Accordo dei Contrari
Acid Baby Jesus
Agents of Mercy
All Night Radio
All Over Everywhere
Sorry, Kid (2010, 36.29) **
Why Hitler Loved His Dog
A Little Rain Has Never Hurt No One
When a Law's Been Broken
What the World Needs Now is a Killer Storm
How I Hurt My Heels
|More or Less the Sort of Shit Ex-Lovers Get Restraining Orders for
2010's Sorry, Kid, is limp Dutch indie outfit A Balladeer's third album, released as Mr. A Balladeer, for some reason. Well, I can't argue with their name; this is essentially an album full of indie balladry, wet as water, When A Law's Been Broken being the nearest it gets to anything energetic.
René de Vries supposedly plays Mellotron on the amusingly-titled More Or Less The Sort Of Shit Ex-Lovers Get Restraining Orders For, but the choir on the track barely even sounds like a Mellotron sample. Get out of here. Incidentally, there's supposed to be Mellotron on their debut, 2006's Panama, but I'll only be able to comment when I track a copy down.
Radio Sputnik (2000, 66.38) ***½Steam
Who Walks Behind You
Arcturus (2005, 61.07) ***½Arcturus - Part 1
Arcturus - Part 2
ARC are two of the UK's most renowned synthesists, Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve, both known for their multitudinous solo albums, not to mention their other projects. I believe 2000's live Radio Sputnik is their second joint release, a darker and less generic record than those by many of their contemporaries, with more experimental use of their instruments than the usual 'make 'em sound like The Tangs' approach. As with most such, it's difficult to pinpoint individual highlights, but the overall effect is certainly more inventive than some I could name (but shan't). One or the other (or both?) of these gentlemen add Mellotron samples to most tracks, with choirs and strings all over the place, to generally pleasing effect, albeit a slightly ersatz one (note the obligatory German term thrown in there).
2005's Arcturus is a document of the duo's improvised set at the 2004 Hampshire Jam, essentially consisting of one extremely long track and one medium-long, in an unsurprisingly similar vein to Radio Sputnik. Once again, the duo do their level best not to sound like anyone else doing this stuff; the best term I can find to describe the synths around twenty minutes into Arcturus - Part 2 is 'slippery', quickly followed by some rare-for-EM (admittedly horribly sampled) piano work. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get very upfront flutes all over Arcturus - Part 1, unison cello and flute parts on Part 2, with string section later on, closing (in another unusual-for-EM crescendo) with choirs. Yup, a big crash-bang ending always does the trick... Anyway, more string section on Helicon makes for a decent enough samplotron release, although it would be so nice to hear an EM outfit outside the usual suspects using a real Mellotron occasionally. OK, often.
Although these are, in many ways, basically 'more of the usual', they do it well. Worth hearing.
See: Redshift | Reuter/Boddy
Le Notti di Salem (2000, 48.08) ***½Warning
Echi Nel Buio
Mr. Clive E Dr. Jones
Similia Similibus Curentur
Z.A.W. (Zombie Abiogenetic War)
I Warned You
Abiogenesi are on Italy's Black Widow label, which tells you everything you need to know about them if you're au fait with the scene: early '70s-inspired, organ- and guitar-heavy hard rock/prog, no modern rubbish. Despite a few weak moments, their third album, 2000's Le Notti di Salem, is an enjoyable listen for those into the style, although little of its material really stands out. It's notable for a guest appearance by flautist Clive Jones from the original Black Widow, which could be construed as completing the circle, I suppose. Best tracks? Maybe Similia Similibus Curentur and Z.A.W. (Zombie Abiogenetic War), but there's nothing here that offends.
Marco Cimino's credited with Mellotron, but I'll be amazed if it turns out to be real, although it's not as obviously sampled as many of the efforts in this part of the site. There's nothing on the first several tracks, but then we get murky choirs on Mr. Clive E Dr. Jones, similarly iffy strings on Similia Similibus Curentur and Z.A.W. (Zombie Abiogenetic War) and flutes here and there that pretty much merge with the real one on offer.
Overall, then, a decent enough effort from a band who only record occasionally, with a few tracks of (probably) sampled 'Tron. Fans of Black Widow, Uriah Heep et al. should almost certainly give this lot a listen.
Absu (2009, 53.41) ***
|Between the Absu of Eridu & Erech
Night Fire Canonization
...Of the Dead Who Never Rest in Their Tombs
Are the Attendance of Familiar Spirits...
a) Diversified Signs Inscribed
b) Our Earth of Black
|Magic(k) Square Cipher
In the Name of Auebothiabathabaithobeuee
Those of the Void Will Re-Enter
Ye Uttuku Spells
Twix Yesterday, the Day & the Morrow
Abzu (2011, 35.55) ***
Circles of the Oath
Skrying in the Spirit Vision
Ontologically, it Became Time & Space
|A Song for Ea
(b) A Myriad of Portals
(c) Third Tablet
(d) Warren of Imhullu
(e) The Waters - The Denizens
(f) E-A (Reprise)
Texans Absu play what they term 'mythological occult metal', somewhere between the death, black and thrash sub-genres (no, I'm not making this stuff up); my nephew (hi, Gabe) loves this lot, so I can't be too harsh. 2009's Absu (actually their seventh album) is, to my surprise, highly competent, despite the silly vocals, with supremely tight playing and reasonably inventive riffery all round, although I wouldn't go as far as to single out any particular tracks for praise. Drummer/mainman Proscriptor owns up to using sampled Mellotron, with string parts on a few tracks, although they're not exactly a defining feature of the album. To be honest, I could've done with this being a little shorter, but that's just selfishness on my part; I'm sure their fans are happy to listen to fifty-odd minutes of Absu in one go.
