Katia B(ronstein)'s Só Deixo Meu Coração Na Mão de Quem Pode (also released as My Brazilian Heart) is a long way from the light-as-air Latin pop I'd expected, being more an unusual combination of trip-hop, bossa nova and modern pop tropes. Best tracks? I'm not the best person to ask - this didn't float my boat in any way - but at least it's not the expected horror. Marcos Cunha's Mellotron? No idea.
I'd never heard Scots indie fixtures BMX Bandits before playing In Space, at which point I discover that they sound like The Divine Comedy's faux-'60s pop with a sense of humour bypass. Better tracks include All Around The World and closer In Space (End Theme), but much of this overlong record is too twee for its own good. Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake (an old compadre of BMXB's leader Duglas T. Stewart) is credited with Mellotron. Really? The male choirs on Still (With Plectrum) aren't great, but the strings on Fucked Up This Time and In Space (End Theme) really give the sample game away.
To my surprise, BPM&M turn out to be a King Crimson side-project, led by drummer Pat Mastelotto, also featuring Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, David Byrne and Bob Fripp himself, amongst others. Fripp not only plays guitar, but is heard speaking about his early career here and there, amongst the electronic noise, frantic rhythms and general chaos. David Singelton's credited with Mellotron on The Irresistible Blowtorch, but there's nothing, make that nothing on the track to suggest even samples, never mind the real thing.
Oslo's Babel Fish (named in honour of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, of course) are the kind of band who straddle the divide between powerpop and, well, pop, knowing just how to spoil a potentially good thing. Their eponymous 1998 debut starts well enough, but soon descends into a pit of excess cheesiness, ending on big slushy ballad Boyscout Without Eyes, the kind of song that really isn't going to enhance my day. Keys man Halvor Holter sticks plenty of obviously sampled Mellotron on the album, with combinations of cellos, strings and flutes on opener Mania and flutes and strings on several others. Powerpop fans might wish to hear a few tracks from Babel Fish, but the bulk of the album only succeeds in irritating the discerning music lover.
Peter "Baby" Ford is a British producer, notable for his pioneering work in the acid house and minimal techno fields (it says here). I feel I have to come clean at this point: sorry, folks, but my knowledge of these scenes is as minimal as the techno itself, so how much of this review actually has any use is arguable. Ford's fifth single was his take on T. Rex's Children of the Revolution, sounding more like a drastic remix of the original than new recordings. The main thing that makes this palatable to non-fans of the genre is that it's a bloody good pop song to start with and survives its modernist treatment with dignity largely intact. This was released in several different versions, many of them featuring Hi, Mr. Logan on the b-side, although the four-track Inca Love Remix Collection eschews this in favour of My Innersence plus three versions of the title track. It's version two, the Inca Edit, that we're interested in here, although all I can hear of Ford's credited Mellotron is a few seconds of strings, probably no more than a generic string patch played vaguely Mellotronically, 1989 or no 1989.
Baby Woodrose are a Danish garage rock trio, whose second (third?) album, 2003's Money for Soul, successfully pastiches all areas of British 1966 beat-into-psych, copping licks from all the major bands in the process. While an enjoyable listen, it's about as original as the last Stones album, although rather more fun. Producer Jürgen Hendlmeier plays supposotron on Carrie, with a weird-sounding monophonic string line that's fairly certainly sampled.
A member of Italian darkwave progsters Presence for the last twenty years, 2009's Aradía is vocalist Sophya Baccini's first solo album. A thorough smörgåsbord of influences, it's probably best categorisable as 'progressive rock', if only because no other description covers its intermingling of opera, cabaret, singer-songwriter and, yes, prog, while the tiresomely inevitable Kate Bush comparison has to be made, too. Does it work? In places, mostly when Baccini does her own solo vocal/piano thing, many of the project's other musicians serving only to clutter the album with extraneous noise. Worst example? Aurelio Fierro's clunky drumming on Al Ritmo Di Una Storia does itself no favours, although various flute and violin interjections generally work pretty well. Baccini's 'Mellotron' strings and flutes that open the album give the sample game away immediately, other obvious examples being the string swells on Studiare-Studiare and a brief solo strings part right at the end of the overlong album. Once again, please don't credit 'Mellotron' when it's clearly nothing of the sort. Thank you. Can I recommend this? Fans of the Black Widow label's output may well go for it, but its rather overblown approach is likely to put many progressive fans off, to be honest.
Despite their Latin American sound, Bacilos were based in Florida, although their three core members hailed from Colombia, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Musically, they conformed to the Rock en Español template, sitting firmly in between American pop/rock and more traditional Latin forms, while singing in Spanish. 2004's Sinvergüenza (Shameless) was their fourth (of five) albums, combining their trademark sound with the occasional nod to reggae and other forms, nothing particularly standing out to the non-fan, I'm afraid. Tom Capone and Maurício Barros are both credited with Mellotron, although I've no idea why it took two musicians to play the brief, sampled string part on En Los 70.
Going by their third album, 2012's Deus Lo Vult, Il Bacio della Medusa are a band in absolute thrall to the '70s Italian progressive scene (note, NOT a criticism). The album's every bit as eccentric as you could hope for, given their influences, Urbano II Bandisce La Prima Crociata being a prog march, complete with massed male vocals and PFM flute, while Verso Casa is a rather bonkers flute-led waltz. Other highlights include the PFM clone intro, Invocazione Alle Muse, the ripping harmonica work on the rocking title track (quite a bit of full-on rock here, too) and closer La Beffa (Non Un Trono, Non Un Regno...Solo Sdegno). Drummer Diego Petrini doubles on alleged Mellotron, with strings all over opener Invocazione Alle Muse, running through into Indignatio (Infedeli In Terra Santa), cropping up again on Simplicio, with cellos and strings on La Beffa.
I wouldn't actually put money on it, but I get the impression that Texans The Bad Haskells' Hampden-Sydney Circus is some kind of concept album. Musically, they're at the hard rock end of powerpop, for want of a better description, album highlights including the title track, the poppy Love's Imagination, Deluxe and closer Sunshine Into Pain. Daniel Hines' Mellotron? Unconvincing flutes on Colours Fade. There's a second supposed Mellotron album, 1998's Day Glo; while samples seem likely, I can't say for certain until I've heard it.
Badger (presumably entirely unaware of the British band) are one of Norway's prime progenitors of powerpop, to the extent that you really wouldn't know they weren't native English-speakers. 2004's C'mon Girls! is their second and, to date, latest album, full of glorious songs along the lines of One Hit Wonders Of The World Unite, It's A Glorious Day and Elizabeth, although I'm having trouble finding anything about it I don't like, although closer Barefoot/Laila's Theme is a little too (deliberately?) cheesy. Producer Lars Lien plays 'Mellotron', although as always with his productions, I strongly suspect samples; the flute part on The Green Giant sounds OK until a speedy little run that would be difficult on all but the best set-up M400. Other samplotron use includes background strings on Supermarket Marianne, a nice polyphonic flute part on She's A Woman Now and more upfront strings on Barefoot/Laila's Theme.
It's no great surprise to discover that Jonathan Badger's sometime-Crimsonesque work is released through Cuneiform; this is more avant-rock than progressive, sometimes perfectly listenable (His Face Like Glass to the Touch, Beat 1), sometimes less so (closer Lucius). Very obviously sampled Mellotron strings and flutes, in various combinations, on most tracks.
Dave Bainbridge is guitarist with 'Celtic progsters' Iona, one of the blandest so-called 'progressive' bands by whom I've ever sat through an album (although, to be fair, the one time I saw them they weren't bad). Unsurprisingly, seeing as how he's one of the band's leading lights, his second solo release, 2014's Celestial Fire, is as dull as ditchwater, not helped by the Christian lyrics evident in places. Think: a bombastically 'proggier' (vaguely), more fusion-based, thoroughly smug (smugger?) version of Iona and you won't be too far out. As if the music wasn't bad enough, 74 minutes of it pushes the album over the edge from irritation to torture, to the point where restraining myself from hitting the 'skip' button became an epic, life-and-death struggle. Well, nearly. One Collin Leijenaar is credited with 'Mellotron choir' on Love Remains, but the vague, wishy-washy choir sounds on the track seem most unlikely to emanate from a Mellotron. Funnily enough, although uncredited, we also get Mellotronic strings on For Such A Time As This and elsewhere, although, once again, the chances of their being real are minimal. Well, I can't unrecommend this highly enough, frankly; once again, I have absolutely no idea why certain online journalists are wetting themselves over this kind of stuff.
