than on their preceding album. Yet again, the 'Tron doesn't really add much to the track and you wonder whose decision it was to bring one in. Incidentally, rumour has it that the odd selection of song titles on display here are due to Lynott receiving a call from Decca asking for the new album's tracklisting. Having not actually written anything yet, Phil spouted the first things that came into his head, saddling the poor band with The Rise And Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes, I Don't Want To Forget How To Jive et al.
David 'Kid' Jensen, at that time a Radio Luxemburg DJ, was Lizzy's first real champion, and was invited to perform the rather silly narration on their third album, Vagabonds of the Western World (****½), a massive improvement over their first two. In an early book on the band, written in the mid-'70s, he remarks that when original guitarist Eric Bell left, they maybe should've replaced him with one guitarist 'and a Mellotron player', instead of the legendary twin-guitar lineup they embraced. Now, much as I'm one to champion Mellotron use almost anywhere, I have to say that I think they made the right decision. Sorry Kid, twin guitar lead cuts it rather better than the extremely average 'Tron on display here...
So; neither album's that great, and the Mellotron use is fairly dismal, so I'd say these are really for Lizzy completists only. Don't expect anything like their later sound, although they do have their moments, and it's interesting to hear where Phil's vocal style originated.
In Extremis (1998, 52.33) ***½/TDead Silence
Behold the Man
This Weird Wind
Les Etudes d'Organism
Thinking Plague fall defiantly into the 'weird' end of prog, sharing musicians with the likes of the 5uu's and bearing strong comparison with the Art Bears and Henry Cow. Guitarist Bob Drake is a member, which, if you've heard any of his work, probably tells you all you need to know about them. They're actually a bit too left-field for my personal taste, but are obviously masters in their chosen field, In Extremis apparently being fairly typical of their output. Oddly, the album becomes slightly more 'normal' as it goes along, or did I just start getting used to their style?
Keys man Shane Hotle plays on three tracks only and Mellotron on just one, the lengthy closer Kingdom Come, with string and flute interjections at various points throughout the track. You can actually hear him doing the 'Mellotron crawl', shifting notes about within a chord to sustain it past the eight-second mark, proving either a) it's real, or b) he's fanatically 'authentic' with his samples. I choose a).
So; one for all you Univers Zero and Present fans, along with the others bands named above. In Extremis is good at what it does, but don't go too far out of your way for the 'Tron content.
See: Bob Drake
Third Eye (1976, 36.24) ***½/TTTProtuberans
All About Us
Third Eye were a mid-'70s German prog/fusion outfit, not entirely dissimilar to the likes of To Be, who released three albums, although the last of these, 1982's Third Eye Live! seems to have a completely different lineup to their eponymous debut, including no less a personage than Tony Levin. Third Eye itself finds a happy middle ground between the two genres, which I usually find to have far less in common than you might expect. Eichendorff 8 is a piece for jazz piano, Serious is more of a classical piano piece with extra instrumentation, while other tracks feature drum solos (Arco), jazzy Rhodes work (Basic Train) or a tabla-driven bass and Mellotron flute duet (Bass Raga).
Mellotron from two members, keys man Jan Huydts and drummer Frank Kollges; Sound Circle features a pretty full-on Mellotron flute solo, along with what sounds like strings mixed with their Hohner string synth, with strings and choir on All About Us. Not sure who plays the skronky violin on Bloodstream, but there are more of those strings and another flute solo, plus, as previously mentioned, more flutes on Bass Raga; a nicely set-up machine, I have to say.
This is apparently pretty damn' hard to find and won't be to all tastes, but fusion fans will definitely go for it, while those of you who delight in well-played Mellotron flute will be in ecstasies.
Blue (1997, 52.00) **/T
10 Days Late
Never Let You Go
Deep Inside Of You
An Ode To Maybe
The Red Summer Sun
To my (doubtless uneducated) ears, Third Eye Blind sound like a slightly more interesting version of Nickleback, though only slightly. You know, the middling sort of hard rock/pop peddled by any number of very successful American bands that seems to pass for 'passion' in many people's lives, while actually being soulless, overblown and empty. In my humble opinion, of course. Blue is their second album and the general consensus seems to be that it's less immediate than their debut, but after a few listens it becomes apparent that it's every bit that album's equal, if not superior, which makes me wonder just what Third Eye Blind itself sounds like. But not that much. Opener Anything actually provides a glimmer of hope, but they sink into a mire of bland, faceless 'alternative' rock almost immediately and stay there for the next fifty minutes, which is time I'll never get back.
One Mellotron track, with a fairly standard but nicely upfront string part on The Red Summer Sun from Arion Salazar, after which the song speeds up into what sounds like a pastiche of '77 punk crossed with AC/DC, although I've seen vocalist Stephan Jenkins' performance here compared to Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. Anyway, you really want to avoid this album and so do I. Next.
Starchaser (1981, 41.51) **/TTLovers on the Run
Who's Gonna Save the World?
Do You Believe in Flying Saucers?
Road to Freedom
This is a very odd one indeed. Thirsty Moon's fifth album, Starchaser, has a rock-end-of-jazz-funk sound which keeps veering off into pseudo-proggy territory, with two of the tracks coming in at over ten minutes. The first of these, Who's Gonna Save The World?, is awful; ten minutes 45 of four-to-the-floor drums, like some terrible 12" version of a bargain-basement disco single, but Do You Believe In Flying Saucers? has some nice drifty bits in amongst the failed attempt at a dance remix. Probably the oddest thing about this album is the presence of guitarist/keyboard man Jürgen Drogies' Mellotron; it's not too out of place on the slower material, but the choirs on the aforementioned Who's Gonna Save The World? don't work at all. The 'Tron use is at its best when they use single-note flute lines, which fit into a couple of songs quite well.
I'm afraid I find it quite difficult to say anything particularly nice about Starchaser, although the band's earlier work may well be better; Thirsty Moon seem to be trying to be all things to all men here and fall flat on their faces. There are a few nice moments on the album, but I really can't recommend it either musically or on the Mellotron front.
Miracle Lick (1972, 38.35) **½/½Honey I Do
I Need You
Any Other Day
The Sun Keeps Right on Shining
Everybody's Got to Have a Song
Never Felt Better
Take a Look at Yourself
Despite originally hailing from New York, Thirty Days Out's two albums are more West Coast than Lower East Side, coming across as an uneasy amalgam of post-hippy folk and Midwest boogie-lite. Their eponymous '71 debut has an acoustic Christian-rock feel, but the following year's Miracle Lick ups the rock content, if only slightly, better tracks including mini-epic Everybody's Got To Have A Song, the REO Speedwagon-alike Phoenix and closer Take A Look At Yourself, although excitement's in pretty short supply here, sadly.
Ted Taylor plays a waiflike Mellotron string part on The Sun Keeps Right On Shining to no particular effect, while the strings on Everybody's Got To Have A Song are real. So; pleasant enough, but wispy and generally unengaging to ears attuned to rock of a slightly more solid nature. The band quietly faded away after Miracle Lick's commercial failure; amusingly, bassist Monte Melnick went on to tour-manage the mighty Ramones for many years, which might just be their premier contribution to the World Of Rock.