In No Second Guesses, Jenni Alpert has managed to produce a record of quite outstanding dullness, wiffly singer-songwriter pop with a vaguely jazzy edge. No, there are no best tracks. Julian Coryell and Zac Rae are both credited with Mellotron. What, the strings on Breathe In? I think not.
Alpha are one of a number of second-division trip-hop outfits, and yes, they're from the Bristol area. The Impossible Thrill is their second album proper, following 1997's ComeFromHeaven and a remix set, '98's Pepper, and it fits fairly neatly into the quiet, low-fi end of the genre, eschewing overt beats for orchestration and melancholy. But is it any good? Matter of opinion, I suppose, as always; plenty of 'Net reviewers have gone ga-ga over it, but it left me pretty cold, but what do I know? Nicely done 'Mellotron' flutes on Al Sation from an unknown player, but with no obvious references to the machine and the sound's overly-pristine quality, I strongly suspect samples. This is the sort of album you want on in the background while being miserable, like a rhythmless Portishead, but don't come here looking for musical innovation.
As you might have guessed, Altar of Oblivion are a Danish metal band (sub-species unknown. Power?), whose near-hour long debut, Sinews of Anguish (stop laughing) is an interminable dirge of pointlessly over-stretched material, like Manowar on mogadons. The vocals are ridiculously portentous and overblown, though at least we're spared loads of widdly guitar, largely because the guitarist doesn't sound like he's up to it, I suspect, rather than for reasons of taste. Although now ex-drummer Lars Ström is credited with Mellotron, it all sounds decidedly fake to me. Strings on a few tracks with extra cellos on My Pinnacle Of Power and possibly choirs here and there, plus what sounds like quite generic string patches in places. Unless you're a metal must-have, I really wouldn't bother with this, and certainly not for the 'Mellotron'.
2012's half-hour Salvation EP/mini-album wins out over its predecessor, chiefly due to length, or lack of same. It pulls all the same moves, although possibly a little more professionally, which isn't really much of a recommendation. Ström on fakeotron again, with obviously-sampled strings on a couple of tracks, chiefly Threshold To Oblivion (My Wrecked Mind).
Echolyn disintegrated in disarray after their ill-advised major label venture, sundering into two camps, Finneus Gauge and Still, whose lone album, Always Almost, quickly became their new name, albeit for an unknown reason. The combo's second release of 1997, God Pounds His Nails, is a highly eclectic (and rather overlong) release, covering really quite mainstream rock (opener Pretty Fine Day, Silence And Rumor), hard rock (React Me, Five Doors) and, of course, a good dose of prog, not least the Echolyn-esque While I Was Away. Other highlights include the brief, acoustic West Point (spot the banjo) and closer Aspirations, which bears comparison with Zep's No Quarter. J(ohn). Avarese is credited with Mellotron, but as on the Still album, all I can say is, "I think not..." The only definite samples are the strings on Five Doors, leaving the wishy-washy strings on the Zep-esque (again) React Me and flutes on Bye Bye Dreary Kitty as 'unsures', as if it actually matters. I can't imagine there are too many people out there who like all of this album, but I'm sure that many like some of it and many more would, too, if only they got the chance to hear it.
Amandine are a Swedish sort-of Americana four-piece, whose debut, 2005's This is Where Our Hearts Collide, showcases their laid-back, vaguely Neil Young-ish approach with aplomb. 'Best tracks' include opener For All The Marbles, the string-laden, waltz-time Halo, the sparse Fathers & Sons, complete with picked banjo and closer Heart Tremor, particularly at around three minutes in, when it suddenly doubles its pace, but there actually isn't a single genuinely weak track here, which is rare enough to be worthy of comment. If I have a criticism, Olof Gidlöf's vocals are sometimes so transparent that they approach invisibility, but that is, frankly, nit-picking. Ove Andersson adds supposed Mellotron flutes to Firefly, if only just. I haven't heard 2006's Leave Out the Sad Parts EP, but the following year's Solace in Sore Hands carries on the good work, at its best on opener Faintest Of Sparks, Standing In Line and mournful, brass-led closer New Morning. Andersson's flutes on Faintest Of Sparks and possibly elsewhere are clearly not actually Mellotron-generated.
Top-selling Spanish duo Amaral, named for vocalist Eva Amaral, play a kind of Latin-infused pop/rock, tailor-made to appeal to the Spanish market, not necessarily in an opportunistic way, I suspect. 2005's Pajaros en la Cabeza (their fourth album) sounds like the kind of music Spanish twenty- and thirty-somethings might listen to when they've grown out of their various teenage phases: tuneful, slightly 'alt.rock', with plenty of local stylistic input, some tracks (Revolución, Big Bang) sounding more sub-U2 than others, with plenty of Mediterranean balladry. Guitarist Juan Aguirre, crediting himself as "Los Aguirre", plays supposed Mellotron, with flutes all over opener El Universo Sobre Mí.
Amarok (the Inuit word for 'wolf', also used as an album title by Mike Oldfield) are an extremely pleasant surprise; a modern progressive band who don't sound like either a poor cousin of Arena or an unholy cross between Dream Theater and Spock's Beard. They mix old-school symphonic progressive rock with Spanish and 'World' influences, incorporating any number of unusual acoustic instruments (saz, dulcimer, kalimba, and many neither you nor I have ever heard of) into their sound, making for a wonderful hybrid of prog and folk, sounding like no-one else. They are apparently heavily into the environment, going as far as to record 2000's Tierra de Especias (their fourth album overall) entirely using solar power. That album and its follow-up, 2002's Mujer Luna, are recommended to everyone looking for something a little different in their prog, with great material and a genuinely original sound. Sadly, their latest release reviewed here, 2004's Quentadharkën, is also their weakest, suffering from the twin handicaps of over-length and not enough top-notch material, leading them to even include a brief and unnecessary drum solo in the rather average Labirintos De Piedra, but is still worth hearing compared to the bulk of the current scene.