Coventry-based Bait (or BAiT, for some reason) were a bunch of, well, blokes who specialised in what is now, irritatingly, known as classic rock, for want of a better term. Their third and fourth albums (of five) veer between a kind of progressive hard rock and a more mainstream sound, although intricate arrangements were their forté, accentuating the 'progressive' end of their sound. Highlights? South of the Delta's Boldly Go (ho ho), Wordsworth and The Answer, although their neo-prog roots come lurching through the mix on 25, while The Full English gives us opener Liquify, Let Me Be Me, twelve-minute prog epic Cambrai and the kind-of powerpop of Down So Low. Nick Nugent (I believe) adds samplotron strings and choirs to both albums, sometimes veering rather to close to 'trad' neo-prog use, ditto his monosynth work. The good news? Both albums are available, in full, on YouTube.
Although The Baker Brothers are named for Dan and Richard Baker, they don't actually seem to play on their sixth (?) studio album, 2014's Hear No Evil, although they're listed as producers. It's a solid Brit-soul/funk release, heavy on the brass, the rhythm section effortlessly summoning up prime dancefloor grooves at the drop of a hat. Highlights? Instrumental opener Intercontinental Flower Power, the mid-paced Love's Atonement and closer Big Guns, maybe. Downsides? Too long. This kind of album should never top forty minutes in my opinion, although, in this case, it's not so much the track lengths (which average out at four minutes), but the number of them, leading the record to slightly outstay its welcome. Bassist Chris Pedley plays sampled Mellotron on Love's Atonement, with a repeating chordal part that morphs into a single-note run that ends on a high F (the actual machine's top note), before being pitchbent up into F# in a rather inauthentic kind of way.
Without having heard any of his previous work, I get the impression that Claudio "Balduin" Gianfreda may not always have made music like that to be heard on 2014's All in a Dream and The Glamour Forest EP, that is, early Floyd-esque psych-pop. I have to say, he does it rather well, from the album's fab sleeve art to its sixteen short tracks, at least half of which could easily be singles. Singles, that is, in Balduin's alternate world, where time stopped in the late '60s and bands still had hits titled You Can Never Pipe My Fancy From My Dear or Mirror, Mirror (in reality, the lead track on the EP). Album highlights include Beach Boys-esque opener Love Is You, the electric sitar-led Which Dreamed It, The Labyrinth and Through The Snow, which shifts from acoustic whimsy through to a near-sound collage of echoed organ and wind effects.
I have a theory regarding the use of Mellotron samples: a real Mellotron's a bit of a bugger to play if you're not used to it (or even if you are), so when you hear Mellotron sounds slathered all over a recording, chances are they're sampled. The real thing actually becomes a little fatiguing to listen to non-stop (take it from someone who knows), so wall-to-wall Mellotron? 98% chance of samples. This is not a scientific survey. Anyway, Gianfreda sticks samplotron strings all over practically every track here, other usage including brass on Mirror, Mirror and flutes on several tracks, notably Pretty Size! and Change. Do you buy these? Well, the EP (including the superb Jabberwock) only seems to be on 7", so that rather depends on your ownership or otherwise of a turntable, but the album's more than worthy of your hard-earned, I'd say.
José "Zeca Baleiro" Ribamar is a Brazilian singer-songwriter, whose eighth album, 2005's Baladas do Asfalto e Outros Blues, is a decent enough record of its type, that being 'Latin pop/rock', specifically MPB (Música Popular Brasileira). Better tracks include the brief Mulher Amada and the acoustic Cigarro, but this really isn't going to grab the (vast) majority of non-Portuguese-speakers, frankly. Humberto Barros is credited with Mellotron (in a country which, until recently, was resolutely Mellotron-free?), but the vaguely 'Mellotronic' flutes and even vaguer strings on Quando El Dorme Em Minha Casa, well, aren't. Good at what it does, but literally a continent away from my (and probably your) taste.
Cruel & Unusual is, ultimately, an Americana album, although influences from alt.rock, indie, powerpop and even jazz also creep in. Highlights? Maybe the raucous X Street, Half Right and the powerpop of I Walk Alone. Chris Holt is credited with Mellotron, but the strings and flutes on opener 335, Amy's Song and Truth and the unknown strings variant on Half Right are very obviously sampled.
After Hungarian-born Eszter Balint's family's theatrical company moved to the States, she shifted into acting, working with the legendary Jim Jarmusch, before moving into music, playing violin on some of Swans' Michael Gira's Angels of Light's releases. Her first solo album, 1999's Flicker, is a world-weary record, strongly influenced by her mittel-Europa heritage, with gypsy, folk and pre-war jazz motifs in evidence, while also obviously being allied to the Gira camp. Dougie Bowne is specifically credited with 'Mellotron sample' on Tattoo Sun, but I'll be buggered if I can work out what he might be doing with it; this would get a '0' on the 'Tron front, were it applicable. So; a decent enough album of its kind, but not even any obvious Mellotron samples, let alone Mellotron.
After a lengthy, motherhood-related break from recording, Balint's 2015 release, Airless Midnight, is difficult to describe, although I suppose 'singer-songwriter' is about the best we'll manage. Influences include country/folk (both American and European) and '50s rock'n'roll, the former evident in the banjo in Departure Song and the latter typified by the rockier All You Need. J.D. Foster allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where; the only strings to be heard emanate from Balint's violin, so unless we're hearing the little-known Mellotron string bass (or banjo?), whatever was played seems to've ended up on the cutting-room floor. Or, indeed, are inaudible samples. A decent enough album, then, but not one I'll be returning to any time soon.
Ed(ward) Ball is an on-off member of the Television Personalities, having played seemingly every instrument in his various stints in the band, spending the rest of his time in, er, The Times and on his solo career. 1995's It's Kinda Lonely Where I am EP appeared the same year as his solo debut, If a Man Ever Loved a Woman. The EP's four tracks (the title track is from the album) are in the kind of indie/singer-songwriter style you'd expect, better than many, its best track probably being the witty Another Member Of The Millhill Self Hate Club, complete with local geographical references. Ball adds sampled Mellotron to Bled A River Over You, with overly-smooth strings and murky, buried choirs. You'll have trouble finding this, should you wish to; Creation (Ball was a label exec) went under in 1999, so start scouring those second-hand shops...
Catholic Guilt seems to be Ball's third full solo offering and can be categorised loosely as an indie/singer-songwriter album, although it's a lot better than that suggests. Touches of Dylan, the Velvets, maybe a less caustic Elvis Costello, though I'm not sure Ball would thank me for the comparison. Or maybe he would. Imagine Oasis if they were good, even, especially given the Creation connection. Go on, try. Difficult to pick standout songs, although the lyrics to The Mill Hill Self Hate Club and Controversial Girlfriend particularly caught my ear. Ball credits himself with a whole raft of instruments; hardly surprising, when you consider how many he's played in the TVPs. Among the nice old 'boards is a Mellotron, allegedly, although given that the album features both string and brass sections, there isn't an awful lot for it to do. In fact, all I can hear for definite (?) are some slightly 'Strawberry Fields'-esque flutes on The Hampstead Therapist, that might actually be something else entirely. Into 'samples' it goes, then. However, if you like well-written and played songs, with an English bent, you could do an awful lot worse.
The Bambi Molesters are that most unlikely of things, a Croatian instrumental surf band. Active since the mid-'90s, 2010's As the Dark Wave Swells is their eighth album and first for seven years, leaning as heavily on Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks for inspiration as it does on Dick Dale et al. Since they maintain a stylistic consistency across the record, it's difficult to pick out specific tracks for praise or otherwise; suffice to say, if an excellently-played surf/Morricone crossover sounds like it might appeal, you won't go too far wrong here. Chris Eckman plays samplotron on Lazy Girls Hangout, one of the album's slower tracks, with a string line drifting in and out of the arrangement and a quiet flute line on closer Rising East.
The Bamboos' Medicine Man's '60s soul grooves are infused with a hip-hop sensibility, which, although it makes the album a little less musical, at least adds some individuality to their sound. Highlights? The propulsive The Wilhelm Scream, Cut Me Down and the title track, although John Castle's 'Mellotron' amounts to no more than some vaguely Mellotronic strings on I Got Burned and Medicine Man itself.
