Cage the Elephant
Joey Cape & Tony Sly
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
New Skin (2016, 30.32) **
|Ways to Fake it
Give it Up
|One Track Mind
Despite considering themselves a cross between powerpop and metal, CRX (including ex-Stroke Nick Valensi) are more electro-punk on their debut, 2016's New Skin, at least to my ears. Better material includes opener Ways To Fake It and Slow Down, but, despite the album's brevity, it all becomes pretty tiresome, pretty quickly.
Richie Follin, presumably, adds Mellotron-esque strings to Broken Bones, fairly obviously sampled. While the album isn't a complete disaster, I can't imagine why anyone much out of their teens would wish to hear it.
See: The Strokes
Melophobia (2013, 37.29) **
Come a Little Closer
It's Just Forever
Take it or Leave it
Cage the Elephant are a current American indie outfit, sporting a relatively eclectic range of influences, which apparently shift from album to album. Their third release, 2013's Melophobia, seems to be their attempt to 'find their own sound', the end result being an unappealing mish-mash of various strands of the alt.rock non-genre, less bad efforts including opener Spiderhead, the punky It's Just Forever and the energetic Black Widow, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation.
Someone adds a samplotron string line (and cellos?) to Telescope and murky choirs, strings and cellos to closer Cigarette Daydreams, which do little to improve matters, if truth be told. Current US indie? No thanks.
Lust for Sacrilege (2015, 37.19) ***
|The Dark is Who I am
Down in Misery
Flesh and Blood
Lust for Sacrilege
|New York Ripper
Lords of the Wasteland
Drift Into Dust
Calabrese, consisting of three (genuine) brothers, have been around since the early 2000s, 2015's Lust for Sacrilege being their sixth full-lengther. After odd-man-out semi-ambient opener The Dark Is Who I Am, the band revert to type on Down In Misery's downtuned, punky metal, the only other holdout being closer Drift Into Dust, the two exceptions to the rule clearly deliberately bookending the album. The nine tracks inbetween the bookends are similar enough to be near-indistinguishable to non-fans (yet I like The Ramones...), but the two more experimental efforts gain this an extra half star.
Bob Hoag is credited with Mellotron, but if we're supposed to be hearing one on The Dark Is Who I Am, er, we're not. Background choirs and a four-chord solo on what might be a strings/flute mix. Nope, not real.
Algiers (2012, 46.41) ***
Sinner in the Sea
Maybe on Monday
|Better and Better
No Te Vayas
The Vanishing Mind
Calexico, formed by two ex-alumni of Giant Sand, play a kind of Tex-Mex Americana, which, on their seventh non-soundtrack release, 2012's Algiers, translates to 'rather mournful Americana with a bit of mariachi thrown in'. Is it any good? In places, definitely, although this reviewer found that it began to outstay its welcome towards the end, despite not being over-long. Best tracks? The (relatively) energetic Splitter, the stately Para and the gentle Better And Better, perhaps, although I'd imagine aficionados would disagree.
Craig Schumacher is credited with Wurlitzer organ, percussion and Mellotron on four tracks, although the latter only obviously appears on three and, what's more, appears to be sampled. We get cello, string and brass lines on opener Epic, with strings on Para and Maybe On Monday, but it's Para that really gives the game away, with an overly-sustained note towards the end that then pitchbends in a decidedly inauthentic way. Do you bother? Only if their take on Americana sounds like it might be up your street. The jury's still out here, to be honest.
See: Calexico | Giant Sand | Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs
Generazioni (2002, 53.21) ***½La Prova
Margherita a Rodi
Luci ed Ombre
Non ci Credo Più
La Terra dei Grandi Occhi
Calliope were one of a handful of halfway decent prog bands to come out of Italy in the '90s, fighting their way through a sea of turgid neo-prog tosh in an attempt to regain their country's '70s glory. As you can see from their main review, they owned an M400 and used it extensively on their first two albums, before major line-up changes and a rather average third record that may or may not have featured real 'Tron.