2007's Sol de Medianoche is a step back in the right direction; not short, but rather shorter than its less illustrious predecessor. Top tracks include opener Sephiroth, the Chinese-flavoured Xiöngmao I and the lengthy Midnight Sun, while, instrumentally, the hammer dulcimer section on Ishak The Fisherman is especially noteworthy. Samplotron strings on strings on opener Sephiroth, Wendigo, Ishak The Fisherman and Midnight Sun, but as usual, it's a minor player in their instrumental palette. All of these albums feature sampled Mellotron, far too 'smooth' to be the real thing; listen to Tierra Boreal from Quentadharkën to hear a classic example of 'stretched' choir. None of them over-use it, which is good to hear, compared with any number of bands I've heard slathering samples over their album like an overly-thick layer of cheap margarine on a horrid white-bread sandwich. Individual performances are sort of irrelevant; suffice to say, they're used with taste throughout, in keeping with the excellent music.
Amaze Knight are an Italian progressive metal outfit, who released their debut, The Key, in 2012. Unsurprisingly, it's influenced (of course) by market leaders Dream Theater, although the band throw in a few typically Italian touches, especially in the quieter sections, notably the solo piano part in best track, the third part of Liberation, A New Day. Generally speaking, all five tracks hover around the ten-minute mark and show a better understanding of long-form construction and dynamics than many of their contemporaries, although they revert to generic downtuned riffology too often for this listener's tastes. Max Tempia plays keys, including real Hammond and sampled Mellotron, with string chords and a flute line on part two of Liberation, The Reflection, although that would appear to be our lot.
Oren Ambarchi's Audience of One is a drone-fest of monumental proportions, especially on the 33-minute Knots, which you'll quite certainly either love or hate. Although he subsequently used a real Mellotron on 2014's Shade Themes From Kairos, here he utilises nothing more exciting than a few seconds of flute samples on Salt, although nothing on the credited Fractured Mirror (written by none other than Ace Frehley, fact fans).
Ambeon are a bit of an oddity: essentially an Ayreon side-project, their sole album, 2001's Fate of a Dreamer, consists largely of remixed portions of Ayreon albums, overlaid with Astrid van der Veen's vocals and lyrics. The project's name is a portmanteau of ambient and Ayreon, which is about right. While I've listened to the entire Ayreon catalogue, I don't know any of the music well enough to spot from where Arjen Anthony Lucassen might have lifted anything, although I'm sure his dedicated fans will have pored over this album with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. Better sections include the Celtic-flavoured Lost Message, complete with its synth intro and, again, the synth work on original album closer Dreamer, but, as with Ayreon, it's all a bit too overblown for my tastes.
I doubt whether any of the album's samplotron parts are actually new recordings, which puts it into the unusual (though not unique: see Eminem) position of containing samples of whole musical phrases, albeit in this case of something that was only ever sampled in the first place. Anyway, we get choirs on Cold Metal, strings and choirs on Fate, strings on Sick Ceremony, super-extended choirs on Sweet Little Brother and choirs on bonus tracks Merry-Go-Round and the High remix. It seems that Van der Veen (all of fourteen when she recorded this) has given up music to concentrate on painting, to the chagrin of fans of the genre. Surely the current vogue for 'symphonic metal' (gah!) should bring her, now in her mid-twenties, back out of retirement? Incidentally, a two-disc special edition was also available, adding a far superior unplugged version of the whole album, all acoustic guitar, cello and flute.
Amber Light fall somewhere between 'typical' modern prog and the Talk Talk/Porcupine Tree, combining 'trad' prog moves with an almost post-rock sensibility in places. However, their debut album, 2004's Goodbye to Dusk, Farewell to Dawn, does rather outstay its welcome at over an hour, with overlong tracks like Clock Hands Heart and New Day, while Hide Inside is an irritatingly poppy effort, particularly in the vocal department. The album does have its better points, but they're all too often hidden behind what sometimes feels like hour upon hour of 'emotional' vocal work and an unfortunate tendency to attempt a 'crescendo-lite' style of writing, like applying Godspeed, You! Black Emperor's chief defining feature to a song-based aesthetic. Vocalist/guitarist Louis Gabbiani also plays the album's keyboard work, including samplotron on a couple of tracks, with block chord flutes on Devil Song and distant choirs on Gangsters.
Ambulette were one of Denali frontwoman Maura Davis' projects, who managed just the one release, 2006's The Lottery EP, before splitting up. It's pretty typical female-fronted US indie, to be honest, occasionally cranking up the volume, but defaulting to dreary miserablism at the first opportunity. Seconds Until Midnight is probably the most energetic track, but that's not a recommendation as such, merely a comment. Guitarist Ryan Rapsys and bassist Matt Clark are both credited with Mellotron, with some not wildly Mellotronic-sounding strings on Seconds Until Midnight, while the mooted Mellotron on Fall seems to be sustained guitar.
Jusqu'à la Mer is an album with a distinctly folky bent, chiefly of a Gallic nature, highlights including opener Voyager Léger, Les Filles Des Forges and Les Vents De Brume. Two gentlemen are credited with Mellotron, Olivier Longre on Mon Ami and Mes Très Chers and someone calling himself Bruz on Tout De Nous, but the flutes on all three tracks fail to convince.
American Babies are a Philadelphia-based Americana outfit, led by Tom Hamilton, nothing to do with any other Tom Hamilton you might know. Musically, the bulk of their eponymous debut sounds as much like '65 Dylan as anything else (Invite Your Friends, Brooklyn Bridge), although it has its quieter tracks, notably haunted closer Never Be Loved Like This Again. Stewart Myers is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with (sampled Chamby?) strings on Swimming At Night, although I'll be buggered if I can hear where else they might be used; even the album's vibes are real.
Amoeba Split (from north-east Spain) have taken nearly ten years to release their debut, 2010's Dance of the Goodbyes, a lengthy, Canterbury-esque offering of wildly disparate track lengths that occasionally cuts Soft Machine and Hatfield & the North a little too close for comfort. Rather like its track lengths, this is, in some ways, an album of extremes: on the downside, flautist María Toro frequently sings flat, although she's developed a technique of sliding into notes that often sidesteps the problem. On the upside, however, the material's excellent, as is the playing, shifting between 'that Canterbury sound' and a more straightforward form of prog on different tracks. Highlights? For Canterbury fans, definitely twenty three-minute, four-part closer Flight To Nowhere, although more 'mainstream' (I use the term extremely loosely) progressive fans may well prefer the likes of Perfumed Garden.