Glam-metal troupe Bang Tango began the '90s unsure where they stood; their second album, Dancin' on Coals, came out the same year as Nirvana's genre-defining Nevermind, making their ilk redundant almost overnight. And not before time, some might say. In actuality, Dancin' on Coals, while no classic, is more diverse than you might imagine, making the likes of Poison look as stupid and one-dimensional as they actually were. Some tracks, notably big ballad Midnight Struck, sound like budget Aerosmith and while you might say that isn't too unusual in the glam scene, Bang Tango at least do it with some panache, not to mention Joe Lesté's Tyler-alike vocals. Pete Wood is credited with Mellotron, but the rather ordinary string part on Emotions In Gear, despite being pre-easily-available samples, really isn't a Mellotron, while the strings on the lengthyish Midnight Struck seem to be real. One for the reformed glam fan in your life.
I believe (not in a faith kind of way, you understand) that 2000's Fugitive Girls is Frank Bango's debut album, a frequently beautiful collection of powerpop gems, typified by 12-string classic Candy Bar Killer, the subdued One Pink Squirrel, A Monster In Your Cookie Jar and the rather psychedelic Entertaining Anne, amongst other highlights. In fairness, a few lesser numbers knock a half star from its rating, but that might be being picky. I could still be struggling to recall whom his voice reminds me of, until I read it somewhere else: Elvis Costello, for better or worse. Bango plays 'Mellotron' flutes on a couple of tracks, with a brief, skronky part on Building A Better Plaything and a more regular one on One Pink Squirrel, most likely sampled.
Despite being a non-Jewish Brazilian, percussionist Cyro Baptista releases records on Jewish New York label Tzadik, largely due to his involvement with John Zorn. After forming Beat the Donkey in 2002 and releasing a self-titled album, he/they followed up with Love the Donkey in 2005, a Latin-via-New-York set, detouring into reggae (Rio De Jamaica, unsurprisingly), jazz (Forró For All), didgeridoos (Matan) and, er, blown bottles (duh, Bottles) along the way. The biggest surprise here is an accordion version Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, which actually works surprisingly well. Tzadik mainstay Jamie Saft is credited with Mellotron, although as with Saft's solo album, Black Shabbis, it's totally inaudible, so 'samples' it is, whether it actually is or not.
David Barbe has worked with many musicians, both as player and producer, fronting his own rated combo Mercyland in the '80s, although, ironically, he's probably best known for playing bass in Bob Mould's post-Hüsker Dü outfit Sugar. 2001's Comet of the Season is his sole solo album to date and has some of that Athens, GA sound to it (Barbe is from Atlanta, but based in Athens, home to R.E.M., amongst others), with a modern psych feel in places. It's hard to say which Barbe does better: the slow, near-psych of Hot, But You Won't Blow or Medicine Takeover, or the high-octane Nickel A Minute or Once In A While; suffice to say that he knows how to construct a record that holds the listener's interest, which is more than you can say for most of his contemporaries, it seems. Barbe is credited with Mellotron, but the only place it even might be is the flutey sound on Favorite Star, so into samples it goes.
Jill Barber is a Canadian singer-songwriter who, to be honest, breaks little new ground on her third album, 2007's For All Time. It straddles several genres, with the country of Don't Go Easy and Legacy contrasting sharply with When I'm Making Love To You's jazz/blues and the folky Hard Line, although 'countryish' seems to be the album's default setting. Barber's voice carries the material, along with a handful of decent songs, although most of them seem to be just a little too generic for their own good. Les Cooper plays supposed Mellotron on Ashes To Ashes, with some barely audible and fairly certainly sampled background flutes (the vibraphone, my first guess, is real). All in all, then, countryish singer-songwriter stuff, nothing you haven't heard before, really, with next to bugger-all samplotron, to the point where, were it genuine, if I could give it a quarter T, I would. Actually, I could, as it's my site and I can do what I like (within reason), but you've got to have rules, otherwise where would we be? Eh? Eh?
Sara Bareilles' second album, Little Voice, is, in many ways, a typical singer-songwriter effort, Bareilles accompanying herself on the piano in true early '70s Carole King style, for better or worse. The album actually starts reasonably well, but as with so many 'genre' records, its appeal palls after a few songs, knocking half a star from its rating. Better tracks include openers Love Song (apparently a US no.1) and Vegas, although Love On The Rocks is far too West Coast smooth for its own good (or is that title a send-up?) and slushy ballads City and Gravity don't cut the mustard at all, I'm afraid. Eric Rosse is credited with Mellotron, but all we get is some distant, watery samplotron strings on Vegas.
How can you like a band called Barenaked Ladies? I mean, how? Stupid frat-boy humour should be shucked off once one has left one's place of higher education, I feel, although Barenaked Ladies have made a twenty-year career out of playing the fool, so what do I know? In fairness, they seem harmless enough, sounding like a not-up-themselves Canadian version of Counting Crows with extra added jokes, maybe; you know, that Americana-influenced soft rock thing with catchy choruses that sounds good on car radios. Is that good? If you like that kind of thing, I suppose. Then again, EVERYTHING'S good if you like it... The only even slightly remarkable thing about the album is the presence of band inspiration and ex-Max Webster god Kim Mitchell on closer Wind It Up, whose solo lifts the track above the rest of the album, although it sounds disconcertingly like one of his own later efforts...
2006's Are Me (or Barenaked Ladies Are Me) is a perfectly acceptable, reasonably musicianly record, middling rock with a country influence, as you'd expect, although it's desperately unexciting, to be honest. I rather suspect that Barenaked Ladies fans don't want 'exciting', though, so job done, lads. Kevin Hearn is credited with Mellotron on opener Adrift, although there's a small string section on there, too, making whatever may be Mellotronically present entirely inaudible. I mean, why bother? Really? Some versions of the album added various bonus tracks recorded at the same sessions, sixteen of which appeared in their own right in 2007 as (Barenaked Ladies) Are Men, bizarrely actually superior to the original album, highlights including opener Serendipity, Angry People and Fun & Games, largely for its über-barbed anti-Bush lyrics. Hearn's credited with Mellotron again and while I have my doubts, there could be something (background strings?) on One And Only and flutes on Beautiful and Another Spin, though all in seriously limited quantities.
Although Anekdoten are, of course, heavy Mellotron users, it seems that their Nicklas Barker, on his first solo release, the El Último Fin de Semana soundtrack, sticks to the digital Memotron (or is it the M4000D?). Having not seen the film, I can't tell you how well Barker's music fits the visuals, but it works remarkably well as an album in its own right, only rarely betraying its origins as soundtrack material. Highlights? Celestial Ghost, the gloomy Rendezvous, the Theremin-driven Doom and the brief Home, only jaunty closer Beach Girls sounding in any way inappropriate and even then, I'm sure it works well in context. Fakeotron on most tracks, notable examples including the strings on Celestial Ghost, Night Ambience and By The Shore and the flutes and cellos on Sisters, while the MkII rhythms and 'moving strings' on Beach Girls effectively prove Barker's sample use.
It comes as no great surprise to discover that Sophie Barker worked with British slowcorists Zero 7; Seagull has their gentle-yet-intense vibe, although the cheesily upbeat Bluebell proves that she's at her best playing quieter material. Barely any samplotron, with naught but background choirs on opener Paradise Lost.
Austin, TX quartet The Barkers (as in 'carnival barkers') released Burn Your Piano in 1999, to minor local acclaim, although its off-kilter Americana-esque stylings should've gained them far more attention. It veers between the Dylanesque title track, the sardonic, redneck-baiting Brother, the upright piano-led October Trains and a fab psychedelic guitar solo in Baytown, amongst other delights, while the lyrics are worth actually, y'know, listening to, just for once. Best of all, though, Farmer's Song sounds like it opens with blown bottles (you know, fill several bottles with differing levels of water and blow across the top). Beats a Mellotron for archaism straight off. Speaking of which... Despite a reference to 'their Mellotron' in an article in The Austin Chronicle, the speedy string run in Brother doesn't sound right, although the consistently sharp strings in closer New Waltz are slightly better. Pretty certainly sampled, anyway.