As if their previous line-up changes weren't confusing enough, their final album, the live Generazioni, changes almost everyone again (back to male vocals), the only survivor from Il Madrigale del Vento being second keyboard player Enrico Perrucci, leaving precisely no original members in under a decade. Consisting mainly of first album material, opener La Prova (from Città di Frontiera) is as 'Mellotron'-free as its studio version, with Pensieri Affascinani, Margherita A Rodi and Non Ci Credo Più featuring most of their studio counterparts' 'Tron sections (new song Luci Ed Ombre also has some), at least on strings, although it has to be asked: is it real? I'm rather doubtful, to be honest, so until I find out otherwise, I think this has to stay here. There is actually a short burst of 'Tronlike choir to be heard on the album, at the end of Non Ci Credo Più, but while it doesn't sound that authentic, at least it's a Mellotron sound...
Calog3ro (2004, 48.12) **
Face à la Mer
Si Seulement Je Pouvais Lui Manquer
Fais Comme Tu Veux
Je N'ai Que Nous à Vivre
Un Jour Parfait
|Les Hommes Endormis
Calogero (Maurici) is a French singer-songwriter who initially found fame with Les Charts, a band he formed in his mid-teens. 2004's Calog3ro (or, according to some sources, 3) is, unsurprisingly, his third solo effort, an unappealing concoction of pop and rock, with elements from hip-ho and other dance-related styles thrown into the mix for bad measure. Best tracks? Non.
As far as the album's samplotron content goes, some warbly flutes on Qui Parlait and Un Jour Parfait and flutes and strings on Les Hommes Endormis are your lot, doing not one jot to make this album any the more worth hearing.
Official French-language record company site
Relocated (2006, 59.20) **½
We Are Lovers
The Perfect Key
The Pleasure Remains
How Do You Feel?
Camouflage are a German synthpop act who incorporate elements of mainstream rock into their thang. Their seventh 'proper' album, 2006's Relocated, mixes the two well enough to make them difficult to categorise; suffice to say, if you like their previous work, chances are you'll like this.
Although Heiko Maile is credited with 'Mellotron', it's almost certainly samples, although they allegedly used a real one on 1991's Meanwhile. The chief use here is the choirs at the end of Stream, although there's a couple of places where the string sounds are more Mellotronic than anything else. Overall, then, not the most interesting album I've ever heard, and not the most arresting Mellotron (sample) use, either.
The Fakeout, the Tease & the Breather (2010, 55.42) **
Mountains of Molehills
I Don't Know Where I Was Going With This
Magazine (Songwriter on a Train)
Reading the Map Upside Down
Plan Your Escape
Although sometimes described as 'chamber pop', going by Chicagoans Canasta's second album, 2010's The Fakeout, the Tease & the Breather, 'tedious sub-post-rock/pop' might be closer to the mark. Irritatingly, the band occasionally summon up the imagination to attempt something interesting, but seemingly lack the skill to do anything with it.
Kyle Mann and Ian Wilson are credited with Mellotron, but the rather-too-clean strings on Shortcuts sound enough like samples to place this here. Post-rock/indie, anyone? Thought not.
My Back Pages Volume 1 (2009, 59.05) ***½
|Eight Miles High
Journey to the Center of the Mind
On the Turning Away
My Sunday Feeling
Turn Turn Turn
|Hurdy Gurdy Man
Court of the Crimson King
Jeff Cannata's career began as drummer with Jasper Wrath, although he's now better known as a vocalist and guitarist. 2009's covers set My Back Pages Volume 1 is his fourth solo album in a twenty-year period, a fairly typical 'all my influences' effort, most tracks being fairly faithful recreations of the originals. They're largely what you'd expect of someone who came up through the progressive scene: Crimson, Tull (twice), The Beatles, The Byrds (also twice)... Being American, Cannata tackles several US outfits, not least Spirit, Jefferson Airplane and The Amboy Dukes. Somehow or other, I've managed never to hear the last-named's excellent Journey To The Center Of The Mind before; how could that buffoon Ted Nugent claim that he 'didn't know it was a drug song'? Twat. The nearest the album gets to low points are his take on Pink Floyd's limp On The Turning Away (from 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason): a strange choice, given that a) it's the only cover here from outside the era and b) there are far more appropriate tracks from their repertoire, plus closing 'bonus' Life, a cheesy self-written AOR number referencing all Cannata's faves.