Keys man Ricardo Castro Varela is credited with Mellotron, but I'm afraid I'm a doubting Thomas (doubting Thompson?), particularly when I hear the rare viola tapes on Perfumed Garden (along with flutes), other usage including strings and choirs on Blessed Water and rather England-esque strings towards the end of Flight To Nowhere. Well, real or sampled Mellotron, this is a fine album, although those of you with a low Canterbury tolerance (which sort-of includes me, to be honest) may not really go for it.
Two Amon Düül II albums feature US ex-pat Jimmy Jackson on 'choir-organ'. What does it sound like? Well, ostensibly like Mellotron choir, but right at the beginning of 1971's Dance of the Lemmings, there's a chord that probably holds for 30 seconds or more, although it doesn't 'alf sound like the classic 8-choir. Allegedly, it was a one-off machine, possibly from the '50s, Jackson being the only person who could get a decent sound out of it; I believe it was far more complex than a Mellotron (!), although very little hard information is available on the subject. It's now supposed to reside in a museum somewhere in Germany. WHERE? For what it's worth, Florian Fricke also used it on various Popol Vuh releases, principally Aguirre: Wrath of God. Werner Herzog (I think) had this to say about it:
|"I've always worked very hard to select the music, but, in doing so, I've usually worked very closely with my friend Florian Fricke. For example, to create the music that is used in the opening of Aguirre we used a very strange instrument which we called a 'choir-organ'. This instrument has inside it three dozen different tapes running parallel to each other in loops. The first of these tapes has the pitch in fifths, and the next has the whole scale. All these tapes are running at the same time, and there is a keyboard on which you can play them like on a organ so that, when you push one particular key, a certain loop will go on forever and sound just like a human choir but yet, at the same time, very artificial and really quite eerie".|
Now, if you can make any sense out of that description... So who actually named the instrument, anyway? And who built it? And when? The album, by the way (which also goes for its follow-up, Wolf City), is that peculiarly Germanic form of prog, mixed with jazz, blues and psych, that I suppose falls into the 'krautrock' category. English vocals, some jamming, generally fairly freaked-out, probably best heard when out of one's tree, which isn't to denigrate the albums in any way.
Amorphous Androgynous are, essentially, The Future Sound of London's psych side-project, with practically all of their dance influences removed, leaving... rather second-rate psych, to be honest. Their first album under this moniker, The Isness, was released under the FSoL banner in the States for 'commercial reasons' (bet that pleased the band) and while it has its moments (the first half of closer The Galaxial Pharmaceutical), it generally falls a bit flat compared to other revivalists, I'm afraid to say. I'm almost certainly missing some major point here connected with the UK dance scene, but that's the way it goes. Anyway, the credited 'Mellotron' here (from Mike Rowe, almost certainly sampled, as on FSoL's Papua New Guinea Translations) is the background choirs on The Mello Hippo Disco Show, itself the basis for the eight-track 'single' released from the album, more of the same on Divinty and cellos on The Galaxial Pharmaceutical.
The Mello Hippo Disco Show appears to be classed as a single, although it has eight tracks and is over 30 minutes long. Sounds like a short album to me, squire... Is this standard in the dance demi-monde? Anyway, the bloody thing's interminable, despite its relatively short length, featuring variations on the title track and other stuff which may or may not be connected to it. As for Rowe's 'Mellotron', there are flutes on opener Yo-Yo, with more of the same on Hippo-Drone, but I'm quite certain it's all sampled. Three years on, Alice in Ultraland somewhat overreaches itself, as the band delve into the heart (of darkness) of the era, coming up spluttering, having unearthed Hammond solos (several tracks), tabla-driven hippy freakouts (The Witchfinder), early '70s funk (Prophet) and third-rate singer-songwriter guff (High And Dry), amongst other era tropes, many better left buried. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get a solo flute part on All Is Harvest and choir chords on The World Is Full of Plankton, the former actually sounding pretty good. Note that Capitol elected to resurrect the Harvest label for the release, clearly having more faith in its 'psych' credentials than this listener.
Shawn Amos is the only son of Shirlee Ellis, a.k.a. Shirl-ee May, a nightclub singer in the early '60s who suffered from schizoaffective disorder, committing suicide in 2003. After her death, Amos learned about her past and wrote and recorded Thank You Shirl-ee May (a Love Story). Musically, it shifts between supper-club jazz and more contemporary singer-songwriter stylings, telling his mother's story to the best of his ability; not my personal bag, but done with love and no little talent, featuring guests along the lines of Garrison Starr as Shirl-ee May herself. Anthony Marinelli's credited with Mellotron, but the faint flutes on the opening title track (and elsewhere) really aren't.
If you've never heard Tori Amos, think 'American Kate Bush' and you can't go too far wrong. After several releases, she's developed something of her own style, but her voice is still a dead ringer for Kate's, with no obvious American inflections whatsoever, not helped by her admittedly excellent piano playing. Mind you, top marks for inventing the concept of 'rock'n'roll harpsichord' on a previous album... From what I've heard of Tori's music, From the Choirgirl Hotel is fairly typical, with the vocals right up in the mix and quite dry, to give that 'intimate' feel. The musicianship's excellent all round, and the songs are well-constructed, and I get the feeling that if I gave them the chance, many of them would worm their way into my subconscious for ever more. She's credited with 'Mellotron' on two tracks, i i e e e (strings) and She's Your Cocaine (flutes), but has admitted in an interview that they're samples. Naughty. Actually, the strings sound pretty awful, but the flutes are good enough to fool moi, for what it's worth.
Amundsen (presumably named for their polar-trekking national hero) are (or were) a psychedelic indie outfit, going by their eponymous 2003 release. Psychedelic indie? Like psych, but less good. The album's at its best on the lengthy The Sorrow, but much of the rest of the material's too anodyne for its own good. Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim (a host of Norwegian acts) supposedly plays Mellotron; it actually sounds pretty authentic in places, with choirs on opener Kama Sutra (The Wind) and The Moonwalker, plus heavy string use and more choirs on The Sorrow, but the final chord on the last-named goes on for ever. Studio trickery? Samples?
Former child star Anahí (Giovanna Puente Portilla de Velasco) is an actress, a singer and a politician's wife whose career began at the age of two (!), Mi Delirio being her fifth album, a no-doubt intoxicating mix of Latin pop, EDM and metal guitar, although I can't say it intoxicated me. I don't know why producer Armando Avila even bothers crediting himself with Mellotron, when not only does he clearly not use one, but his productions don't even feature the sound. Meaningless.