BarlowGirl were a trio of sisters operating in the CCM/alt.rock field, making their 2012 split less than a total tragedy. To be fair, unless you listen to the lyrics (something I usually try to avoid), they just sound like any other female-fronted indie-rock outfit. 2007's How Can We Be Silent is at its best on A Million Voices and its worst on Sweet Revenge and closer I Don't Regret, with polyphonic samplotron flutes on One More Round.
Mildly improbably, Kay "Digger Barnes" Buchheim (named for a character from Dallas, fact fans) is a German Americana artist; well, if you can have Italian reggae or Indonesian metal, why not German Americana? International boundaries are ridiculous human constructs, anyway. Seriously, if you didn't know better, you'd automatically assume he hailed from somewhere in rural Iowa or similar, such is his level of Americana authenticity.
After the superbly-titled My Name Is Digger 7", 2009's Time Has Come is Barnes' first album, although he's been around for some years as a member of Chuck Ragan's Revival Tour, an American folk-punk collective. The album is genre perfection, as dry and dusty as you could wish for, top tracks including opener Everybody Run, Waiting For The Snakes and the instrumental title track. Someone with the fantastic nom de plume of Mosquito Hopkins plays supposed Mellotron on Song For A Sleepwalker, with a haunted flute part drifting in and out of the mix, although it's clearly not real. If you go for that Americana thing, don't be put off by Barnes' nationality or assumed name; there might not be any real Mellotron here, but this is a very impressive debut.
2014's Frame By Frame is his fourth album, at least under this nom-de-plume, so authentically Western that it would probably take a genre expert to spot the difference. Top tracks? Maybe Two Ringing Ears, the honky-tonk of Dangerous Man and the balladic Soon I Will Hold You Again. Hopkins again is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Way Of The Rover and vibes on two or three others tracks do little to convince. Do you bother with this? Old-time Americana fan? Then yes. Mellotron fan? Then no.
Barren Earth are a Finnish metal supergroup (yes, it seems there can be such a thing), comprising members of Kreator, Moonsorrow and others, whose debut, 2010's Curse of the Red River, is surprisingly listenable for non-lovers of the more metallic end of the spectrum. It takes influences from early Priest, Metallica and doubtless other more modern outfits I haven't heard, alongside '70s prog and folk (mainly in the melody department), the end result being an unexpectedly tuneful racket, only spoiled by the on-off 'cookie monster' vocals. WHY do you do this, guys? Is it meant to be threatening? It isn't. The album's improved immeasurably when Mikko Kotamäki stops growling and starts singing, which he can do perfectly well. Kasper Mårtenson plays samplotron, with strings on the title track, Flicker and The Ritual Of Dawn, although the background strings and choirs on most of the rest are generic samples.
Despite describing herself on her website as coming from Nashville, Eli Barsi's Canadian, although you wouldn't know it from the straightforward country of Listen. Highlights? Not really, no. This is more an album for those who value lyrics over music. Joel Feeney plays the almost certainly sampled Chamberlin flute part on Don't Let Up.
Steve Barta is an accomplished jazz pianist; Follow Your Heart, unsurprisingly, is an album of gentle classical/jazz crossover pieces. For some strange reason, Barta credits one Johann Sebastian Bach with Mellotron. There is no Mellotron on this album. JSB is dead.
Kevin Bartlett has been around since the '80s, acting as musician, producer, label boss... A general mover'n'shaker then, it seems. It's difficult to tell how many solo albums he's released over the years, but 2008's Glow in the Dark is around the 30th on which he's worked, which isn't bad going by anyone's standards. I can't tell you anything about its predecessors, but this release falls into the new age/prog category, with drifitng, ambient material (Nothing Really, Stethoscope) shaking hands with tracks in more upbeat, almost AOR territory (The Sorrow, the Fish, And Glastonbury Hill, Moon V. Moon), with even a Celtic influence in places. Vocals, such as they are, are confined to wordless male and female voices, while Bartlett's Hackettesque guitar work does that sustained thing as well as anyone. Think: a gutsier Gandalf, maybe, and you won't be too far off the mark.
Now, I was told this album contains 'Mellotron', but Bartlett's booklet credit for 'GForce for the killer M-Tron Mellotron' rather gives the game away, as do the sounds; it might be possible to make a real Mellotron sound like this, given enough reverb, but the strings and choirs lack the immediacy of the real thing. His chief sample use is the choirs on choirs on Moon V. Moon, although several other tracks feature it too. So; the symphonic prog fan may not find enough to keep him/herself interested, but for those looking for a more relaxed ride, Glow in the Dark may be exactly what you're looking for.
Karl Bartos is one of the two ex-members of Kraftwerk's best-known lineup that you're less likely to be able to name (the other being Wolfgang Flür); Bartos left the band in 1991, frustrated at their glacially-paced workrate, immediately forming Elektric Music to make music in a similar vein.
2003's heavily Kraftwerk-flavoured Communication is Bartos' only fully solo album to date, released some five years after the last known activity of Elektric Music. He opts to sing through a vocoder on most tracks, slightly diluting its still startling effect (it's one of those things, like, er, a Mellotron, that shouldn't be overused), although his occasional uneffected vocals (notably on Life) are perfectly good, making you wonder why he chooses to hide behind it. Despite the odd minor detour into dance-pop, most of the album's material would fit perfectly well onto a later Kraftwerk album; maybe the one they didn't get around to making in the '90s? Stronger tracks include opener The Camera, I'm The Message and instrumental closer Another Reality, but there's little here to upset those of a synth-pop persuasion.
It's hard to tell whether Bartos is actually using any analogue gear at all; some of the synths sound like they could be, but with so many pseudo-analogues and softsynths around, who knows? The occasional 'Mellotron' strings on Cyberspace are very obviously sampled, but it's nice to hear someone working in this area use the sounds at all, to be honest. So; one for Kraftwerk fans who wonder whether they'll ever actually record again.
Basement Apartment's second album, Pine Tree Hill, sits in a rather unenviable 'indie country' bracket, at its least dull on Tear Gas and Intact, maybe. Band maniman Vincent Caro's supposed Mellotron consists of sampled chordal flutes all over opener Kicking The Can.
2008's Bleu Pétrole was Alain Bashung's last album before his untimely death the following year, from lung cancer (that'll be a lifelong Gallic 40-a-day habit, I expect). Much of it's in a folky vein, although elements of jazz, blues and French chanson are all apparent at different points. Best tracks? Probably opener Je T'Ai Manqué, Comme Un Légo and his take on Leonard Cohen's Suzanne, suitably translated. Mark Plati plays supposed Mellotron on Sur Un Trapèze, with a nicely overt string part, although its last, high note lasts far longer than the Mellotron's eight-second limit, giving the sample game away.
At a cursory glance, Fancy Blue is simply a low-key country album, but, upon closer perusal, it sports several brief, autobiographical tracks, featuring Tywanna Jo Baskette's impossibly fragile voice. As a result, the album's strongest (also oddest) material includes The Name Song, 1985-1998 and Everything Is Awful. Neilson Hubbard is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes (mixed with strings?) on several tracks are sampled, while I'm not sure if the various string sounds are actually meant to be Mellotronic or not.
Natasha Khan, a.k.a. Bat for Lashes, appeared in 2006, Fur & Gold providing a welcome antidote to the seemingly bottomless pit of autotuned r'n'b nonsense clogging up the charts and charity shops across the nation. That isn't to say that she's exactly avant-garde, mind, merely more willing to experiment than the average aspiring starlet. Her third release, 2012's The Haunted Man, reminds me (sorry) of Kate Bush on, well, most tracks, really, Khan's voice (admittedly less shrieky than La Bush's) and arrangements reminding this listener of, say, The Sensual World, as much as anything. Highlights? Dreamy opener Lilies (very Bush, frankly), the vocal-heavy Oh Yeah, the folky male voice choir on the title track and the twisted electro of Rest Your Head, although nothing here made me gag. Khan credits herself with Mellotron on Rest Your Head, but the track's strings aren't even the most Mellotronic sounds on the album, so straight into 'samples' this goes. Well, it's nice to see someone with both integrity and talent actually getting somewhere, although I doubt whether Khan will ever be arena-headlining material, due to her quirky approach. Then again, nor will she be forgotten in five years, as long as she can carry on producing records of the quality of The Haunted Man.