Two years on and Abzu is, basically, more of the same, guaranteed to keep the band's fans happy and to bore the rest of us rigid. In fairness, it's a good bit shorter than its predecessor and manages a degree of musical variation, the fourteen-minute, six-part A Song For Ea being about the most listenable thing here. Samplotron strings, flutes and choirs scattered across its length, used with surprising subtlety.
So; not my bag, but good at it anyway.
Violato Intatto (2017, 73.20) ****
E Verde è l'Ignoto Su Cui Corri
Di Eccezione in Variante
Eros vs Anteros
Il Violato Intatto
Accordo dei Contrari's second album, 2017's Violato Intatto, ups the ante from their 2011 debut, Kublai, in the prog/fusion crossover stakes, featuring not only a largish helping of saxophone, but also Deus ex Machina/PFM's Alessandro Bonetti's ripping violin on a couple of tracks. Highlights include the sax-led fusion of opener Folia Saxifraga, the magnificently-placed growling organ chords on Monodia and, as if to prove the band aren't entirely retro, the oddly contemporary delayed synth effects that open Shamash. The 'making of' video on YouTube shows us that while keys man Giovanni Parmeggiani plays fake Hammond, he uses real Rhodes, MiniMoog and ARP Odyssey, the last-named used to excellent effect with the filter squelches on Eros Vs Anteros. If the album has a fault, it's a little overlong and could probably have done with a bit of an edit; Idios Cosmos loses its way slightly, while the female vocals on the otherwise excellent E Verde È L'Ignoto Su Cui Corri (the album's only non-instrumental) sound rather out of place, but these are minor quibbles.
Parmeggiani plays credited Mellotron strings on E Verde È L'Ignoto Su Cui Corri, building up slowly towards the end of the seven-minute piece, although I'm afraid I'm unconvinced, not least because there's no sign of it in that 'making of' video. Well, you'd show off something that cool, wouldn't you! Wouldn't you? Anyway, hardly a reason not to invest in this really rather good album. Worth the effort.
Selected Recordings (2014, 39.56) ***
Row By Row
Night of Pan
Ayahuasca Blues (Unmanned Drone)
I'm Becoming a Man
You & Me
All of Your Love
Acid Baby Jesus, from Athens, play a frequently unhinged form of psychedelia, somewhere between Syd's Floyd and '90s shoegaze, which was, I suppose, a psych sub-genre anyway. I don't know for sure, but 2014's Selected Recordings might be their second album, a fuzzed-out drone-fest of material like opener Diogenes, Ayahuasca Blues and I'm Becoming A Man, alongside more straightforward numbers like the rather wonderful Who's First and Vegetable.
Markos Mazarakis is credited with Mellotron on You & Me, but the flutes are too smooth and the strings barely even sound Mellotronic. Decent enough, then, but the Mellotron's exceedingly doubtful.
An Army of Shapes Between Wars (2006, 62.53) *½
|Smoke and Mirrors
Oh My Dear it's Just Chemical Frustration
A Tornado; an Owl
120 Ways to Kill You: An Illustrated Children's Book
What Temperature Does Air Freeze at?
|The Other 90% of the Iceberg
Don't Shoot the Messenger (Not My Idea)
Attatched to the Fifth Story
The Blanket Truth
Mark Thomas Kluepfel's Action Action's second album manages the crafty trick of actually being even worse than their shoddy debut, dispensing with much of that release's landfill-indie sound for, er, landfill-electronica. The only tracks that stand out in any way from the morass of crud are probably The Game, which could be an Oasis outtake (not a recommendation, in case you hadn't guessed) and What Temperature Does Air Freeze At?, with its woozy, vaguely late '60s ambience. As if the rest of the album wasn't enraging enough, Kluepfel chooses to loop a little guitar/synth section for over six minutes at the end of the album, for no obviously good reason. Certainly not 'art'.
The 'Mellotron' is quite clearly sampled, if quite heavily used, with a couple of string swells at the beginning of opener Smoke And Mirrors, block string chords in Oh My Dear It's Just Chemical Frustration, more of the same in Sleep Paralysis, background strings in The Game and 120 Ways To Kill You, while What Temperature Does Air Freeze At? opens with a solo flute part, followed by upfront strings, which really give the sample game away. More upfront strings on The Other 90% Of The Iceberg and Attatched To The Fifth Story, assuming anyone actually cares by this point. Kluepfel's third (and, to date, last) album under this name was self-released in 2010, so he might just have taken the hint and stopped trying to make music.
See: Action Action
Mr. Wonderful (2015, 49.23) **½
|Brand New Car
Thug Love Story
City Boy Blues
A Light in the Addict
Only in America
The Passage (Live From Prague)
Queens, NYC resident Ariyan "Action Bronson" Arslani's third album, 2015's Mr. Wonderful, diverges sharply from the hip-hop mainstream, many of its tracks featuring (albeit frequently sampled) jazz and '70s pop/rock influences. Fellow New Yorker Billy Joel has also been mentioned, his style of piano jazz/pop cropping up on one of the album's more listenable tracks, The Rising, while Only In America is based around a looped section from a perfectly acceptable bit of unidentified '80s rock. Does all this make for a good (or at least passable) album? If Mr. Bronson cut all the usual hip-hop nonsense, then yes, but he doesn't, so not really, no.