Analog Birds, led by James Ward (a.k.a. Asa Milbankx), seem to've led a precarious existence for a number of years, managing to release a handful of albums in the process. 2004's Don't Let it Slow You Down is a very contemporary mostly-electronica effort, although the band insert snippets of other genres to keep the listener guessing, stronger tracks including the pseudo-orchestral Green City and closer Who's Fearless. Ward plays what just might be (but actually isn't) a real Mellotron on Who's Fearless, with weedy strings meandering their way through the track and a more upfront flute part at the end, sounding as if it chokes off, albeit after only four or five seconds (a Mellotron's tape length is eight).
2007's Musique Concrete is a more mainstream effort, all assuming that your concept of 'mainstream' incorporates a strange indie/prog/psych crossover, almost entirely dissimilar to its predecessor. Better tracks include wistful opener Arbiters Grounds, Jingo, with its sitars and pseudo-Arabic strings and the indie/electronica of Infidel$$$, the album's most obvious nod to Don't Let it Slow You Down. Fakeotron on most tracks, with intertwining flute lines all over Arbiters Grounds, less of the same on Jingo, Blue River In My Backyard, Safety Boat (plus strings) and The Girl In The Doorway, plus cellos on Jewels Of Savannah.
Seven years on, 2014's psychedelic mini-album Anti-Presence (in reality, only EP length) is a real game-changer, distinct Beach Boys influences abounding, both vocally and instrumentally. Best track? I really can't nail one down; Over To You is the one Brian fans will love, while Exit Visa is the nearest they get to an 'epic', chopping and changing styles, sometimes from one line to the next. Samplotron? According to the release's possibly over-informative PDF, they're used under the final line on Exit Visa, but, y'know, if you didn't know they were there... Hardly a reason to get hold of this, but the inventive music is.
Anamude appears to be a female singer-songwriter from San Francisco, rather than the band I'd expected. In a similar vein, Pentimento seems to be more a demo than the completed album I'd expected, although I'm sure it's meant to sound like this. It has its moments, not least acoustic guitar piece Running and short instrumental The Train's Here, but I'm afraid Anamude's fragile, tentative voice isn't really up to delivering her compositions effectively. Adam Selzer may very well be credited with Mellotron, but the wavery flutes on Distance And The Flood and The Train's Here refuse to cut the mustard.
The L.A.-based Ancestors' Invisible White is either a short album or a long EP, a half-hour psychedelic blast that recalls pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd as much as anyone. The title track and Dust are decent enough, but the jewel in the record's crown is the fourteen-minute Epilogue, a fab, jammed-out excursion into the further reaches of the psyche, all assuming that psyche is ripped on industrial quantities of weed. Superb. Despite Jason Watkins' 'Mellotron' credit, the distant flute on Dust and the strings on most of the album sound pretty sampled to my ears. And let's not mention the choirs, eh? The following year's In Dreams & Time is a far heavier proposition all round, which sneaks up on you when you're not looking, then cudgels you into submission. One or two tracks of this stuff gets a bit dull, but an entire album makes perfect sense, in a radical turnaround from most bands, nineteen-minute closer First Light being the apotheosis of their style. Samplotron here and there, but barely relevant in the grand scheme of things.
The Anchoress, a.k.a. Catherine Anne Davies is something of a renaissance woman, it seems, past collaborators including Simple Minds, Nitin Sawhney and, er, Emmy the Great. Given her experimental background, her second (?) single, What Goes Around, is strangely old-school pop/rock, with a ridiculously catchy chorus, although four versions of it on one single are a bit much, to be honest. Mellotron? Davies is credited, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it, as the strings are real. The chances of the inaudible Mellotron being real are, however, infinitesimal, so into samples it goes.
I thought I recognised the name; And Also the Trees formed in 1979 and would've been written about in the early '80s music press. They never split and reformed, just kept doing what they do, 2003's Further From the Truth being their ninth album, a quiet-yet-faintly-ominous collection of songs in a vaguely Nick Cave-esque vein, although that probably does them little justice. Thinking about it, is this the band who invented indie? Or was that their mates The Cure? Steven Burrows plays credited Mellotron on a couple of tracks, with something chordal (flutes?) on The Reply and choirs on closer The Untangled Man, almost certainly sampled. I'm not quite sure for whom And Also the Trees are making music these days: themselves? There are worse audiences to cater for, in fairness; if you make music to please yourselves, you stand a chance of pleasing others, whereas trying for success usually leads to Very Poor Music.
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (usually just Trail of Dead, unsurprisingly) have been ploughing their psychedelic post-rock furrow for two decades now, 2014's IX being, duh, their ninth album. Better tracks include the power-through-repetition How To Avoid Huge Ships and the piano-and-strings piece Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears, although I'm not so sure about the likes of the breathless Bus Lines, while nineteen-minute bonus track (also available separately) Tao Of The Dead Part III probably defines the band's dense, claustrophobic sound. Chris "Frenchie" Smith is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on The Dragonfly Queen, Lost In The Grand Scheme and Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears? Sorry, samples and fairly obviously so. I'm sure Trail of Dead fans will lap this up, but I was left underwhelmed.
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull mainman, as if you needed to ask) has had a rather sporadic solo career over the last twenty years or so, though some might claim that Tull's entire career is synonymous with that of Anderson. 1983's Walk Into Light (***½) is the missing link between Tull's Broadsword and the Beast and the synth-heavy Under Wraps, but it took Anderson another twelve years to come up with the excellent Divinities: Twelve Dances With God (****). 2000's The Secret Language of Birds and Rupi's Dance from three years later are exactly what you'd expect of Ian Anderson solo albums, though neither are quite as good as their predecessor.
Both like and unlike Jethro Tull, it's instantly recognisable as being by The Man, but without Martin Barre's signature guitar work, it clearly isn't the band, and a few other things might sound out of place on a group LP, not least some of the lyrical content. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't see a song as unashamedly sentimental as Old Black Cat finding its way onto a Tull album; then again... So, who knows why Ian chose to put these songs onto a solo album rather than one by the band? His solo live performances always contain Tull material along with his own, and the band sometimes perform his solo pieces, so I think we have to say that Ian and Tull are so inextricably intertwined, that they are (almost) effectively one.