A chap by the name of Kerry Leimer has written the kind of review of Bauer (Argentinian version)'s En Otra Ciudad on seaoftranquility.org that makes me feel like the amateur I am, wittily comparing them to an elastic-walled triangle, the points of which are made up of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Le Orme and Tool, with a lengthy explanation of how this might inform their music. To the rest of us, a description of them as a surf/metal/prog/psych/indie outfit should explain everything. Possibly. The album's actually a far better proposition than that might indicate, better tracks including the psychedelic Un Auto Para Lynn, the heavy-as-fuck El Hombre De Blanco and the almost Crimson-referencing Dios Quiere Mi Chocolate. The band allegedly use Mellotron samples 'taken directly from a friend's machine', although given how few Mellotrons there are in South America, either a) they know an owner abroad, or b) they're lying. Anyway, we get male choir on Camino A Oxnard, angular strings on El Valle and smoother ones on Avanza, none of which sound that much like the real thing, frankly. Overall, then, a surprisingly good album that sounds sufficiently different to any one other band to be almost categorisable as 'original'.
Difficult to say for sure without speaking Italian, but Baustelle's Fantasma appears to be some kind of overlong rock opera, complete with male and female vocals, an orchestra and several 'intermezzo' tracks of soundtrack-ish music. Ettore Bianconi's supposed to play Mellotron on La Morte (Non Esiste Più) and Francesco Bianconi on closer Fantasma (Titoli Di Coda), but both, to no-one's particular surprise, sound fake.
Carlos Baute (Jiménez) is a Venezuelan singer and TV host, apparently, who found a greater level of success after crossing the Atlantic to Spain. His fifth non-compilation, 2009's De Mi Puño y Letra (In My Hand), is pretty much what you'd expect, a string-laden modern pop/rock effort with occasional contemporary production touches, the only track that stands out from the pack in any way being the overtly-Latin Mariana No Quiere Ser Mojigata. Juan Carlos Moguel is credited with Mellotron, but the background choirs on Me Quiero Casar Contigo fail to convince, frankly, although I'm perfectly willing to reverse the decision to quarantine this should I receive any definite information regarding genuine Mellotronic involvement.
Lullaby Baxter's Garden Cities of To-morrow (named for a classic 1902 text laying out Ebenezer Howard's vision for Britain's future, apparently) is a strange album, frequently referencing pre-war music alongside Baxter's fairly straightforward singer-songwriter stylings. No-one's credited with any tape-replay at all, but the intro to Lord, I Won't Fight You Anymore sounds like it could be one of the MkII rhythm tapes, while closer Jet-Pack (one of the album's best songs) also features what sounds like a repeating strings phrase from either the Mellotron or Chamberlin libraries. Fairly certainly sampled, either way.
Despite being based in Nashville, Jessie "Baylin" Baldassarre's influences stretch back to the days of Billie Holiday and Judy Garland, so it's no great surprise that her third album, Little Spark, largely consists of pre-psych pseudo-'60s pop, to no particular effect. Richard Swift's supposed Mellotron strings on Star Cannon and Holiday really aren't, however.
I can't say I know much about Wisconsin natives Beach Patrol, although I can tell you that 2008's Riding Dinosaurs is their second album, fully in the powerpop tradition of Big Star et al., stuffed full of material as good as Love Away, One More Cigarette, This Side Of 25 and the witty Shitty Record Store. If I'm going to be brutally honest, it's all slightly generic, but the sheer quality of the material on offer overrides any tedious 'originality' accusations. Anyway, Beach Patrol have a punky edge to their style that differentiates them from many of their more '60s-obsessed peers. Ian Olvera plays a samplotron flute line on Love Away, although it's fairly irrelevant, as the album's strengths don't lie in the instrumentation used (and so they shouldn't), but the material, which is excellent.
Well, I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but Liam Gallagher (who very much assures us he's 'ex-Oasis') seems to've actually put together a decent band in the excellently-named Beady Eye. Essentially Oasis without Noel, their debut album, 2011's Different Gear, Still Speeding, reintroduces the 'F' word into Oasisland: fun. Opener Four Letter Word rocks like a bastard, Beatles And Stones, despite its slightly desperate, "I'm gonna stand the test of time/Like Beatles and Stones" chorus, powers along well enough and Bring The Light is classic, high-octane rock'n'roll. Downsides? It's too long and a couple of tracks drift on for at least two minutes past their bedtimes, but this exceeds all expectations, pretty much proving that Noel's flaccid songwriting has been their parent band's downfall in recent years.
Gem Archer and Andy Bell both play keyboards, so it's anyone's guess who plays the vaguely Mellotronalike Eastern-ish string part on Four Letter Word, the high line from some form of solo string instrument on Kill For A Dream and flutes on The Beat Goes On. Is it real? I really don't think so; Noel owns several models, but my informants have never given the slightest hint that Liam gives a shit, so my guess is M-Tron, or at best, the hardware MemoTron. Well, Oasis fans should be in ecstasies over this; it's sold well enough, given the currently depressed market, but I'm still surprised it hasn't done more. Call it Oasis and watch it sell half a million.
Incidentally, loads of actually reasonably real-sounding Mellotron strings and choirs on the band's download-only charity single from later in the year, their quite acceptable take on The Beatles' Across The Universe. Should this/these move across to the 'regular' section?
Beans & Fatback (presumably named for Link Wray's iconic 1973 release) are a Dutch soul/blues/country (!) combo, whose eponymous debut actually holds together remarkably well, given its stylistic variation. Best tracks? Probably propulsive country opener Downfall, complete with some ripping pedal steel work and the soulful Holding On. Paul Willemsen's credited with Mellotron on closing ballad Billie's Stride, but the track's robotic strings aren't fooling anyone.
Beardfish formed in 2000, releasing their debut, 2003's Från en Plats du Ej Kan Se, as a quintet. I'd expected either the bastard son of neo-prog or generic 'modern prog' (i.e. sub-somewhere between Spock's Beard and Dream Theater), but we actually get a refreshingly different, inventive (albeit fairly '70s-influenced) version of the genre, sounding like no one other band (to my knowledge, anyway). Touchstones include Zappa and Gentle Giant, but several factors, notably the band's slightly unorthodox (not to mention mostly undistorted) approach to the guitar parts make this stand out from the pack. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get sampled Mellotron strings on Spegeldans, with a lush chordal part and flutes on Brother, more flutes on Om en Utväg Fanns and a short burst of choir closing the album. No pseudotron on 2006's excellent fully English-language two-disc The Sane Day or the following year's Sleeping in Traffic: Part One (both ****), replaced by what sounds like authentic Solina string synth. 2008's Sleeping... Part Two seems both slightly less cohesive and appealing than its predecessors, possibly due to being that bit too eclectic. I mean, what's going on with the lyrics in South Of The Border? Anyway, a decent effort, particularly the bonkers thirty-five minute title track, if not quite as effective as ... Part One. Samplotron strings on said title track, dipping in and out over its length.
How can one band produce so much quality music? 2009 brings Destined Solitaire, another good effort, though not quite up to those two four-star efforts from a couple of years earlier. Is the quality of Beardfish albums directly related to their non-use of Mellotron samples? Discuss. Anyway, the album's chief fault is its extreme length (although at least this one's only a single disc), which makes for a slightly wearying listen, especially if you tackle several of their releases on the trot. Shan't be doing that again in a hurry, I can tell you... More samplotron than on its predecessor, though less than on their debut; they succeed in using the sounds without over-using, a trick from which many other modern prog outfits could learn. 2011's Mammoth is, if anything, even more eclectic than its predecessors: Green Waves sounds like a proggier version of Deep Purple, as much as anything, Akakabotu has much Canterbury about it, not least in the sax work, although top kudos go to closer Without Saying Anything, which opens with the catchiest, yet uncheesiest riff I've heard all year. Possibly. Plenty of that sampled stuff again, with strings, flutes and choir used throughout, with the kind of subtlety that most real Mellotron owners utilise. Although it isn't.
So; do you bother hearing Beardfish? If you can handle the sheer length of most of their releases and are interested in hearing a current progressive band who aren't content just to serve up the same old same old, then yes, make the effort. Neo-prog fan? Go elsewhere. I recommend Pendragon. Or maybe Jadis.
