Bat for Lashes
Ben + Vesper
Aradía (2009, 69.24) ***
Will Love Drive Out the Rain
Al Ritmo di una Storia
Ever Too Small
Don't Dream That Dream
|Non e' l'Amore il Tuo Destino
Two Witches & Doreen
When the Eagles Flied
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.
Celestial Fire (2014, 74.17) *½
See What I See
The First Autumn
For Such a Time as This
|In the Moment
On the Edge of Glory
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.
All in a Dream (2014, 44.34) ***½
|Love is You
Which Dreamed it
Kite Come Back
You Can Never Pipe My Fancy From My Dear
Through the Snow
Waves, Stars & Moon
I Can Hear You
The Glamour Forest (2014, 10.23) ***½Mirror Mirror
Hole in the Sky
Waves, Stars & Moon
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.
Baladas do Asfalto e Outros Blues (2005, 50.01) **½
Balada do Asfalto
Meu Amor Minha Flor Minha Menina
Flores No Asfalto
Balada do Céu Negro
Quando el Dorme Em Minha Casa
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.
Flicker (1999, 41.05) ***
Halfway to Texas
Dirt on Your Heel
Airless Midnight (2015, 44.41) **½
Let's Tonight it
Calls at 3am
Long Gone (This is War)
All You Need
Trouble You Don't See
Exit at 63
|Silence (After the Phonecall)
Lullaby for Tonight, Lullaby for No One
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.
It's Kinda Lonely Where I am (1995, 14.29) ***It's Kinda Lonely Where I am
Another Member of the Millhill Self Hate Club
Bled a River Over You
Catholic Guilt [as Edward Ball] (1997, 38.03) ***½
|The Mill Hill Self Hate Club
Love is Blue
The Hampstead Therapist
Never Live to Love Again
|This is the Story of My Love
This is Real
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.
Love the Donkey (2005, 49.10) ***
Rio De Jamaica
Forró for All
Tap on the Cajon
Frevo de Rua
Olivia - Step on the Roach
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. Anyway, a Latin-avant-New-York-jazz album for Tzadik label fans who like a bit of rumba (or whatever).
Are Me (2006, 49.13) ***
Sound of Your Voice
Bull in a China Shop
Everything Had Changed
Peterborough and the Kawarthas
|Maybe You're Right
Take it Back
Rule the World With Love
Wind it Up
Are Men (2007, 60.00) ***
Something You'll Never Find
One and Only
Down to Earth
Running Out of Ink
Half a Heart
I Can I Will I Do
Fun & Games
The New Sad
What a Letdown
Why Say Anything Nice?
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.
Are Me and Are Men are bland, harmless records, that drifted by without ever actually impinging themselves on my consciousness overmuch, with next to no audible Mellotron, all of which adds up to... I really wouldn't bother.
El Último Fin de Semana (2011, 35.37) ****
Entering the Lost Village
By the Shore
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. No matter, however, as this is an excellent effort, recommended to fans of both Anekdoten in particular and soundtracks in general.
See: Anekdoten | My Brother the Wind
Time Has Come (2009, 36.07) ***½
Song for a Sleepwalker
Waiting for the Snakes
Old Brown Shoes
|Time Has Come
One Trick Pony
Frame By Frame (2014, 31.47) ***
|What Will We Do
Way of the Rover
Keep on Rollin'
Two Ringing Ears
Soon I Will Hold You Again
A Million Miles
Winner & Loser
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.
Glow in the Dark (2008, 77.37) ***
The Sorrow, the Fish, and
God's Little Do-Over
Chauncey Saucer Survives 2012
Moon v. Moon
|Glow in the Dark
Next Life... Let's Just Wave to Each Other
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.
Communication (2003, 45.49) ***½
I'm the Message
15 Minutes of Fame
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.
See: Kraftwerk | Elektric Music
The Haunted Man (2012, 51.45) ***½
All Your Gold
Horses of the Sun
The Haunted Man
Rest Your Head
Deep Sea Diver
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.
En Otra Ciudad (2006, 49.52) ***½
Un Auto Para Lynn
El Mismo Lugar
El Hombre de Blanco
Camino a Oxnard
Un Dia Todo el Veterano
Dios Quiere Mi Chocolate
Mas Lejos de Casa
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'.
De Mi Puño y Letra (2009, 40.43) **
|Colgando en Tus Manos
No Me Abandones Amiga Mia
En Nuestro Aniversario
Lloran Mis Labios
Tú No Sabes Que Tanto
Donde Está el Amor Que No Duele
Nada Se Compara a Ti
Te Extraño Porque te Extraño
|Me Quiero Casar Contigo
Mariana No Quiere Ser Mojigata
Que Fácil es Decirte Cuanto te Quiero
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.
Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011, 51.42) ***
|Four Letter Word
Beatles and Stones
Wind Up Dream
Bring the Light
Kill for a Dream
|Standing on the Edge of the Noise
Three Ring Circus
The Beat Goes on
The Morning Son
|download (2011) ***
Across the Universe
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?
See: Oasis | Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Från en Plats du Ej Kan Se (2003, 58.58) ***½Från en Plats du Ej Kan Se
Poison Ivy and the Full Monty
A Good Excuse
Om en Utväg Fanns
A Psychic Amplifier
Sleeping in Traffic: Part Two (2008, 74.20) ***½As the Sun Sets
Into the Night
South of the Border
The Downward Spiral/Chimay
Sleeping in Traffic
Destined Solitaire (2009, 76.44) ***½Awaken the Sleeping
Until You Comply (including Entropy)
In Real Life There is No Algebra
Where the Rain Comes in
At Home... Watching Movies
Coup de Grâce
Abigail's Questions (in an Infinite Universe)
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made of
Mammoth (2011, 52.16) ****The Platform
And the Stone Said: if I Could Speak
Without Saying Anything (feat. Ventriloquist)
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.
Beggars Opera (UK) see:
Blue Bones (2010, 46.07) **½
|Honey and Crumbs
Can't Drive Slow Yodel
Bring Out Your Bones
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
Summertime Lonesome Blues
Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes
Just Someone I Used to Know
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...
From an Ancient Star (2009, 48.42) ***½
|Belbury Poly Logotone
The Hidden Door
From an Ancient Star
A Year and a Day
The All at Once Club
Adventures in a Miniature Landscape
|A Great Day Out
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.
Honors (2010, 36.34) **
My Father's Eyes
Find Your Friend
How You Are
Cheer Up, Cheers!
All is Forgiven
Understruggle; Yay, Win
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.
Around the House in 80 Days (2007, 50.22) *½
|Young at Last
The Big Wide Out There
I'm So Blue I'm Black
All Strings Attached (Happiness Runs)
Last Needle in the Haystack
First Man Standing
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.
Invisible Baby (2008, 42.05) ***½Bus Ride
The Real Morning Party
You Must Be a Lion
If You Keep on Asking Me
Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody?
Me Not Me (2009, 42.57) ***
Now They're Writing Music
Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
Sing it Again
Run of the Mill
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.
Overall, two worthy efforts, although Invisible Baby, despite its relative brevity, could probably be improved by removing a couple of lesser tracks.
Play Pause Stop (2006, 47.46) ***
|Play Pause Stop
Best Reason to Buy the Sun
Something for Rockets
Walking, Running, Viking
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.
The Dog Follows the Bull (2007, 14.43) **½Like Jackson Pollock
God on Our Street
Look What They've Done
The National Crisis (2008, 42.14) **
|The Person #3
The Lake of Gold
Our Endless Days
Our Own Killing Fields
We Live Inside the Matchbox
The Borders Went Down
|The Lover and the Thief
Two Stones for the Luck
We Might Never Fall in Love
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.
I'm sure Benjamin is utterly sincere, but I'm afraid his music bored the crap out of me, a handful of fakeotron tracks doing little to improve matters.
Así (2005, 49.40) **
Te Me Escapas
|Detrás De Ti
No Me Hace Bien
Algo Sigue Vivo Aquí
No Demos Paso Atrás
Donde Nace el Sol
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.
Kill the Wolf (2013, 45.32) ***½
Devil Inside Me
Farewell Summer Sun
Music for Insomniacs (2014, 46.53) ***½Music For Insomniacs - Part 1
Music For Insomniacs - Part 2
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.
Are these worth hearing? Yes, but don't expect them to sound anything, that's anything like each other.
The Coast is Never Clear (2001, 41.12) ***½
A Good Man is Easy to Kill
What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?
Popular Mechanics for Lovers
Gravity's Bringing Us Down
|I'll Be Your Lampshade
Cruel Minor Change
Burned By the Sun
Night is the Day Turned Inside Out
Yoko (2003, 44.55) ***
|A Man Like Me
You're Only King Once
My Side of the City
Me and Jesus Don't Talk Anymore
Fooled With the Wrong Guy
Your Mother Loves You Son
|Don't Forget to Breathe
Wipe Those Prints and Run
Beulah are associated with Apples in Stereo, and they 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 I'm quite certain all the 'Mellotron' is actually 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 was planned as the band's swansong, and is a rather more downbeat affair than its predecessor. 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.
So; two modern psych albums that are probably growers. Yoko's OK on the 'Tron' front, but The Coast is Never Clear is actually well worth hearing for its samplotronic input. Worth the effort.
See: Apples in Stereo | Miles Kurosky | Ladybug Transistor | Marbles | Of Montreal | Sunshine Fix | Thee American Revolution