Leon Michels is credited with Mellotron (and vibes) on Baby Blue, although exactly how and where he plays it will have to remain a mystery. The vibraphone is (obviously) real, while the repeating massed vocal line sounds like a sampled phrase from actual backing singers. OK, OK, the Mellotron choir is, of course, actual singers, recorded around 1972, but that's not what we're hearing here. The brass part at the end of the song? A trumpet. So, was an actual Mellotron present in the studio? Who knows? Unless you're into the more musical end of hip-hop, it's all rather academic, anyway.
Skyward (2004, 67.56) ***
State of the Art Love Song
Transcendence (Culture of Hospice)
Not One of My Better Days
The Milwaukee Song
| Shit-Eating Grin
Cul-de-Sacs of Venus
Go Forth, Son of Mother Earth
Ever Weightless (including The Cosmic Waltz)
Acuity are not so much a band as a solo project; Bradley Styles plays and sings almost everything on his debut, Skyward, with the exception of a violin solo by Matthew Parmenter, ex-Discipline. Styles' talents vary in different areas, from perfectly good guitar, bass and keyboard work to so-so drumming and, to be honest, pretty poor vocals. The album draws heavily on the progressive metal genre, although it reminds the listener of Rush and their ilk in places, too, particularly on one of the album's finest moments, the closing riff in Voyager. Unfortunately, Styles' ambitions rather outweigh his talents, with whole sections that, if excised, would actually improve the album. Like many similar efforts, it's also far too long, and should probably have been capped somewhere in the three quarter-hour zone.
There's no 'Tron input until track three, Milwaukee, and it sounds OK until a high-speed flute part suddenly cuts in, obviously sequenced. In other words... Clearly samples. Unlike many similar efforts, Styles doesn't over-use them, and plays them sympathetically, making them sound pretty authentic in the mix. The usual strings and choir can also be heard on Cul-De-Sacs Of Venus (alongside Parmenter's contribution) and Voyager, particularly nicely on the former, possibly the best piece on the album. In fact, it's a shame Styles feels he has to riff so hard so often, as his compositional talents seem to lie more in the progressive area. Sorry to be so hard on this album, as he's obviously operating on a tight budget, but listening to less Dream Theater would improve his style no end, as would a healthy dose of self-editing.
Ad Infinitum (1998, 77.34) **½
Physician Heal Thyself
A Winter's Tale
All Hallows Eve
|Neither Here Nor There
Ad Infinitum (Reprise)
Ad Infinitum's sole, eponymous album, was one of US neo- kings Kinesis' last releases, and fits firmly into the label's standard remit, being unimaginative, by-numbers neo-prog, although not as bad as some I've heard, chiefly other albums on Kinesis. In fairness, they do try to be interesting, but there are far too many bland, bog-standard chord sequences played for several minutes on end to actually hold the attention of the discerning prog fan for long. Then there's Todd Braverman's voice... I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's the chief reason I couldn't listen to this album in one sitting. His strained, whiny tones grate on the (or at least my) ear, and when combined with lyrics like, "Awaken in a mystic land/beyond the edge of time." Ouch... Fewer histrionics might've been nice, Mr.Braverman. Anyway, All Hallows Eve is about the best thing here, sounding an awful lot like (guess who) early Genesis, right down to Braverman's cod-Gabriel tones.
The band's one real coup was to secure the services of a little-known British illustrator by the name of Roger Dean to paint them a typically-Deanlike cover; the end result looks a bit like one of his backgrounds before he does something interesting to it, and was probably knocked out on a rainy Sunday afternoon, in the knowledge that the band would be ecstatic with almost anything he chose to throw at them. I'm reminded of Paul Whitehead's recent work (Submarine Silence, Colossus/Musea's Colossus of Rhodes project), where pale shadows of his early-'70s covers are treated like the second coming.
To clear up a persistent misunderstanding, there is NO Mellotron on this album. OK, I know the thanks list says, "Jim Rezek of Iluvatar for the Mellotron M400", but I've no idea why, as upon close scrutiny of the equipment list, despite several bits of decent vintage kit (Prophet, ARP Pro-Soloist, MiniMoog, Taurus), there's no mention of either a Hammond or a Mellotron, but every mention of the E-mu Vintage Keys and a Roland JV-1080 with both vintage synth cards. These are quite clearly what can be heard on a few tracks; in fact, I don't think Braverman or Ilan Goldman use anything other than the E-mu module, as the 'Mellotron' sounds have that awful murky, muted sound to them that seems to be the hallmark of those particular samples. So no, no 'Tron, just some highly unimaginative sample use.
So; do you buy Ad Infinitum? No. It's overlong, boring, and the singer makes me want to hit him. Fairly grotty sampled 'Tron, too.
A Shut-in's Prayer (2012, 34.35) *½
Christmas in Oakland
Goldfish in a Robin's Nest
|My Sister's Birthday
The Sister You Never Had
Shut-in River Blues
Advance Base are essentially Owen Ashworth, formerly of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, whose debut, 2012's A Shut-in's Prayer, is practically a case of 'text-book indie', every track a simplistic dirge, with little melodic invention. Harsh? But fair. I'm not sure why this degraded form of 'pop' has become so popular, but, when trawling through yet another indie release, I sometimes yearn for even a smidgeon of illumination, to light the indie shadows of dread. This album is miserabilism at its finest (?), My Sister's Birthday being a particularly dreary example.