Beat Circus (originally Beat Science), helmed by multi-instrumentalist Brian Carpenter, are a shifting ensemble of musicians, influenced by a host of unusual styles, including cabaret, circus music (of course) and bluegrass; unsurprisingly, they fall between several stools, which is presumably how they like it. 2008's Dreamland is the band's second release and the first instalment of Carpenter's Weird American Gothic trilogy, a concept album about the legendary Coney Island amusement park that burnt down in 1911. The album evokes the weirdness of the era, much of it sounding like music for a particularly twisted carney freakshow, banjos, tubas and accordions to the fore, both bizarre and strangely normal, if judged by the standards of the early twentieth century. Carpenter plays samplotron on Hell Gate (the ride where the fire started), with a brief string part and rather more choirs, sounding not out of place in the record's unique soundscape.
Coalescing in San Francisco, Beaten By Them are a multinational outfit, more Australian than American; their third release, 2011's Invisible Origins, despite their weak protestations, falls firmly into the post-rock bracket, complete with obligatory real cello. While most of its tracks differ, sometimes quite markedly, from each other, the overall effect is of a band who want to create the modern equivalent of 'mood music', but have yet to properly develop the skills to do so. Better tracks include the energetic Final Sun and the piano-led Water, but it's all a bit anodyne, frankly. Keys man Max McCormick plays samplotron, the only obvious use being the flute line on Yo.
I don't know if The Beatifics' name was chosen to file next to The Beatles, but I wouldn't be surprised; they fit fairly and squarely into the powerpop genre, clearly worshipping at the altar of all the 'B' bands, not to mention later proponents of jangly, melodic-yet-intelligent pop (which makes it sound like melody's for idiots. Sorry). 1996's How I Learned to Stop Worrying was their debut, full of songs of the quality of opener Almost Something There (hey, always open a powerpop album with your best track), This Year's Jessica and Without A Doubt, and Something/Anything? has to be a deliberate Todd quote... Band leader Chris Dorn plays samplotron, amongst other things, with a wash of strings on Without A Doubt, plus full-on cellos, strings on Last Thing On My Mind and Green Day Rising and strings and cellos on Read You Wrong.
The band released an EP in 2001, In the Meantime, with Mellotron credited; three of its five tracks appeared on the following year's The Way We Never Were, but it's impossible to know if there's any 'Mellotron' on the other two without hearing them. Said album appeared in 2002 and the band seem to have taken on a bit of a garage influence (not the hip-hop variant, dumbarse), notably on opener Sorry Yesterdays, although the album as a whole seems rowdier than before. The material's decent enough, but possibly not quite meeting the band's earlier standards, seeming slightly more derivative (that's a cheeky chord at the end of In The Meantime...). Samplotron strings on After All, flutes and phased strings on The Only One, flutes on When It's Whenever and Different Stars.
María Nieves Rebolledo "Bebe" Vila has actually acted in more films than she's made albums; does this make her an actress who also has a music career? Anyway, her second album, 2009's Y, is a pretty typical Latin pop effort, featuring a heavy folk influence amongst the modern production touches. Picking out 'best tracks' is well-nigh impossible for someone really not into the style; suffice to say, it all seems to be done well enough, but is fairly tedious for the non-fan from a different part of the world (yes, Spain and Britain are sufficiently far apart, both geographically and culturally to be considered 'different parts of the world'). Carlos Jean is credited with Mellotron, with a 'typical', sampled flute part on Se Fue.
German producer and synth enthusiast Matthias Becker recorded Vintage Synths Volume 1, with the help of composer Klaus Stühlen, as an audio companion piece to his book Synthesizer von Gestern. Each of its 22 tracks exclusively features a different vintage instrument, ranging from the (relatively) commonplace (MiniMoog, ARP Odyssey, Juno 60) to the slightly more obscure (Yamaha CS-15, Rhodes Chroma, Oberheim SEM). By multi-overdubbing, each instrument's capabilities are displayed at their best, many being used for percussive backdrops, overlaid with chordal washes, melody lines and effects, mostly in an EM-via-techno style. Well, it was 1990...
Highlights? If you love synths, it's all good, but the tracks featuring the Odyssey, the MiniMoog and the Synthi AKS, along with the lesser-known Roland SH-5, probably hit Peak Analogue. Sadly, the Mellotron is sampled, as, according to Becker, his own M400 was unusable at that stage, so he used a friend's Novatron, which also proved too unstable to record, so they ended up sampling single notes and playing them via sequencing software. "But still it sounds like a mellotron, doesn't it?" Um, honestly? Not very, no. The flutes have a very synthetic quality about them, to the point where we could actually be hearing a good synthesized flute patch, the strings faring little better. Good try, guys... Becker produced another two volumes of Vintage Synths..., delving into the further reaches of synthesized obscurity, not least the Gleeman Pentaphonic, Roland's Promars Compuphonic, the French RSF Kobol and RMI's ultra-obscure (not to mention stereo!) Harmonic Synthesizer.
Tom Beek is a jazz saxophonist, whose White & Blue is... well, it's a jazz album, he says, slightly helplessly. Sorry, but unless you're really immersed in this stuff, what is there to say about it? Jazzy piano? Check. Walking bass? Check. Jazz sax? Check. Best track? The reflective Gnossienne Nr.4 (incorporating a snippet of Satie, unsurprisingly), no contest, also the one supposed Mellotron track (from Beek), although the vague flutes actually sound less convincing the the ones on the title track and Under The Sun.
Beggars Opera (UK) see:
Kim Beggs hails from the Yukon, next door to Alaska, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise to hear that her music is steeped in the North American rural 'tradition', whatever you take that to mean. In other words, she plays country, although as the genre goes, this is pretty old-school stuff, which has to be preferable to slick, modern Nashville 'stadium country'. Beggs varies it a bit, with a handful of more upbeat tracks (Maiden Heart, Firewater Bones) and even a mutated blues (Summertime Lonesome Blues), but the bulk of the record is '50s-style country, even featuring a good ol'-fashioned yodel in the amusing Can't Drive Slow Yodel. Steve Dawson is credited with Mellotron vibes on Mama's Dress, although you wouldn't know if you, er, didn't know, so I think we can safely assume samples. So; trad.country (as against alt.country), anyone? Perfectly good at what it does, but you've really got to be into this stuff...
Belbury Poly are a Jim Jupp nom de plume, 2009's From an Ancient Star being the eleventh release in Ghost Box's Belbury series of very English music, all test cards, late-night OU programmes and primitive electronica. It veers from few-second opener Belbury Poly Logotone through the Kraftwerk-if-they-were-Brits The Hidden Door, the pastoralisms of A Year And A Day and the village green reggae of A Great Day Out to the Jarre-isms of Seed Ships, all interspersed with little snippets of hymns and old English folk tunes. Eclectic, but impeccably constructed. We get samplotron strings, flutes and choppy choirs all over Adventures In A Miniature Landscape, with more choirs on Widdershins, alongside the album's ubiquitous (presumably softsynth-derived) synthscapes. If that peculiar strand of British '70s incidental TV music and early synths appeal, you stand a decent chance of enjoying From an Ancient Star, although I wouldn't bother for the low-level sampled Mellotron.
Going by the irritatingly-titled Asleep.Asleep., Bellflur play a form of post-rock/indie crossover, neither style guaranteed to give them a good review 'round these parts. And, indeed, they're not going to get one. Dull, overlong, meandering... Eamonn Aiken's 'Mellotron'? Distant sampled choirs on We Are On Ghost Ships and background flutes on We Can Build You.
Jake Bellows' New Ocean sits at the acceptable end of the country spectrum, yet not enough so to be 'alt.', better tracks including All Right Now (not that one), Running From Your Love and closer Frequency. However, Ben Brodin's 'Mellotron' strings on Drinking With Dad (a tale of intergenerational alcoholism?) simply aren't.
Bellwether's eponymous second (?) album is one of those 'perfectly decent yet rather unremarkable' Americana albums that followed the '90s alt.country boom. Better tracks include South Dakota, the (relatively) rocking Walk It Off and the slightly Neil Young-esque (it's that guitar sound) Takes A Toll, although the overall impression is slightly lacklustre. Amyliz Schaub is credited with Mellotron, but where is it? After waiting almost the entire length of the album, it FINALLY makes its appearance a few seconds before the end of closing track The Call, with a pleasant, if slightly redundant flute part, seemingly sampled, anyway. The following year's Home Late is more of the same, effectively, while Pete Sands' credited Chamberlin is nowhere to be heard.
The Beloved Few's eponymous album sits at the wetter end of roots rock, at its best on Please Take Care and Unto No One. Someone (Michael Troy?) supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, but the flutes on Sister Blue and who-knows-what on Where Angels Fear To Tread most certainly aren't.