Two 'Mellotron' tracks, credited to Cannata himself, with the expected fakeotron strings on Space Oddity and Court Of The Crimson King; good samples, I'll give you, but samples all the same. Is there any point to this album? We certainly get some unexpected versions, not least Tull's Mother Goose and the Airplane's Embryonic Journey (George Manukas on acoustic), so it'd be fair to say that it's a reasonable primer into what a young American musician was listening to at the time, without all the licensing hassles you'd get trying to compile the originals.
Impasse (2005, 62.13) ***½Sun Radiation
North of Circle
Light Echoes (2006, 66.51) ***½Light Echoes
Two Toned Rock on Mars
Red Metal (2007, 64.11) ***
Dark Memory System
Voices in the Space
(Francisco) Javi(er) Cánovas (Pordomingo) is a rare Spanish entrant in the modern EM stakes, his trademark sparse sound separating him from the pack of 'Berlin School' clones. I believe 2005's Impasse is his debut, a typically lengthy electronic effort, if better than many, the sequencing on Zenith being more complex and original than the usual. The sampled Mellotron choirs come in on opener Sun Radiation around the same time as the sequencer's first appearance, with more of the same on North Of Circle and some particularly nasty low string notes on Zenith, on the offchance that you thought he might be using a real one.
The following year's Light Echoes relies more heavily on Cánovas' sequencer patterns, actually losing some of its limited originality in the process. Once again, a perfectly 'good' release (well, how difficult can it be?), but nothing that will appeal to any but hardened aficionados. The first Mellotron sound this time is the flutes, a Tangs-like melody splattered all over the opening title track, with more of the same on Two Toned Rock On Mars, leaving closer Interpherometry to the strings and choirs. 2007's Red Metal is a very different proposition indeed: twelve (relatively) short tracks, some beginning to approach the dance spectrum, although most are similar to the above two albums, only vastly shorter. Next to no Mellotron samples, with naught but a flute line on Voices In The Space, surprisingly.
Despite his change of tack on Red Metal, Cánovas is very much an artist who makes music with (modern) synthesizers and who should be approached as such. His more recent work may or may not move further towards the dance spectrum, or he may've reverted to the tried'n'tested approach; either way, one for synth-heads only.
Acoustic (2004, 38.54) **½
|International You Day
Not Your Savior
Justified Black Eye
On the Outside
Move the Car
Wind in Your Sails
Joey Cape and Tony Sly are frontmen for what passes for American punk bands these days, respectively Lagwagon and No Use for a Name. No, I haven't heard of them, either. 2004's Acoustic, is, as you might expect, a document of the pair playing some of their repertoire acoustically, although it's more a split release than a collaboration, the first six tracks by Sly, the remainder by Cape. Do they work in this format? Acoustically, Sly's material sounds like just about any awful current US singer-songwriter you care to name, cheesy melodies (and is that a hint of Autotune I hear?) floating over inconsequential chord sequences, although Cape's have a little more substance, thankfully, the best example possibly being Wind In Your Sails.
Todd Capps allegedly plays Mellotron on Cape's tracks, but the flutes on Tragic Vision are most unconvincing. Unfortunately, the solo flute's relatively simple waveform makes it probably the easiest Mellotron sound to sample effectively, thus the hardest to spot. Either way, this is a pretty unexciting effort, although at least Cape's songs didn't have me lunging for the 'next' button.
Official Joey Cape site
Tony Sly MySpace
On Land & in the Sea (1989, 47.28/48.48) *****
|Two Bites of Cherry
Baby Heart Dirt
The Leader of the Starry Skys
I Hold My Love in My Arms
The Duck and Roger the Horse
The Stench of Honey
Buds and Spawn
The Safety Bowl
The Everso Closely Guarded Line
Cardiacs should need no introduction to anyone interested in unusual, challenging music; often labelled 'prog', they could just as easily fit into several other genres, or equally, fall between the various cracks, effectively creating their own genre (in a manner not dissimilar to Magma's Zeuhl). 1989's On Land & in the Sea (named for a line from 1985 EP lead-off track Big Ship) was their second full-length studio album to appear on vinyl and while (arguably) not quite hitting the peaks of the previous year's A Little Man & a House & the Whole World Window, it runs it an exceedingly close second, classics such as The Leader Of The Starry Skys [sic], Arnald [also sic], Fast Robert and deathless closer The Everso Closely Guarded Line staying in the band's set for the next two decades.