Ashworth plays credited Mellotron samples on Christmas In Oakland and Goldfish In A Robin's Nest, with muted flutes on both, not especially enhancing either. Don't bother. No, really. And I really quite liked Casiotone...
See: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Nova Cara (2001, 51.52) ***
|Som de Ug
Capa de Revista
Explosão do Rio
Hino de Abadá/Tem Que Ter Moral
|Iguais Sobrepondo Iguais
At least in the eyes of the outside world, AfroReggae are intimately linked with 2005 documentary Favela Rising, which details Anderson Sá's heroic efforts to form a movement intended to stop disenfranchised kids in Rio de Janeiro joining gangs and getting involved in drugs. Exceedingly worthy, but does it produce good music? Unsurprisingly, on 2001's Nova Cara, the collective concentrate on hip-hop and funk, mixed with traditional Latin forms, 'tribal' chanting and a well thought-out rock/rap hybrid. The music's far enough from my personal comfort zone to make it difficult to review at all, although its quality is evident in its cross-genre experimentation, light years ahead of most of what passes as hip-hop.
Apollo 9 produces, playing Clavinet and Mellotron himself, although it's pretty much impossible to tell where either might be heard, the occasional keyboard strings being so generic that they could come from almost anything, so into samples it goes. So; music that needs to be made and an organisation that needs to exist. Nova Cara is a joyful album, despite its background of poverty and violence, but it contains no obvious Mellotron and is something in which the average Planet Mellotron reader is unlikely to be interested.
The Serpent & the Sphere (2014, 59.44) ***½Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation
The Astral Dialogue
Dark Matter Gods
Cor Serpentis (the Sphere)
Vales Beyond Dimension
Plateau of the Ages
Named for a rare wood product used for incense, Agalloch's fifth and final album, 2014's The Serpent & the Sphere, is surprisingly good, combining black metal, progressive metal and folk in roughly equal quantities, to pretty decent effect. The band have apparently moved through several phases, including a post-rock one, but their ultimate release seems closer to their metal roots than anything else. Best tracks? The short acoustic pieces, (Serpens Caput), Cor Serpentis and (Serpens Cauda), are all excellent, while longer, heavier material such as opener Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation and Plateau Of The Ages show off the band's strengths.
Although guitarist Don Anderson is credited with Mellotron, the strings on Birth And Death Of The Pillars Of Creation do little to convince, frankly. Given how good this is, I'm sad to report that the band split in 2016, although, given that three of the four members have regrouped under a new name, I suspect unresolved intra-band tensions were involved.
Imageness (1998, 52.57) **
|Line of Force
Sequels (the Feast of Fools)
i. High on the Cloud
iv. Royal Flush
|v. Do the Chase
vi. The Way
iix. Second Line of Force
xi. Final Clause
Ageness are a Finnish neo-prog troupe who rose from the ashes of terrible '80s outfit Scarab, whose sole album should be avoided at all costs. Ageness' third album in this formation, 1998's Imageness, is a thoroughly clichéd neo- effort, touchstones including Genesis (assuming they couldn't write), Rush (assuming they couldn't play) and Asia, particularly in the awful, parpy synth parts splattered all over the album. Their worst crime, though, is the ten-part, twenty-six minute Sequels (The Feast Of Fools) that closes the record, almost a redefinition of the word 'hubris', the band massively overreaching and falling flat on their faces, that level of composition being way beyond their abilities. Prog/AOR epic, anyone? Thought not. Incidentally, I'm quite sure that at one point, I heard the lyrics, "The Jews of Kensal Green". What?
Vocalist/keys man Tommy Eriksson adds sampled Mellotron choir to Chain Reaction, Metamorphosis and Sequels, plus strings on the last-named. I'm struggling to think of anything nice to say about this album. It could've been longer? Eriksson's vocals could've been even worse? The keyboard sounds could've been nastier? No, scrap that one. Sorry, but this is a bloated, cheesy mess; if you love intricate, well-composed progressive rock, I can only advise you to go elsewhere.
Radioworld (1999, 68.15) **½Another Rhythm
Plug & Pray
Everything I Do
Agent Error are German synthesist Richard Baumbach's solo project, which I've seen rather optimistically described as 'if Tangerine Dream was still making good innovative music'. 1999's Radioworld is more 'techno-informed electronica that sounds ever so slightly like the Tangs in places', which just goes to show that online reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt. Er... Anyway, while the album has its moments, the bulk of it consists of minor-key synth chords held for minutes on end, riding over rhythms that might have been current at the time. Incidentally, did he really think we weren't going to notice the Welcome To The Machine sample at the beginning of Plug & Pray?
CD Baby states that 'many vintage electronic instruments guide the career of Richard: Mellotron, early PPG's 1002, 360 and many others', which isn't exactly the same thing as saying 'Richard plays Mellotron on this album'. Actually, it isn't even slightly like saying it. As a result, we get vaguely Mellotronic, clearly sampled strings on opener Another Rhythm and Plug & Pray and even more vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Radioworld II, leaving the slightly less vague flutes on closer Everything I Do as the closest this gets to 'Mellotron', which really isn't that close.