Welcome, Nostalgia sits at the indie end of Americana, at its best on Professional Abddication and Boys Vs. Girls Vs. Boys, maybe. Ryan Matheson plays samplotron flutes on opener Bang/Head/Counter.
Despite becoming a married couple some years earlier, it took Ben and Vesper Stamper a while to actually decide to make music together. I haven't heard their earlier releases, but their fourth album, 2010's Honors, is a wispy piece of indie/folk/pop that you will either love or (as the cliché has it) hate. I'm afraid to say that I fall into the latter category. Yes, it's lovely and dreamlike and like listening to fluffy clouds, but I DON'T WANT TO LISTEN TO FUCKING FLUFFY CLOUDS! Er, sorry... Joshua Stamper (Ben's brother?) is credited with Mellotron, but the relatively speedy flute run on All Is Forgiven sounds decidedly inauthentic to these ears, so into samples it goes. As I said, this is fluffy cloud music, which, if you like fluffy clouds, must be wonderful.
Jamie Hartman has written pop hits for several currently popular artists, so it's no surprise that his band, Ben's Brother's second album, 2009's Battling Giants, features cameos from the likes of Joss Stone (poor man's Aretha) and the horrible Jason Mraz. The album itself consists of the wettest, most insipid kind of lightweight indie you can imagine; even the vaguest notion of any 'best tracks' is laughable, or would be if this wasn't so appalling. Hartman and Nikolaj Torp play 'Mellotron', with a quiet flute part on closer Letters that can't have taken two people to play, although the album's various string parts sound real. This really is vile; the kind of music that's tailor-made for use in drippy TV programmes involving people feeling bad about nothing in particular. Another thing: what a truly, truly terrible sleeve. OK, we're not quite in the realms of Paul Simon's offensive-to-the-eye Surprise, but it's still complete 'artistic' drivel. An all-round shitter, then.
The Bench Connection are the duo of Matt Deighton (Mother Earth, some other drivel), making him rather older than expected and Chris Sheehan, whose debut, 2007's Around the House in 80 Days, is a slushy, wet-as-water so-called 'folk' effort, horribly reminiscent of the worst West Coast nonsense you can imagine. Think: lots of tambourines. Does it have any 'best tracks'? No, it does not. Mike(y) Rowe is credited with keyboards, including Mellotron, on several tracks, but the only two possible appearances, both on Saint Want, turn out to be real strings and flute. Oh well, there go another fifty minutes of my life, with not even a genuine Mellotron sighting to show for it. Pointless.
Benedictum are an American metal band with an unhealthy obsession with Ronnie James Dio and his works, it seems. Not only do several of the band double in a Dio tribute act, but two of Dio's former associates (Jimmy Bain and Craig Goldy) guest on their debut album, 2006's Uncreation, on which they cover not one, but two Dio-era Sabbath tracks to boot. OK, Dio is a God Of Metal, but TWO songs? And they tackled Rainbow In The Dark on an early demo... You wouldn't know it from listening to this album, but Benedictum boast a female singer, Veronica Freeman, clearly not a woman of the ultra-feminist persuasion, by the looks of her stage garb. She gets a whole picture gallery to herself on their website and... Yup, there it is: the obligatory near-soft porn shot [sigh].
None of which has much to do with the album. Well, it's a typical modern metal release, in that it combines 'classic' metal with relentless double-kick work, downtuning and near-ambient keyboard work. Near-ambient keyboard? Chris Morgan adds lashings of tasteful synths to the album, eschewing flash for atmosphere, in a welcome move from which many of their contemporaries would do well to learn. It's not actually a bad album, but, keyboard work aside, it's about as unoriginal as you'd expect of a modern metal album, while the Dio influence does them few favours. Dokken's Jeff Pilson's production almost certainly explains Morgan's alleged Mellotron use, although it seems to be buried in the mix in places; are those strings in the background on #4? Or choirs on Misogyny? Definitely strings at the end of the latter, with solo cello underneath, but samples seem likely. There's a shot of Pilson at a generic modern keyboard in the studio on their website, but that means nothing. Anyway, choirs on Wicca and Valkyrie Rising, with strings on Sabbath's Heaven And Hell, although you can hear the real thing do the same on 1982's Live Evil, boys'n'girls...
A Berklee graduate, Marco Benevento (who's worked with Bobby Previte, amongst others) is a New York-based experimental jazz keyboard player, although his second solo album, 2008's all-instrumental Invisible Baby, keeps both styles well in check, opting to serve up a cluster of tuneful, mostly piano-led pieces. Highlights include opener Bus Ride and the wonderful Record Book, based on a circular 11/8 piano riff, although the slightly irritating The Real Morning Party (its cheap organ giving it a (very) vague Johnny & the Hurricanes feel) and the more overtly jazzy Ruby let the side down slightly, at least for this listener. The album opens with very obviously (deliberately so?) sampled Mellotron, a probably sequenced repeating string part running through the first minute of Bus Ride, flutes joining in as the strings return, with more strings on closer Are You The Favorite Person Of Anybody?
Benevento followed up with Me Not Me, containing mostly covers, including Beck's Sing It Again, Leonard Cohen's Seems So Long Ago, Nancy and Led Zep's Friends, instantly recognisable, despite its unorthodox setting. Somehow, though, the album seems less joyous than its predecessor, despite its highlights (particularly his thunderous take on Friends). Samplotron all over, with particularly strident strings on Now They're Writing Music and upfront flutes on Call Home. 2012's TigerFace is, essentially, more of the same, opening like Baba O'Reilly on steroids, with 'Mellotron' strings on Do What She Told You and Escape Horse.
Keys man Marco Benevento (above) and drummer Joe Russo met at school and started working together in 2001, quickly becoming associated with the jamband scene through their collaborations with members of Phish. 2006's Play Pause Stop is their fifth album, containing nine frequently distorted Wurlitzer-heavy, Phish-like pieces, better tracks including Echo Park and the (reasonably) gentle Powder. Benevento plays a skronky sampled Mellotron string line on Walking, Running, Viking and rather muffled chords on closer Memphis; good to hear, but shame they couldn't have tracked down a real machine. Surely John Medeski could've lent them his? Personally, I think I prefer Benevento's solo work to the duo, but that's only going by one album apiece, so may be an unfair judgement. Anyway, a decent enough effort in its field, but not something that'll appeal to everyone.
There's no getting away from it: the Lisbon-born, London-based Walter Benjamin (not to be confused with any German philosophers of your acquaintance) is unremittingly dour in his works, unless I've missed his sunshine pop phase. 2007's The Dog Follows the Bull EP isn't too bad, as it only gives us a small dose of Señor Benjamin's worldview, but even fourteen minutes of this stuff begins to drag. He's credited with 'Mellotron emulation' (shame more artists can't be that honest), the cellos on Like Jackson Pollock and, weirdly, the piano on Game Over proving his point. Benjamin's second download-only album, 2008's The National Crisis, effort of the kind that sounds great for about two tracks, until it becomes apparent that it isn't going to do anything else. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that makes Radiohead sound cheerful. Are there any best tracks? Possibly opener The Person #3, working on the aforementioned basis that you haven't yet tired of his sound by that point. On the clearly sampled Mellotron front, we get vaguely Mellotronish sax on The Person #3, flute on Our Endless Days, single choir notes and strings on Our Own Killing Fields and strings on Life Insurance.
Jay Bennett left Wilco after the problems surrounding the mixing sessions for their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot effort, teaming up with Edward Burch and recording The Palace at 4am (Part I) soon after. It's an intriguing mix of powerpop and the alt.country for which Wilco are known, with hints of '60s orchestral pop, making for a rich, detailed record. The material's good without being outstanding, better tracks including opener Puzzle Heart, the powerpop of Whispers Or Screams, No Church Tonite and lengthy near-ambient closer It Hurts. If the album has a fault, it's that old bugbear: length. Why make a 70-minute album? Once upon a time, the double-LP was a once-in-a-career option; now it seems to be standard. Too long, sir, too long.