Having used a real Mellotron on their previous album, crafty samples had been made (pretty early in '88, but there you go), finding their way onto a handful of tracks here, with background choirs on I Hold My Love In My Arms, Buds And Spawn and The Everso Closely Guarded Line, although I could swear there was a major string swell somewhere on the record, too. Anyway, assuming you can actually get hold of this (Cardiacs CD availability has always been a bit of a nebulous thing), it ranks alongside A Little Man... and the Big Ship EP as an utterly essential release.
See: Cardiacs | William D. Drake
A New Day (2015, 46.31) ***
|Begge Sa Rew
Yalla Nay Moom
Show Me Love
Never let it be said that I don't listen to a variety of music for your reading pleasure. Carlou D (ex-Senegalese hip-hop collective Positive Black Soul) has released (to my knowledge), two albums outside his home country, the second of which, 2015's A New Day, concerns us here. It starts well with the insistent Begge Sa Rew and Soldier, but quickly begins to sound somewhat samey, at least to ears unattuned to African styles. It finishes with two ballads, the slightly cheesy Mbeggeel and the rather better I Believe (Carlou is also a decent guitarist), which at least add some variety to the proceedings.
Jesper Nordenström (the album was partly recorded in Sweden) is credited with Mellotron, but the polyphonic flute part in Wax doesn't ring true to my ears. So; westernised Afropop, done well, but unlikely to be of any more interest to you than it is to me.
Carpe Nota (2012, 68.06) ****Thoracic Park
Welcome to the Edge
It Can't Be So
For All Time
Going by their eponymous 2012 debut, Pennsylvanian instrumental quartet Carpe Nota play a kind of vaguely fusion-inflected 'modern prog', consisting of a heavy dose of faux-'70s Spock's Beard-isms, some near-Dream Theater heaviness and more than a little good ol' '70s hard rock; 'heavy prog', as against 'prog metal', if you like. Top tracks? Kind-of irrelevant, as the album's more about its overall impact than any specific highlights, although Obsidian's a personal favourite.
Keys man Dan Pluta lists his setup, proving what your ears will already tell you, that the 'Mellotron' strings (phased, in some cases) on Thoracic Park, It Can't Be So, Bio-Freez and ten-minute closer For All Time are sampled. All in all, then, Carpe Nota is a fine album that should, if the stars are aligned, appeal to both 'trad' and 'modern' prog fans, without alienating either. Good work, chaps - I look forward to the follow-up.
Man Made Machine (2005, 58.30) ***
|Titans Clash Aggressively to Keep
an Even Score
The Weakening Sound
Tilting the Scales
The Man You Just Became
Man Made Machine
Burn to Something New
|In the Centre of an Empty Space
This is Home
Carptree are categorised as 'neo-prog' by ProgArchives, but they have little in common with the '80s bands that define that sub-genre, sounding instead like a cross between 'modern prog' (Spock's Beard et al.) and the tuneless prog metal that seems to pass for mainstream progressive rock these days. 2005's Man Made Machine isn't a bad album as such, it's just rather faceless, and its pomposity is enough to make any old-school prog fan who appreciates a little subtlety run for the hills.
Although I've seen references to 'Mellotron' in relation to this album, the strings heard throughout are very clearly 'Tron samples, the upper end of their reach being screechy and stretched, though, in fairness, nothing's credited on the album. So; rather uninspired modern prog with sampled 'Tron. Your choice, methinks.
vs. Children (2009, 32.17) ***
|Casiotone for the Painfully Alone vs. Children
Tom Justice, the Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended
at Ace Hardware in Libertyville, IL
Optimist vs. the Silent Alarm (When the Saints
Go Marching in)
Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone on
Christmas in Montpelier, VT
Harsh the Herald Angels Sing
You Were Alone
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone are effectively San Franciscan Owen Ashworth's solo project, although he uses collaborators as and when. 2009's vs. Children (or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone vs. Children, I suppose) is something like his sixth album, a low-fi delight of cheap drum machines, muted voices and school-hall piano, filled with strange, ageless little songs with titles like Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber, Apprehended At Ace Hardware In Libertyville, IL or Traveling Salesman's Young Wife Home Alone On Christmas In Montpelier, VT. I'm not even sure who might go for Ashworth's highly individual approach to music-making, although I hope someone does; this is too quirky to ignore, even if it's not exactly my bag.