The album was recorded in Germany and seems to feature several musicians linked to Munich's Park Studios, including the expat Hungarian team of Leslie Mandoki and Laszlo Bencker. Until I researched Bencker on the Net, seeing that he played Hammond and Mellotron, I assumed that it was a misspelling of Omega's László Benkő, a.k.a. Benkő László, but it would seem not. In fact, although I've no doubt that if you listened to the multitrack you'd hear some Mellotron, it's completely inaudible on the finished product, despite a credit on A Hand Of Thumbs. So; good album, although hardly a walk on the wild side for Anderson.
Guitarist Pete Anderson's Daredevil is a blues/rock instrumental album, Anderson throwing elements of jazz, country, bluegrass and anything else that comes to mind into his playing. Best tracks? Possibly opener Baby Done Something Wrong, Daredevil's Dance and Big Canyon/Little Bird. Skip Edwards plays samplotron on three tracks, with sax (?) on Baby Done Something Wrong, Mellotron piano on The New World Cakewalk and strings on Big Canyon/Little Bird, only the last sounding in any way authentic.
Russell 'Rusty' Anderson is best-known as Paul McCartney's guitarist of choice for the last decade or so, although he concurrently runs a low-key solo career, 2010's Born on Earth being his second release. It's a diverse effort, shifting between the unexpectedly string-fuelled, full-on rock of the opening title track, the indie-ish Baggage Claim and the Beatles-esque Julia Roberts, amongst several other styles. Does it work? To an extent, yes, although it might be fair to say that it could be just a little too diverse for its own good. Anderson is credited with Chamberlin, with occasional strings on Julia Roberts and closer (!) Intro, although samples seem likely. So; 'sideman makes good solo album', eh? Not the first, won't be the last, but it's good to hear another example.
Jessica Andersson is a mainstream Swedish pop artist who apparently found fame in her thirties on some TV show called Fame Factory, which is almost certainly at least as bad as it sounds. Her debut album, 2009's Wake Up, seems to be a tribute to '60s pop, featuring just one new composition alongside such standards as I'll Save The Last Dance For You, I Only Wanna Be With You, You Don't Have To Say You Love Me and Long Live Love. ...And the point is? OK, they're perfectly acceptable versions, I've no doubt, but they're never going to match the originals, are they? Introducing the songs to a new generation? If Ms Andersson was twenty-two, maybe, but she isn't. Stefan Brunzell plays probable samplotron strings on that new composition, opener Wake Up, although, given that the track in question was recorded at Abba's Polar Studios in Stockholm, is this their machine we're hearing? The last I heard it was in a state of disrepair, but machines in worse condition have been resurrected from the dead... All a bit doubtful, however.
John Andrew, not to mention his Bandits' On the Count of Zero features a lightweight form of Americana crossed with rather insipid pop/rock that sometimes borders schamltzy country. Better tracks? The rocky Chasing Sirens and the Latin-flavoured male/female duet Take Me Away, maybe. Despite Andrew's website stating, "Keyboard aficionado John Wright brings to this album the supernatural sounds of an authentic mellotron", all we get are shitty Mellotron string samples on Rest.
Ken "Andrews" Doty, ex-Failure (a band, not a description), kicked off his solo career after membership of several bands with 2007's Secrets of the Lost Satellite. Is this what they call emo? Or just common-or-garden indie-schmindie? It sounds like Andrews stabbed wildly for the button marked 'heartfelt', missed and hit 'dreary' instead. A couple of tracks in isolation aren't too bad (I'd pick In Your Way and Tripped Up if I were you), but that's not exactly a recommendation. Andrews is credited with Mellotron, with a pleasant (if unadventurous) chordal flute part on Write Your Story and a rather wafting string part on closer Without, most likely sampled. There seems to be a second version of the album, adding another Mellotron track, Perfect Days, from the Sunshine Cleaning soundtrack; it's possibly the best thing here, ironically, although I can't work out what the 'Mellotron's supposed to be doing. Like indie? Go for it. Hate indie? Don't. Easy.
Nels Andrews seems to've led a fairly itinerant life, taking work all over the States where he could, before his musical career kicked off in the early 2000s. His second album, 2008's Off Track Betting, was recorded in New York, but shows little sign of its urban gestation, being a pretty straight folk/Americana offering featuring decent, if unspectacular material. Producer Todd Sickafoose plays samplotron, with uncredited strings and brass on Lady Of The Silver Spoon and credited (and more upfront) strings on Rented White Sedan.
Anekdoten (Sweden) see:
Ange (France) see:
Susan Angeletti's second album, 2004's Bittersweet, sits firmly in the blues-rock camp, with just a touch of Americana, top tracks including the filthy blues grind of Love Doctor, the point in Don't Want Your Love where the song suddenly switches from an upbeat number to a 3/4 blues and funky closer Love Is A Dangerous Thing. Frankly, if you like your rock bluesy and your vocalists gravel-throated, you really can't go wrong here. Scott Baggett's credited background 'Mellotron' strings on Piece Of My Heart just aren't, I'm afraid; no ring of authenticity at all, certainly when compared to the album's Hammonds, Wurlies and Clavs. While Bittersweet says nothing new, it says it with considerable verve and a way with a tune that elevates Ms. Angeletti from the pack.
Angels of Light are Michael Gira's post-Swans project, sounding not dissimilar to that band's later work, i.e. after the 130-decibel period. I believe 1999's New Mother is their debut album, combining folk, electronica and even the odd progressive touch with a post-rock sensibility, although Gira would probably dismiss any attempts at categorisation. His raw emotional honesty leaks out of every track, for those who actually take any notice of the lyrics, while its instrumental diversity keeps the listener on their toes. Bill Rieflin plays Mellotron, amongst other things, with string chords on The Man With The Silver Tongue and Forever Yours, fairly certainly sampled.
Anima Morte's debut, Face the Sea of Darkness, is a superb album, gothic without being goth, highlights including He Who Dwells In Darkness, Devoid Of A Soul and Twilight Of The Dead, although nothing here disappoints. Samplotron all over from Klingwall, more notable use includes the flute line on He Who Dwells In Darkness, the major choir part on Devoid Of A Soul, the upfront strings on several tracks and the male choirs used throughout.