The Fading Ghosts of Twilight (2009, 77.44) ***
|The Fading Ghosts of Twilight
The Unwanted Brother
Heroes & Beacons
Jesus on the Barracades
Wait for the Sun
A Different Sun
Ready to Fly
|People Like Us
A Soldiers Tale
Bomb Inside Her Heart
Mercy & Mercury
DramaRama (2010, 71.22) ***
|The Duke of Sadness
Last Few Grains of Hope
Meet Johnnie Walker
The Ballad of Mary Chilton
|Roger the Tailor
We Have Been Freed
The Black Forest (2011, 56.00) **½The Black Forest
A Quiet Little Town
Between Sun & Moon
Freak of Life
Kingdom of Heaven
Apparently, Agents of Mercy were originally intended to be The Flower Kings' Roine Stolt's acoustic project, until he teamed up with Unifaun's vocalist Nad Sylvan, at which point it became a more typical Flower Kings-type outfit. Is that a good thing? All depends on how you feel about The Flower Kings, I suppose; I'm of the opinion that there's already far too much music about that sounds just like this, but then, I'm an old cynic. They have loads of fans who hang on their every utterance, so what do I know?
Actually, I know that I didn't really need to hear their debut, 2009's The Fading Ghosts of Twilight, but there you go. Aside from the vocals (and then not that much), it just sounds like another TFK-esque band, all of Stolt's usual harmonic quirks present and correct, not to mention their propensity for ludicrously overlong albums; almost eighty minutes in this case. Oh well, look on the bright side; it could've been a two-discer. It's not exactly the most original thing around, either; the title track rips off Genesis' Broadway Melody Of 1974 horribly - did they think no-one would notice? There's another Lamb... cop on Wait For The Sun, but I'm still trying to place it, while Ready To Fly has more than a hint of Jethro Tull about it, which at least makes a change from the usual suspects. Biggo Zelfries is credited with 'Mellotron', strings and choirs all over the place, yet never sounding quite right, for the obvious good reason.
Wasting no time, the combo released DramaRama the following year, a slightly more diverse album, taking in influences from psych and glam, alongside the ubiquitous prog. We get more Genesis and Tull 'borrowings' on opener The Duke Of Sadness, with paeans to a well-known brand of whisky (Meet Johnnie Walker) and (I presume) Queen (Roger The Tailor), amongst the lyrical witticisms on offer. Incidentally, I'm sure I spotted the line, "Your own special way", on Conspiracy. Deliberate? Sylvan and Lalle Larsson play keys, including the usual samplotron stuff, particularly noticeable in a couple of places.
2011's The Black Forest, allied with a suspicious lack of activity on the Flower Kings front, begins to make it look possible/likely that Stolt has grown tired of his re-entrée into the prog arena and is more enamoured with his current side-project these days. Or not? Either way, it's the most TFK-sounding album they've yet made, losing most of its immediate predecessor's mild eclecticism and committing the unforgivable (but all too TFK-familiar) crime of being boring. Unlike the band's first two releases, I'm having trouble thinking of anything much to say about this at all, as nothing about it actually stands out in any way. Samplotron here and there, but it's just another soundset in the band's large palette, rather than something that leaps out at you. Oh well, at least it's shorter.
Do you buy anything by Agents of Mercy? Do you like The Flower Kings? It pretty much is that simple; they're not a total copy, but Stolt's overriding influence makes it a near run thing.
See: Roine Stolt | The Flower Kings | Karmakanic
MTV Unplugged (2014, 70.09) ***
Perdono y Olvido
Siempre en Mi Mente
La Chancla/El Chivo/Puño de Tierra
Entre dos Ríos
|Arriba Quemando el Sol
Pepe Aguilar is the son of major Latin star Antonio Aguilar, his own career kicking off at the beginning of the '90s. Despite being American, he's travelled firmly down the Spanish-language route and why not? It's a huge market and he's clearly good at what he does. Which is, going by 2014's MTV Unplugged, fairly standard Latin pop/rock, although the set could be slanted towards ballads, I suppose, due to its acoustic format. Better tracks? The percussive, accordion-driven Arriba Quemando El Sol and El Cascabel aren't so bad, although the brassy, mariachi-style Juan Colorado/Chaparrita might be a bit much for Eurocentric listeners.
No fewer that three Mellotron players are credited, Francis Durán, Dario Gonzalez and Carmen Ruiz; while the whole concert's on YouTube, the keyboard players are hidden in the shadows, so it's near-impossible to determine whether or not there's a real Mellotron on stage. My suspicion is 'not', unsurprisingly, particularly when you hear the flutes on Miedo and El Cascabel, which could easily be generic samples, as against Mellotronic ones. So; kind-of unplugged Latin music, seems to do it well, no Mellotron.
Le Voyage dans la Lune (2012, 31.20) ***½
Retour sur Terre
Who am I Now?
Georges Méliès Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902; recognise the iconic image in the sleeve pic?) is generally regarded as the first science fiction film, although it makes for rather odd viewing today. After a good decades'-worth of work, a newly restored and colourised print was released in 2011, soundtracked by Air (well, Daft Punk wouldn't have made much of a job of it, would they?), although many of their contributions must sit rather uncomfortably with the onscreen action. It makes for a decent enough listen in its own right, though, notable tracks including opener Astronomic Club, Nicolas Godin channelling Robert Fripp (or possibly his disciple, France's very own Richard Pinhas) like mad, while Sonic Armada features some inventive synth work.