Ashworth freely admits to using Mellotron samples, which makes a nice change, with flutes and cellos on Man O'War, very upfront flutes on Killers (an amusing parody of Bowie's "Heroes") and closer White Jetta. Is this going to be your thing? More probably not than probably, but it does that weird, low-fi indie thing as well as any and better than most, with a little samplotron to spice things up.
See: Advance Base
Com.union (2007, 70.09) ***½
Fantasmas y Demonios
Donde Se Visten las Serpientes
El Cojín Verde
Hogar Dulce Hogar
Amazingly, Mexico's Cast originally formed in 1978, keeping a low profile in the stinky '80s and releasing their first album in 1994. Although they tended heavily towards the neo-prog end of things in the '90s, they've slowly developed a sound of their own, until by their fifteenth release (they were very busy in their first decade), 2007's Com.union (ho ho), they can probably be said to be about as original as they're going to get within the confines of the genre. Despite its length (again...), the album has several highlights, not least the epic Elfonía, the odd, brassy, '60s-ish Hogar Dulce Hogar and Lobos, although one major criticism is Claudio Cordero's guitar work: all too often, it seems he can't think of anything more original to do than riff along with the keyboards. More imagination please, sir.
Alfonso Vidales is credited with 'Melotron', but the strings and choirs on Elfonía sound about as genuine as that spelling, to absolutely no-one's surprise. Overall, then, a far better effort than I was expecting, having vestigial memories of being bored stupid by this lot in the late '90s. A shame a few more bands from that time can't pull their socks up in a similar fashion.
Gods of 1973 (2009, 47.08) ****The Mighty Arp
Gods of 1973
Canoeing on the River Styx
Symphony of Sorrowful Songs/Cantabile Semplice
The Last Song Ever
Criteria Obsession (2015, 44.50) ***½Wiggy Beets
Criteria Obsession/The Mushroom Song
My Lady Carey
Zig Zag River
Castle Canyon were yet another early '70s US progressive band who, more through circumstance than lack of talent, never got the breaks, even in a small way. Bassist Fred Chalenor and keys man Erik Ian Walker reconnected twenty years later and after finding drummer Paul Elias, decided to record some of their old material, the end result finally appearing in 2009 as the self-deprecatingly-titled Gods of 1973. And they sound like...? They sound like they listened to a variety of bands back then, not least Kansas, Gentle Giant and (unsurprisingly) ELP, other non-prog artists and a range of classical musics. Highlights include the epic Canoeing On The River Styx, the even more epic Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen, years before Present's Triskaidékaphobie) and Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs/Cantabile Semplice, although, in truth, there's not a single track on this sensibly-lengthed album that disappoints.
The band openly admit Mellotron sample use (which makes a nice change), with strings on The Mighty Arp and flutes on the title track, plus other probable background use. Incidentally, the ARP 2600 heard all over the album was (get this) found discarded next to a skip. Do you know how much these things are worth? Thank fuck they found it before it was junked... When you consider some of the utter rubbish that passes for 'progressive' these days, or even if you don't, Castle Canyon are an absolute breath of fresh air, succeeding in sounding like no-one else in particular, while writing accessible material that's unlikely to offend any but the most ardent neo- fan. Buy this album.
To prove it wasn't a flash in the pan, the band have released a second album, Criteria Obsession, admittedly, six years after their exceedingly belated debut. And? It's noticeably more diverse, shifting between the welcome Focus/Trace-isms of opener Wiggy Beets and the psychedelicisms of the lengthy Criteria Obsession/The Mushroom Song, while Disaster goes all Canterbury on us. Two archive recordings from 1974 find their way onto the album, with that rescued 2600 getting an outing on Pope's Cabin and closer Zig Zag River. To be brutally honest, I'm less fussed about the jammed-out, repetitive My Lady Carey, even if it's based on a piece from the 16th Century, but it's hardly enough to put off prospective buyers. Surprisingly little samplotron use, with naught but background strings in Wiggy Beets, but a snippet of fake Mellotron is neither here nor there, frankly.