You'll have to believe me, as I have no proof, that literally seconds before I was about to type 'reminds me of west coast Fleetwood Mac', the lyric 'together with Lindsey and Stevie' wafted out of my speakers. Oh well, at least it isn't my imagination. Animal Daydream's 2015 EP, Easy Pleasures, isn't entirely an homage to The Mac, but that '70s take on '60s sunshine pop is pretty much where the band are at, complete with a little wistful melancholy, just in case things get too sugary. Best track? Probably minor-key closer I Knew You Would Come Along Before Fall, but it's all pretty decent stuff. Anekdoten's Nicklas Barker is credited with Mellotron on I Knew You Would Come Along Before Fall, but, given that he seems to've used an M4000D sample player on various recent sessions, I have to say that it all sounds a bit... smooth, to my ears. Cue: irritated e-mail from Nicklas, denying everything. Anyway, flutes and strings on the track, but I'm far from convinced it's real.
I know it's a bit of a cliché, but Keren Ann (Zeidel) sounds so, well, French, despite her Indonesian/Dutch/Jewish heritage. La Disparition, her second album, has a fair helping of that Serge Gainsbourg vibe about it, although the bulk of the material is subtly-accompanied acoustic material with beautiful French-language vocals, Le Chien D'Avant Garde (an avant-garde dog??) being typical. The Gainsbourg comparisons become less surprising when you see that the album's produced by chansonnier Benjamin Biolay, whose own Gainsbourgesque Rose Kennedy, from the previous year, channels the master with ease. One samplotron track, with a credited flute part from producer Biolay on Mes Pas Dans La Neige that enhances the song nicely. Two years on, Keren's relocated to New York, released Nolita and started singing (partially) in English. Is it an improvement? Not really, no; I have to say I preferred her all in French. Anyway, not wildly different to La Disparition, but either not quite as good, or listening to two of her albums back-to-back doesn't work for me. One samplotron track, with Jason Hart playing flutes on Midi Dans Le Salon De La Duchesse in a manner not dissimilar to Biolay's work above.
Annot Rhül are, apparently, less a band than a solo project, specifically that of Sigurd Lühr Tonna. His/their first release, 2006's Who Needs Planes or Time Machines, When There's Music & Daydreams? is an intriguing mixture of styles, mixing prog, psych (in its various forms), blues, twisted waltzes, surf... A truly psychedelic album, then, refusing to stick to any given style in the manner of so many retro acts. Although the CD booklet carefully lists 'Mellotron' on most tracks, their website has some studio pics from the album sessions, including one entitled something like 'Burt recording Mellotron' (it's credited to Tonna and Burt Rocket), showing a guy with a small MIDI controller on his lap in front of a computer, and I've had it confirmed that a real Mellotron came nowhere near the studio, either M-Tron or unidentified samples being used. Said samples are used on most tracks, the usual flutes/strings/choir suspects, although they're a bit murky in places. The only way to get hold of this at all easily is on a 2-on-1 with their subsequent mini-album, Lost in the Woods.
The Anomoanon are effectively Ned 'brother of Will' Oldham's solo project, bringing in collaborators on an album-by-album basis. I have to say, the band name made me think 2002's Asleep Many Years in the Wood was going to be another brain-dead piece of power metal nonsense, but, of course, given the family connection, it's thoughtful, slightly haunted Americana. Best tracks? Opener Sixteen Ways, Bluebird Of Happiness, One That Got Away... All the slow stuff, basically. Kick Back has a Stones vibe, almost like a laid-back AC/DC, while both A Story and the closing title track up the energy levels, although as another online reviewer has already noted, they're not at their best when attempting to 'rock out'. Aram Stith plays 'virtual Mellotron', with octave strings on opener Sixteen Ways and a chordal part on Asleep Many Years In The Wood itself, the samples particularly obvious on the latter. Overall, Americana fans simply can't go wrong here; Oldham refuses to dilute his vision with anything stronger than an occasional (minor) burst of volume, while the songwriting's easily of a high enough standard to carry the record. Worth hearing.
I seem to remember Classic Rock mag going on about Belfast's The Answer non-stop a while back; figures, since going by their third album, 2011's Revival, they're a kind of sub-Aerosmith/Whitesnake cross, all blues-rock riffage and irritating "Whooah-oh-ohs" and "Na-na-nas" in the choruses. Better tracks include Caught On The Riverbed and New Day Rising, but the faux-gospelisms and handclaps on sort-of title track One More Revival had me gritting my teeth for its whole six minute-plus length. Mellotron? Vocalist Cormac Neeson is credited, as is producer Chris "Frenchie" Smith, but the vague, sustained string line on opener Waste Your Tears sounds little like a real one, ditto Smith's 'FX' on Destroy Me, which turn out to be no more than another over-sustained string note on the intro and cello on the fade. Nope, sorry; don't hear a real Mellotron. The Answer are a band for those for whom music reached its zenith somewhere between Whitesnake's Slide it in (stop laughing at the back) and 1987, or fans of on/off non-supergroup Thunder, i.e. Classic Rock mag journalists. You might think I'd like this band, but I don't.
By 1995, Stuart "Adam Ant" Goddard was over a decade out of teeny stardom, if not yet the tragic figure of a decade on, after his court appearance on firearms charges. I'm not sure if Wonderful was designed to kickstart his career again, or was merely made for the hell of it, but despite featuring his old sparring partner, Marco Pirroni, on guitar, it has nothing in common with his early-'80s hits, being more of a singer-songwriter's album. While a little over-produced, it quite clearly wasn't made in the Decade From Hell, so at least we're spared sampled everything and gated reverb all round, although the odd '90s production trick turns up here and there (spot the occasional percussion loop).
To be brutally honest, the material contained here is a little second-rate, although a few songs manage to be quite affecting (Won't Take That Talk, Image Of Yourself, Angel). The Caribbean-flavoured Beautiful Dream should've been drowned at birth, but otherwise, everything is just about acceptable, though nothing really stands out. Bruce Witkin's credited Mellotron is actually the only keyboard instrument (ostensibly) used on the entire album, cropping up here and there, with background strings on the title track, only really audible on the final chord, and more of the same on Vampires. Wonderful is Ant's last album of new material to date and after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, we can only speculate on whether he'll produce anything else in the future. I'd be lying if I said I actually thought it was good, though it does have its moments. Beats Robbie bloody Williams, anyway.