Although both Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel are credited with Mellotron on various tracks, the audio evidence suggests that a well-known sample set is what we're actually hearing. Astronomic Club features some rather inauthentic pitchbent male voices, while the cascade of church bells on Parade sound a lot like the ones on the best-known FX set. Far-too-fast flutes on Sonic Armada and far too clean ones on Who am I Now? cement my opinion, with more of the same on Homme Lune and Lava. Overall, a good, typically Air-y effort, although you might have thought that the abomination of mid-'80s Queen soundtracking a colourised Metropolis (admittedly, using pre-existing music) would've put bands off doing this for good.
|download (2015) **
Far From Home
Far From Home (Log S.'s Club Banger Remix)
Going by their Far From Home (download-only?) single, Texans Airplane Mode combine indie and electronica in a way that, sad to say, really isn't appealing to your humble scribe. The basic track is... OK (he said, grudgingly), in a dreary-indie-with-extra-added-synths kind of way, but the 'b-side' remix is as dreadful as you'd expect (sorry, no fan of the 'art' of remixing). Despite Log S.' credited Mellotron, the string swells on the 'A' sound little like a real machine and those on the flip even less so, to the point where I'm not even sure if they're anything more than generic string samples.
AirSculpture (UK) see:
The Rolling Thunder EP (2011, 24.45) **½Money for the Weekend
Driving With Myself
Based in Brooklyn, Alberta Cross are actually comprised of an Englishman and a Swede, although, going by 2011's The Rolling Thunder EP (yeah, yeah, Dylan, blah) their musical outlook seems to be as American as their adopted hometown. The short disc veers between rock'n'roll-crossed-with-U2's-slide-guitar opener Money For The Weekend, the jammed-out pseudo-Americana of Ramblin' Home (see what I mean about the American influence?), electronica/rock crossover Wait and the dreary post-rock of Driving With Myself and Rolling Thunder itself, making for something of a curate's egg.
Someone plays 'too smooth to be true' 'Mellotron' strings on Rolling Thunder, although they do little to improve the song. I haven't heard the duo's subsequent album, 2012's Songs of Patience, but I can only hope they've concentrated on their strengths, dropping the likes of this EP's last two tracks.
Sunny One Day (2007, 77.49) *½
Love Can Turn You Around
In Between Worlds
Sunny One Day
He Who Knows
Vivian Sessoms is a world-renowned backing vocalist, having worked with the likes of Ryuchi Sakamoto, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, while Chris Parks has produced many r'n'b artists and created music for games, amongst other entries on his résumé. The duo released 2007's Sunny One Day under the Albright moniker, an immensely proficient, yet simultaneously immensely tedious effort, full of workaday, by-numbers 'urban' nonsense, mostly a good two minutes longer than their content really warrants, the disc outliving its usefulness by a factor of at least two. Worst track? Probably the truly dismal reworking of Tainted Love, retitled Tainted, while the funky Ghettoland and Heroin' are about the best things here, although that really isn't much of a recommendation.
Sessoms is credited with Mellotron, with nothing obvious until Heroin', when the sample game is well and truly given away by her use of the MkII 'moving strings', which effectively nails her use down to the M-Tron sample set, while the muffled choirs on Searchin' and strings on closer Fadin' Out could hopefully never have emulated from a real machine. Sometimes there's a reason for sidemen/women to be in that position. Stick with what you're good at, guys.
Alco Frisbass (2014, 55.35) ****La Suspension Ethéréenne
Pas a Pas
La Danse du Pantin
Judith Coupeuse de Tête
Alco Frisbass are the duo of Fabrice "Chfab" Chouette and Patrick "Paskinel" Dufour, supposedly operating at the 'Canterbury' end of the progressive spectrum, although that description strikes me as a tad simplistic. The six tracks on their eponymous 2014 debut contain considerably more variety than your typical genre outfit, shifting between styles with a rapidity that would leave many bands standing, from jazzy Rhodes work through pure fusion to 'Mellotron'-driven symphonic in the blink of an eye. Guests include members of Minimum Vital and White Willow, while Stormy Six's Archimede De Martini's contributions on violin are superb.
Chouette adds Mellotron samples to pretty much every track, mostly chordal strings, with the occasional flute or choir part; it's a shame he couldn't have sourced a real machine for the recording, but there you go. How are the duo going to play live? When two musicians share most of the guitar, bass, keyboard and drum parts between them, something's got to give; sadly, I suppose they may remain a studio project. So, although it has its faults (sometimes it's possible to be too eclectic), Alco Frisbass should keep most open-minded prog fans happy. Worth the effort.
Enfantillages (2008, 50.10) ***
|On Ne Peut Rien Faire Quand on est Petit
J'Ai Peur du Noir
Les Oiseaux dans les Grands Magasins
La Remueuse (Anti-Berceuse)
Plus Tard Quand Tu Seras Grand
|Pour Louper l'École
Les Mots Mélangés
Pas Plus Compliqué Que Ça
Quelle Histoire de Fou!
Le Goûter Extraordinaire
Le Retour de Pépette
On M'a Volé Mon Nin-Nin!