Multi-instrumentalist Bennett plays supposed Mellotron, amongst many other things, with a distant flute part on Talk To Me, murky strings on Shakin' Sugar and a few second of flutes at the end of C.T.M. There's a major flute part on Drinking On Your Dime, a distant one on My Darlin' and more obvious flutes and strings on No Church Tonite, with queasy string parts on Venus Stopped the Train and California (plus flutes) to finish things off nicely, although it would seem it's sampled. As a tragic postscript, Bennett died on May 24th, 2009, aged all of 45. Due to the iniquitous American 'system' of health insurance (a major evil of the modern world, not least due to its international influence), he couldn't afford a hip replacement operation and died from an accidental overdose of painkillers. Thank you, free-market economics; chalk up another victim. Bennett apparently had several projects in the pipeline when he died, including a second volume of The Palace at 4am with Burch; we can only wonder how it might have turned out.
Benny Ibarra de Llano (ex-Timbiriche, apparently) is from a musical family, making it no surprise that he and his brother Alex have both become professional musicians. 2005's Así is his sixth release, excluding compilations, a vaguely rootsy Latin pop/rock effort of practically no interest to the non-Latin market whatsoever, as far as I can work out. The tracks with a more American feel tend to be the less endurance-testing, but there's little here to excite anyone outside his doubtless considerable Mexican fanbase. Memo Méndez Guiú is credited with Mellotron, but while the polyphonic flute part on A Veces just about passes muster, the strings on Tal Vez and cellos on the title track are very clearly sampled. The end result of which is... you guessed it: don't bother.
Bent Eye Bolt sit at the Americana end of roots rock, Unknown Artist's best tracks including opener Cruisin' Ocean Drive, Demeanor's slow-burn and Pirate's Blood. No-one's even credited with Mellotron on this one, so the vaguely Mellotronic strings on closer Escape don't even really count as samples.
Marit Bergman (ex-punk outfit Candysuck) makes upbeat pop/rock in the way that the Swedes seem to do so well (wasn't there a major Swedish pop group in the '70s?). Baby Dry Your Eye is her second solo album, a Swedish chart-topper, and while it would be easy to dismiss it as 'just another mainstream pop album', it's actually got rather more depth than that, particularly in the lyric department. I'm not saying it's going to appeal to the average Planet Mellotron reader, 'cos it isn't, just that it's better than you might expect. Björn Yttling is credited with Mellotron on Mystery, but given that he's battling against clarinet, flügel horn and solo violin, it's rather hard to work out what he might be playing: background strings? Flutes? There's something going on well down in the mix, but I'll be buggered if I can work out what.
Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart's Americana duo's second album, 2002's Something to Fall Back on, covers all the good country bases, while chiefly avoiding the bad. Highlights include rocky opener Come On In, the (relatively) upbeat Lonely Town, the superb Old Gray Deadhead and Desert Rose, while This Road Don't Go Nowhere should keep banjo fans happy. Who'd have thought it? A country album with no low spots? Ben Moore plays samplotron flutes on closer My My My, despite the iffy tuning and volume fluctuations between notes.
Laura Berman (nothing to do with the famous relationship therapist, of course), is a New York-based singer-songwriter, whose Love Will sits somewhere in between TV background music-friendly stuff and mainsteam country, for its sins. It's not all bad, but her tedious, showoffy vocal calisthenics grate, notably on closer I've Found My Own. Richard Furch's background 'Mellotron' strings on the title track do nothing to improve matters, sadly.
Julian Berntzen's 2003 debut, Waffy town, seems to feature real Mellotron, from what I've heard, but I'm afraid I can't say the same for Ellie & Elliot, nine years on. It is, however, a really rather good album, presumably conceptual, combining powerpop tropes with what, for want of a better phrase, I shall term 'circus music', making for a surprisingly original end product. Best tracks? It's pretty much all good, but Snowglobe and the McCartney-esque Across The Street possibly rise to the top of the heap. An uncredited player (Berntzen himself?) plays a Mellotronic a flute part on Across The Street, with a speedy run that really gives it away.
Matt Berry? I looked him up. Oh, that Matt Berry! The IT Crowd, the magnificent Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, even The Mighty Boosh. Not the first actor to go into music; quite possibly, like many others, a musician who went into acting. The trouble with reviewing music made by comic actors is, can I take any of it seriously? 2013's Kill the Wolf is a fine album, but does he mean any of it? I'm hoping he's perfectly serious about his musical career (it's a hell of an act to keep up if not), but there's always that nagging doubt. The album sits in a kind of pre-psych '60s/Americana zone, typified by opener Gather Up, all massed folky vocals, Devil Inside Me (a more '60s proposition), the Farfisa-driven Medicine and October Sun, although personal favourite Solstice (all nine minutes of it) is more of a folk/rock/prog crossover thing. And before you ask, yes, Berry has an excellent voice. His credited Mellotron, however, seems unlikely to be genuine, the choirs on Solstice and strings on Knock Knock failing to summon up enough veracity to escape sample quarantine.
Berry's follow-up, Music for Insomniacs, is so different to its predecessor that you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to someone else entirely. An instrumental album that presumably attempts to be what its title says (it's actually rather better than that), it starts off all a bit Tubular Bells, presumably deliberately, carrying on in a similar instrumental-yet-only-tangentially-electronic region. Well, until about nineteen minutes into Part II, that is, when it suddenly lurches into a spot-on Jean Michel Jarre soundalike (apparently a huge influence), better than anything I've heard from the man himself in many years. Samplotron? Yup, mainly choirs, scattered about the album seemingly at random.
Algerian-born Louis Bertignac is a French singer-songwriter, once a member of both Shakin' Street and Téléphone, two of his country's premier late '70s outfits. Including the two albums he made with Bertignac et les Visiteurs, 2005's Longtemps is his sixth solo studio release, a perfectly acceptable vaguely roots-rock effort, although, as with so many similar, I'd imagine you'll get more out of it should you speak the language. It shifts between the expected rock-with-acoustic guitars through the ethnic-ish La Saga Des Gnous to the folk-blues of J'Ai Pas L'Temps and the straight folk of the title track, making for a decent level of stylistic variety on the kind of album that, all too often, is rather one-dimensional. Best track? My personal favourite is the lengthyish Longtemps itself, but only because it has a slight psych feel to it. Johan Ledoux plays background supposed Mellotron flute chords on J'Ai Pas L'Temps, but all I hear is samples.
The Besnard Lakes are the husband/wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, who play a rather gloomy form of indie. On their third album, 2010's The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, they are toweringly unambitious, clearly content to make the most unimaginative music they can, er, imagine, waffling along for three-quarters of an hour, although it feels longer. The nearest the album gets to highpoints are two-part opener Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent, mainly due to their style having not yet become completely tedious and the slide guitar opening to Albatross, although it slumps into their default slough of despond all too soon. Lasek and Goreas both play samplotron, with uncredited flutes on part one of Land Of Living Skies, The Land, although both are credited with the strings on Light Up The Night.
Beulah, associated with Apples in Stereo, certainly have a similarly skewed way of looking at the world, although far less '60s-centric. Psychedelia, but not as we know it, Jim. The Coast is Never Clear is their third album, sounding pretty upbeat for a modern psych record; to be honest, this is the kind of music that needs more than the cursory play I can give it to appreciate it properly. Suffice to say, no duff tracks and several excellent ones. My job is made far easier here by the band's inclusion of full instrumental credits on their website, although all the 'Mellotron' is quite clearly sampled. Thank you, chaps. No fewer than four different people play 'Mellotron' on the album, including three on one track (Hey Brother, if you're interested). Pat Noel plays a string part on Hello Resolven, while Steve LaFollette does something on A Good Man Is Easy To Kill, alongside real strings and adds discrete flutes with more upfront strings on Gene Autry. Noel and Bill Swan stick some strings and cellos on Popular Mechanics For Lovers, then we're back to LaFollette's strings on Gravity's Bringing Us Down before the relative 'Tronfest of Hey Brother, with LaFollette, Swan and Bill Evans playing string and flute parts at various points. After a 'Tron'-free gap, the album closes with LaFollette's on Night Is the Day Turned Inside Out.
2003's Yoko, a rather more downbeat affair than its predecessor, was planned as the band's swansong. Once more, nothing immediately stands out and I suspect the album simply isn't as good, although subsequent plays (er, when?) may well prove me wrong. No idea who plays 'Tron' this time round, although Pat Noel seems a likely bet. Anyway, pitchbent strings on Landslide Baby and a full-on string part on You're Only King Once, with strings and flutes on Hovering and more strings on Don't Forget To Breathe and Wipe Those Prints And Run.