Tim Regan's Antenna Shoes seem to span the divide between indie and blues: 'filling a much-needed void', perhaps. Sadly, the indie overrides the blues most of the time, exceptions including M.I.A. and Nonsense, while the title track also has its moments. Regan's credited with Mellotron, but not only are the flutes on opener Open Arms clearly sampled, ditto the strings and choirs on the title track, but the MkII moving strings on Nonsense are the ultimate sample-giveaway.
Anti-Depressive Delivery's oddly titled Feel. Melt. Release. Escape. looks like it could be some variety of indie nonsense, going by the sleeve, but turns out to be sort-of progressive metal, sounding not dissimilar to fellow Scandinavians Opeth, or maybe Spiritual Beggars. Actually, ADD have something in common with the latter, being a 'supergroup', in a not-especially-super kind of way, being made up of members of other bands on a busman's holiday. The album's material varies from the more metallic through keyboard soundscapes to the closer, Bones & Money, a 15-minute epic that bravely enters pomp territory towards the end, although I'm not convinced the experiment works.
Keys man Haakon-Marius Pettersen isn't credited with Mellotron specifically, and it doesn't take more than a fairly cursory listen to ascertain that he's using samples. They still sound pretty good, mind, but a couple of solo sections give the game away properly, although none of it really sounds that authentic. Most of his use is the ubiquitous strings, although the choirs pop up in a couple of places, with the two sounds layered together at one point, though, as usual with samples, it's all just a little bit too clean. Most tracks feature at least a little, though, so if you're just after the sound, you can't go too far wrong here. I believe ADD's various members have gone their separate ways now, which is a shame, as a second album could've been really interesting.
British-born Antony Hegarty lurched into the public's consciousness with his second album, 2005's I am a Bird Now, fawned over by the press and thrown into the limelight after fifteen years of near-obscurity in New York. I seem to be almost alone in simply 'not getting' where he's coming from; imagine a camp torch singer attempting some of Kate Bush's quieter material and you might be getting close, complete with wavery voice and odd phrasing. His third release, 2009's The Crying Light, is typified by its opening track, Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground. Nope, sorry, don't get it, although Aeon stands out slightly from the pack. There doesn't seem to be any mention on the album, but the single of Epilepsy Is Dancing credits Antony with Mellotron, which presumably provides the distant, most likely sampled strings on the track, although the album overall features real ones. You're probably either going to love this stuff or hate it (the old cliché); I fall into the latter camp (pun intended), which isn't to say it's bad music, simply music I don't like.
Anubis are an Australian prog-metal outfit, although the sound on their debut, 2009's 230503, has, at least to my ears, as much '80s neo-prog in it as '90s Euro-prog-metal. Best tracks? Probably the atmospheric Anonymity, The Collapse and parts of seventeen-minute closer Disinfected And Abused, perhaps surprisingly, although the likes of Leaving Here Tonight and Waterfall would actually improve the overlong album by their removal. Fakeotron strings and/or choir from David Eaton on most tracks, notably the standalone strings part on The Bond Of Mutual Distrust. 2011's A Tower of Silence starts well enough, seventeen-minute opener The Passing Bell working well within the confines of the genre, although The Holy Innocent (complete with rather unnecessary sax solo) and three-part closer All That Is veer too far towards that neo-prog influence for comfort, which, combined with a repeat of the 'twenty minutes too long' syndrome, lose the album half a star. The album opens with samplotron strings, fairly obviously betraying their origin, with string and choir use scattered across the record, probably less overtly than on 230503.
I'd like to say that 2014's Hitchhiking to Byzantium's an improvement on its predecessors, but... I can't. Better tracks include ambient opener Fadeout and Blood Is Thicker Than Common Sense, but Dead Trees and the title track, to name but two, have more of an 'alt.rock' vibe about them, which really isn't a recommendation, while several others combine neo-prog melodies with bland balladry, to little effect. There isn't even much samplotron on the album, leaving us with a release that displays Anubis' apparent uncertainty regarding their future direction. The following year's Behind Our Eyes is a more sensibly-lengthed live release, heavy on ...Byzantium material, unsurprisingly, although almost everything here is improved by its live setting. Best track? All That Is..., probably, Hitchhiking To Byzantium and closer Silent Wandering Ghosts being the weakest. Samplotron strings on a few tracks, the most major use being on All That Is... I think it's fair to say that Anubis operate at the neo-prog end of the prog-metal spectrum (or possibly vice versa) - according to their website, they seem perfectly happy to align themselves with other neo- bands - so don't say you weren't warned.
Gabrielle Aplin is a young British singer-songwriter with a string of TV and film credits to her name, both at home and abroad, not least in Brazil. Going by her second album, 2015's Light Up the Dark, her breezy, modern pop/rock is tailor-made for that market, while avoiding the worst excesses of her transatlantic cousins. Which isn't to say that the album's a triumph; it's actually (and unsurprisingly) a rather bland effort, full of won't-appeal-to-anyone-over-25 kind of stuff like the title track and Fools Love [sic]. In fairness, there's a good bit of variety across the album, from the jaunty Skeleton through the '60s-ish, piano-driven Sweet Nothing, acoustic ballad Shallow Love and the echo-drenched, kind-of-rock'n'roll of Anybody Out There, so she's far from being a one-trick pony. Guitarist/bassist/keys man Luke Potashnick is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Fools Love don't sound much like a real machine, at least to my ears. Even if it were, this wouldn't get more than half a 'T' anyway. Better than many similar, but I can't honestly recommend this to my usual readership.
Apogee is Versus X's Arne Schäfer's solo project, active since the mid-'90s. On the Aftertaste is his/their third album, supposedly recorded between 1989 and 1991, years before his first official album, 1995's The Border of Awareness (**½), although it sounds more like it was recorded around the time of its release. Maybe it was just written back then? Anyway, four of its six tracks range from nine to eighteen minutes, with a couple of relative 'shorties', the quality of material varying widely across the album, although I have to say, it may well have been improved by some serious editing, not to mention more instrumental parts at the expense of the vocal ones. Schäfer has some good ideas, but they're often swamped by the sheer bulk of the tracks' lengths and page after page of lyrics.