After playing various style (including metal) in various bands, Guillaume Aldebert released his first solo album in 2000, 2008's Enfantillages being his fifth, a very French combination of chanson, folk, jazz and even a little reggae. Oh, and the aforementioned metal, in the form of schizophrenic closer On M'a Volé Mon Nin-Nin!, which switches between acoustic-guitar-and-child's-voice and raging heaviosity. Different, different...
Christophe Darlot is credited with Mellotron on Les Questions, but the song's flute part is most unconvincing, frankly. I'm not sure many Planet Mellotron readers will be that impressed by Aldebert, although he's perfectly good at what he does. Certainly not worth it for a soupçon of sampled Mellotron, anyway.
Spirit Stereo Frequency (2004, 42.10) ***½
|Daylight Till Dawn
We're on Our Wave
Fall Down 7
You'll Be on Your Own
All Night Radio
All Night Radio are the ex-Beachwood Sparks duo of Dave Scher and Jimi Hey, who've ditched the rump Americana of the last Beachwood release to go fully psychedelic on 2004's Spirit Stereo Frequency. Of course, the usual caveat applies; such a lysergically-inspired album can only sound like pastiche, unless the participants are preternaturally talented and/or inspired. The standard end result is an interesting, fun album with not a shred of originality in its digital grooves, and so it proves here. Opener Daylight Till Dawn rips off the riff from Crimson's The Court Of The Crimson King something rotten, although that's probably the most modern reference on the record, the rest of it sitting firmly in the 1966-67 bracket. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just not a very original one.
Somebody plays something vaguely Mellotronic across much of the album, but I'm quite sure it's sampled, going by some of the higher notes, not to mention a lack of any specific credit (most artists these days boast about using real tape-replay). Which, of course, brings up the issue of whether or not Beachwood Sparks used a real one? Probably not, but it sounds less fake than here... Anyway, not-particularly Mellotronic strings on around half the tracks, notably the solo part on the intro to Anchovya Suite, plus what might be fakeotron flutes in places, though it's hard to tell. Overall, then, a good if highly derivative album, with plenty of sampled Mellotron, although the pair sadly packed it in later the same year. Now, about those Beachwood albums, chaps...
See: Beachwood Sparks
Inner Firmaments Decay (2010, 42.09) ***Art of the Earth
After All the Years
On a Dark Street
Until the Sun Begins to Fall
All Over Everywhere are another Dan Britton (Deluge Grander, Birds & Buildings) project; while still loosely 'progressive', 2010's Inner Firmaments Decay is as much post-rock as prog, containing some acreage of drifting, occasionally dissonant warblings, with female vocals for good measure. Saying that, Endless Night has a folky feel to it, while On A Dark Street is almost pop/prog/post-rock, if you can imagine that particular genre-clash, although the highpoint is probably ten-minute closer Gratitude, the nearest the album gets to full-on prog.
'Mellotron' strings on several tracks, notably The Shroud and Gratitude, although more generic string and organ sounds seem to be the album's keyboard mainstay. Overall, a decent album of its type, assuming you can actually identify its 'type'; prog fans will go for some of it, though probably not all.
See: Deluge Grander | Birds & Buildings
|7" (2017) ***
Autumn Dawn (Alternative Take)
LA's Allah-Las have nailed that breezy '60s California sound on 2017's Autumn Dawn (Alternative Take), as I'm told they have on their three albums to date. Think: Love, The Doors, The Byrds, even (musically, at least) The Mamas & the Papas and you won't be too far off the mark. Unlike many revivalists (deliberate or, as the band claim, accidental), they not only capture the spirit of the time, but ally it to decent tunes, a detail all too often forgotten, or ignored.
Although their Bandcamp page calls b-side Hereafter 'Mellotron-heavy', it all sounds too smooth for its own good to my ears, so this will remain here unless I get any reliable information to the contrary. Having not heard any of their albums, I can't comment on their wider appeal, but, going by these two tracks, they're at the very least worth hearing.
Serving Suggestion (2004, 49.53) ****
We Will Dance Someday
And There You Are
Ma(a)rtin Allcock was Fairport Convention's lead guitarist for over ten years, from 1985-96, also playing keys with Jethro Tull from '88-'91, amongst his many musical adventures since the mid-'70s. 2004's Serving Suggestion is his third (and to date, most recent) solo album, an appealing collection of material, both folky (Breathnach Reels, Hornpipes, Kerry Polkas) and not (the poppy We Will Dance Someday, the rocky Everything Changes), highlights including ethnic opener Murfatlar, the semi-ambient Hafelekar, and the beautiful New Breton. Actual 'best track' status, however, might just go to Maart's version of King Crimson's immortal Moonchild (from In the Court of the Crimson King, of course), nodding to the original's lengthy (and tedious) improv section with around two minutes of relatively structured improvisation after the song itself.
Although Maart refers to his 'Mellotron' several times in the sleevenotes, it's actually good ol' M-Tron (thanks for the info and CD, Maart), utilised on several tracks, with a string part in the middle eight of opener Murfatlar that resolves to an outrageously Epitaph-like crescendo and background string pads on Everything Changes and Hornpipes. The album's uncontested (and unsurprising) M-Tron highlight, however, is Moonchild, smothered in strings in exactly the way the original wasn't, although we all wish it had been. All in all, an excellent album that, due to the public's (limited) perception of Maart's role, has probably only sold to Fairport fans. OK, you're only getting Mellotron samples, but Moonchild not only almost makes this worth buying on its own, but is merely one of the best tracks from a very good album indeed. Buy.