Among Us (2008, 45.02) **½
How Long Must I Wait
Where Will You Be
Keep Him Safe
City of Blue
Catbird are the Danish duo of Billie Koppel (daughter of Savage Rose's Annisette and Thomas Koppel) and Frank Hasselstrøm, whose second (?) album, 2008's Among Us, could be considered a triumph of sparse, vaguely jazzy adult pop, if you were feeling generous. It could also be described as too slow for its own good, without quite enough content to justify its melancholy excesses, although the truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between. Better tracks include the string-laden opening title track, the vaguely Gallic How Long Must I Wait and the jazzy piano-and-vibes of City Of Blue, but Koppel's weary, little-girl voice is definitely an acquired taste.
Savage Rose's Palle Hjorth is credited with Mellotron on How Long Must I Wait and Midnight Shelter, but the vague string parts on both tracks clearly have little to do with a real machine, making that band's own supposed use from the previous year even more suspect than before. Sorry to be so negative, but, while a few tracks of this album have a certain childlike charm about them, a whole album becomes something of a drag.
See: Savage Rose
Discovery (2008, 78.57) **½
|Theme From "Discovery"
The Chosen One
The Spacefreak King
The Last Goodbye
The Flight (reprise)
Hot Damn Mercy Man
1'45" to Mother Earth (the Return)
Landing (All of My Dreams Have Come True)
Back to Life Again/Comin' Home
Chris Catena? Whadd'ya reckon? Sensitive singer-songwriter? Mainstream Italian pop artist? Avant-garde Euro-synthesist? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Chris Catena is a 'melodic rock' (as I believe it's now known) vocalist, whose Discovery sounds like a collection of Whitesnake (crap era) outtakes, frankly. OK, it's harmless enough, but this stuff now occupies a niche not dissimilar to that of prog; a once-massively popular style reduced to a hardcore of devotees, for better or worse. Catena clearly has a 'name' of some sort in the biz, however, as the album features guest spots from musicians of the calibre of Tony Franklin, Pat Travers, Carmine Appice, Bobby Kimball, Earl Slick, Bruce Kulick and, er, Uriah Duffy, none of whom make it any the more interesting a listen.
Someone called Eugene is credited with Mellotron on the seven-minute The Space, but I really can't imagine that the vague string and choir sounds utilised towards the end of the piece have anything to do with a real machine. So; not quite AOR, not quite hair-metal, more a middle ground for the genre's slowly diminishing fanbase. Progressive rock still throws up some artists prepared to take a chance, in the spirit of its pioneers; melodic rock was always designed to be part of the commercial mainstream, so it comes as no surprise to learn that, once washed up on a beach of the bleached bones of superseded musical styles, it, too, will eventually die.
Cathedral (UK) see:
The Modern Tribe (2007, 44.11) **½
Fly the Fly
Tame the Savage
Hands Off My Gold
In This Land
Our Hearts Don't Change
I'm not really sure what Celebration are trying to achieve on their second album, 2007's The Modern Tribe. Modern psychedelia? Indie? Soft rock? All of the above? Moments of instrumental beauty are squashed flat by long, long minutes of failed funk and overcooked Hammond work, not to mention Katrina Ford's voice, which, shall we say, frequently lacks tunefulness. The album's worst crime, though, is a lack of memorable material, surely a prerequisite for music towards the 'pop' end of the spectrum?
Sean Antanaitis is credited with Mellotron, along with Taurus pedals and others, but if the strings on several tracks, notably closer Our Hearts Don't Change, actually emanate from a real machine, I'll be stunned. Seriously, they're not even good samples. I'd like to be nicer about this album, but I'm afraid it's defeated me. Nice sleeve?
Alight (2017, 50.33) ***½Dive With Me
Move the Stone
Despite being Italian, Cellar Noise's 2017 debut, Alight, is 'set' in London, namechecking several landmarks, although I can't work out what the concept might actually be. In many ways, this is a typical modern Italian progressive release, its contents veering between quiet, piano-led sections and all-out rock, with large helpings of 'symphonic' prog to fill in the gaps. My personal preference would be for less of the pseudo-metal guitarisms, but their potential audience has been primed for this sound over the last couple of decades or more, so I can hardly blame the band for making a record that people will like! Best tracks? Probably lengthy instrumental opener Dive With Me, Temple, with its classical guitar intro and the quietly ominous Move The Stone, while Blackfriars is notable for copping Genesis' Slippermen riff.