Schäfer allegedly plays Mellotron, but the solo string part that opens the album is very clearly sampled, almost certainly the same sample-set as he used on Versus X's The Turbulent Zone, released the same year. The giveaway? Too smooth, attack too consistent, goes as low as F (the Mellotron keyboard stops at G), with noticeable 'stretching' on the low notes. Other rather inauthentic string and choir parts appear, but nothing's as overt as the album's opening. To be honest, this just scrapes three stars; near-ten minute closer Don't Take It Bad is a waste of space and several other tracks would be better shorter. Anyway, has its moments, a bit of sampled Mellotron. Your choice.
Apollo Sunshine aren't a bad afraid to kick against the pricks, it seems; their debut album, 2003's Katonah (named for its recording location) mixes, psych, prog and pop in roughly equal measures, seemingly completely unworried about adverse critical reaction. The end result is a triumph of modern psychedelic pop, chock-full of great tunes and quite bonkers arrangements, and not always on the longer tracks. Top songs? Difficult to pinpoint anything specific, but Fear Of Heights stands slightly (and ironically) higher than its fellows, which isn't to denigrate anything else here in the slightest. Jesse Gallagher plays keys, amongst other things, but I'm unconvinced enough by the Mellotron sounds used that I've dumped this straight into samples without passing go or collecting £200. We get flutes and strings on the title track and The Egg, choirs on fear Of Heights and strings on Sheets With Stars, for what it's worth; in fairness, the sounds enhance the tracks on which they're used and almost fool the ear in places. All in all, then, a fine album, more than worthy of your hard-earned shekels and several hours of your time, as you assimilate its psychedelic delights.
The Apples in Stereo are part of the Athens, GA-based Elephant 6 Collective, alongside the much-fêted Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Assuming this means anything to you at all, it won't come as much of a surprise to learn that The Apples are, in a general kind of way, a psychedelic band, although they stop well short of the flowered shirt pastiche brigade, thankfully. Although that kind of thing has its place, of course... They're led by vocalist/guitarist/writer Robert Schneider, who seems to keep a fairly tight rein on the band's direction and is the only fully consistent member.
Their fourth album, 2000's Discovery of a World Inside the Moone (named in honour of a 1638 book by English clergyman John Wilkins), is a departure for the band, being less Spector wall of sound and more live and raw, the end result sounding like a cross between '65 garage and '67 psych. Er, '66? Some of the material could possibly have done with a little more in the production department, but that's how Schneider wanted it, so that's how it is. Best tracks? Maybe 20 Cases Suggestive Of..., What Happened Then and The Afternoon, but there's nothing here that's going to irritate your average psych fan too badly. Despite two credited 'Mellotron' players, Schneider and Chris McDuffie, it's only audible on one track, with sampled flutes on What Happened Then, which probably means it's hidden away in the mix in another couple of places.
After 2002's Mellotron-free Velocity of Sound, it was five years before The Apples put anything else out, the eventual result being 2007's New Magnetic Wonder. The album's unusual in having 24 tracks in 50-odd minutes, although ten of them are brief musical vignettes, mostly occurring every three tracks or so. The album's stuffed full of excellent little psych numbers including opener Can You Feel It?, Energy, Sunday Song and 7 Stars, but, once again, no duffers. Schneider and Craig Morris are credited with 'Tron' this time round and, in complete contrast to Discovery..., proceed to splatter their samples all over the album, the chief giveaway being the brief Mellotron 1/2 pieces, which feature MkII rhythms to which the band almost certainly wouldn't have had access. M-Tron, M-Tron... Strings on most highlighted tracks, the string part on Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4 being the album's 'Tron' highlight, with those rhythm 'tapes' on Mellotron 1/Mellotron 2, along with oboe and vibes on the former and MkII electric guitar and vibes again on the latter.
...And then came 2010's Travellers in Space & Time. Er, what's happened, chaps? The album seems to be heavily influenced by '70s pop, meaning we get huge slabs of sub-ELO caterwauling, some horrible pseudo-disco and too much of the kind of insipid stuff (think: Liverpool Express) that filled the charts in the middle of the decade, now often referred to as 'guilty pleasures', for some strange reason. Pleasure? Sorry, to be so negative about this album, but I'd been looking forward to playing it and it's let me down completely. It's not all awful, but tracks like Hey Elevator and Nobody But You are typical, doing a grand impression of some second-division chart act circa 1976, which seems more pointless than pointless. Schneider, Bill Doss and John Ferguson on 'Tron', with strings and choir on Dream About The Future, flute melodies on Dance Floor and Next Year At About the Same Time, flute chords on No Vacation, It's All Right and Nobody But You and strings and flutes on Wings Away, making for a surprisingly 'Mellotron'-heavy release, whatever its content.
So; two good modern psych albums and one really pretty poor effort, Discovery... being more of a psych/garage effort, New Magnetic Wonder more polished and Travellers... all polish with no content.
Aquarium were an early '80s Russian outfit led by the legendary Boris Grebenshikov (well, I've heard of him), one of his country's top performers, reunited in 2003 to record Pesni Ribaka (or similar; transliterations vary: it translates as Fisherman's Songs). In many ways, it's a '60s-influenced psych-pop effort and a good one at that, although the Caribbean Pablo sticks out and not in a good way, while the jazz/blues of Utkina Zavod' simply doesn't fit, which is probably missing the point. I'm sure an understanding of Grebenshikov's lyrics would enhance the album's appeal, but that may have to wait for another life. Seahorse opens with a polyphonic flute part, with more of the same later in the song, while closer Yellow Moon has a part that slips in and out of the mix. No, it isn't a Mellotron, but is it even Mellotron samples? Generic flute sounds are easily mistaken for a Mellotron, so who knows? Anyway, they work well enough, but it has to be in doubt whether this album should even be here.
2011's Arkhangelsk (again, transliterations vary) is, bizarrely, a prime example of Celtia (aside from the white reggae of Ogon Vavilona), albeit a Russian-language variety, both uilleann and Northumbrian pipes in evidence, alongside fiddles, banjos, harps and, er, a didgeridoo. No, I have no idea why a noted Russian singer should make an album that sounds like the west coast of Ireland, but there you go. Mikey Rowe (Oasis, Amorphous Androgynous, many others) guests on keys on Tainiy Yzbek, including, allegedly, Mellotron. However, although Mellotronic (note: probably not actually Mellotron) flutes turn up on Marsh Svyaschennyh Korov and Ogon Vavilona, there's nothing to be heard on the credited track. Odd. So; have Aquarium ever actually used a real Mellotron? Who knows? Ask Mikey Rowe.