See: Fairport Convention
It's Not Me, it's You (2009, 42.40) ***
|Everyone's at it
I Could Say
Back to the Start
Never Gonna Happen
|Who'd Have Known
He Wasn't There
Lily bleedin' Allen? Daughter of Keith bleedin' Allen? On Planet Mellotron? After her ubiquitous debut, 2006's irritating Alright, Still (find it in a charity shop near you), her second album, It's Not Me, it's You, is actually (wait for it) not that bad. Going by the standards of mainstream pop, of course. The music is essentially composed and played by producer Greg Kurstin, with Allen apparently 'singling along' to his creations, the end result being surprisingly cohesive; that'll be professional producers for you, then. Allen's mockney (mock Cockney, for non-Brits) has become more than a little tiresome, especially as she's known to have attended a series of public schools (i.e. private, for non-Brits again), despite her protestations that she grew up in a 'working-class environment'. Well, I'm sure your parents worked, dear. In fact, I know they did; I saw your dad in a production at the National.
So what's the music actually like, I hear you cry (albeit faintly). Well, it ain't bloody R&B, which is a blessed relief after some of the unmitigated crap I've listened to recently. 'Mainstream pop with vaguely interesting bits thrown in' is probably the best I can do. Allen's voice is ridiculously close-up and high in the mix; she's very much the selling-point here, and her record company clearly want her to be heard. Opener Everyone's At It features some interesting backwards electronica, Not Fair, with its uncomprehending, self-centred lyric dealing unsympathetically with the topic of premature ejaculation (It's not fair! Wah wah wah!) samples a talented banjoist for its unusual rave/country mix, Never Gonna Happen's French accordion raises eyebrows, while Fuck You is almost swing.
Lyrically, Allen is actually pretty talented (he says through gritted teeth), commenting dryly on what it means to be young these days (OK, young and wealthy. Whatever), tackling drug use (Everyone's At It), going-nowhere relationships (Never Gonna Happen) her dad (He Wasn't There) and even racism and loathsome politicians (Fuck You, Him), making vague amends for Not Fair. Best track? Fuck You has the best music and lyrics on the record, actually making me laugh out loud, and not just for its contentious title and chorus. Kurstin adds Mellotron string samples to I Could Say, or at least, they sound like samples. I could be wrong (as usual), but I'm probably not... Anyway, to my great surprise, a superior pop album, with some genuine lyrical insight, certainly compared to the industry's usual banalities.
Glimmer (2009, 44.54) ***½
She Lost the Sea But Found the Ocean
My Birthday, the Moon Festival
|Ich Geh' Mit Meiner Laterne
Petra Moved on
Andi Almqvist is a Swedish singer-songwriter whose work tends towards the gloomier end of the spectrum, which is good news for everyone who's sick of lightweight, glossy American types with perfect teeth and an ear for an overly catchy tune. Almqvist's third album, 2009's Glimmer, almost sounds like a mainstream, cleaned-up Tom Waits in places, if you replaced the battered 1920s instrumentation with something a little more, er, normal. Top tracks include She Lost The Sea But Found The Ocean, the amusing Krautobahn and closer Petra Moved On, but nothing here made this listener reach for the 'next' button. But what's with the 'fairground' sample from Queen's Brighton Rock on Ich Geh' Mit Meiner Laterne (and not for the first time, eh, Galactic Cowboys?)?
Almqvist, Carl Granberg and Bebe Risenfors are all credited with Mellotron, but its veracity is given away immediately, as almost the first sound you hear on opener Sleeping Pills is the MkII 'moving strings', seemingly becoming something of a favourite with many M-Tron users. The track also features queasy, slowly pitchbent strings, flutes and even vibes and while there's nothing obvious on She Lost The Sea But Found The Ocean, it sounds like bass accordion (?) on Death. So; a surprisingly listenable effort from an artist who didn't look too promising at first glance, despite obviously sampled Mellotron.
|CDS (2005) ***½
Time Will Tell (Radio Mix Edition)
Time Will Tell
Alon produces an interestingly arty type of laid-back pop; an American Coldplay with less angst, maybe? Going by his current press release, he seems to be aligning himself with the US progressive scene, strangely, and is actually going to appear at NEARfest 2005. Anyway, Time Will Tell is a taster for his forthcoming album, The Artist Manifesto: Document 1, and despite having been fairly obviously Pro-Tooled into oblivion, actually features real playing from real musicians, with largish helpings of acoustic guitar, real drums etc., along with the ubiquitous programmed variety. Alon's voice is quite affecting, too, and if all his material is up to this standard, and if the world were a fairer place, he'd stand as good a chance as any of invading bedsitland over the coming months, which is where his loyalties should really lie, I suspect.
Rather than the usual 'cheats', Alon openly credits himself with 'M-Tron', and indeed, 'Tron strings are splashed all over the single in a fairly pleasing manner. Of course, the rise of computer-based Mellotron sample packages means that you no longer even have to make the effort to buy a module containing said sounds, and it seems there's been an explosion in their use recently. You can just about tell the 'Tron here isn't real (too clean and even), but a well-maintained machine wouldn't sound that different, making 'Tron-spotting an increasingly difficult game, so thank you Alon for coming clean.
If the album's up to the quality of the single, and if Coldplay/'art-rock' are your bag, you could do a great deal worse than to invest in The Artist Manifesto: Document 1, although a less pretentious title might've been welcome.