Keys man Nicholas Gallani wrote to me, admitting his use of an M4000D sample player; to be honest, Nick, I'd have spotted it immediately; the sounds are 'authentic' enough, but far too smooth to ever be mistaken for a real, tape-based machine. Strings and choirs on all tracks, with the occasional burst of flute; it's interesting to note that, despite the huge number of Mellotron sounds available on these machines, almost everyone (particularly in the prog world) sticks to the 'old faithfuls'. Whither the cor anglais? Boys' choir? Viola? Anyway, a good, if not outstanding first effort from a new band.
Caravans (2004, 59.09) **½
Without a Word
Armen Chakmakian was a latterday member of Shadowfax, so it should come as no surprise to hear that his second solo album, 2004's Caravans, while almost obscenely pleasant, is also very, very dull. This is the new age end of prog (or, of course, vice versa), at its best on the three-part Birdsong Medley, probably due to his use of repeating melodic themes, rather than his usual 'drifting' style.
Although Chakmakian is credited with Mellotron, the strings on a few tracks (notably Without A Word) are far too smooth and regular for any level of genuinity, not to mention several notes sustained for too long. Sorry, but despite decent moments here and there, this is a very 'background listening' release; fine if that's what you're after, I suppose...
A Real Life Drama (2006, 30.13) **½
|My Song to You
A Tough Decision
Dressed in Yellow & Blue
Music Makes Me Sick
Stockholm July 2005
Rain on Your Parade
Sunny Winter Afternoon
|Love Always Happens So Fast (a Real Life Drama)
Sweden's female-fronted The Charade are at the better end of indie-pop, with influences stretching further back than merely the previous generation of bands (i.e. about five years); The Byrds and other, lesser '60s outfits are clearly audible in their sound, which makes a nice change. Saying that, 2006's A Real Life Drama's overall tweeness counts against it, although a couple of tracks at a time are perfectly acceptable.
Mikael Matsson supposedly plays Mellotron, but while the lovely flute part on opener My Song To You sounds reasonably authentic, the 'Mellotron' strings all over A Tough Decision, Stockholm July 2005 and closer Faith are clearly sampled. Scando-indiepop with sampled Mellotron, anyone? Even the better stuff? Thought not.
Happy Hour (1999, 44.59) ***
21st Century Mantra
A Boy and His Dog
|South of Mexico
Led by Paul Dougherty, the Nashville-based Chilhowie were an indie/powerpop outfit existing between 1992 and 2000, never quite breaking out of their home region. Their only album was 1999's Happy Hour, a decent enough effort without being particularly outstanding, better tracks including the muted Hüsker Dü-isms of Ash Wednesday, the angular guitar work on Cold Fusion and the punky Fuck.
With no Mellotron specifically credited, it's no work of genius to decide that Dave Layne's string part on Loser is sampled, particularly noticeable on the high notes. Presumably long out of print, the album's available as a free download from Dougherty's website, a practice from which many other artists could learn, I think.
Official Paul Dougherty site
Tim Christensen (Denmark) see:
Stereo Type A (1999, 57.07) ***
|Working for Vacation
Lint of Love
|King of Silence
Sunday Part I
Sunday Part II
The New York-based Cibo Matto consisted of Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda; the band name translates loosely from the Italian for 'food madness', reflected in the gastronomically-related titles of most of the tracks on their 1996 debut, Viva! La Woman. Musically, they incorporated hip-hop, various Latin styles and mainstream pop, amongst other things, creating a veritable smorgasbord of sound, with considerable variety on their second and last album, '99's Stereo Type A.
NYC resident Sean Lennon was a band member at the time, though it has to be said that his influence isn't that discernable, unless you count what have to be sampled Mellotron strings on Clouds and choir on Mortming (from Yumiko Ohno and 'Zak'), although he used a 'some real, some sampled' approach on his '98 solo album, Into the Sun, also featuring Yuka Honda. So; if you're feeling eclectic, in a hip-hop/Latin kind of way, you may well go for this, but it's really not worth it for some sampled 'Tron.
See: Sean Lennon
A Child in the Mirror (2010, 57.21) ****
A Child in the Mirror
A Storyteller's Dream
An Endless Sea
Epirus - a Mountain Song
A Garden of Delights
The Finest of Miracles (2015, 46.48) ****
|A Night Ride
At the Death of Winter
Around the Fire
Lemnos (Lover's Dancer)
|The Finest of Miracles
Birth of the Lights
As Fall the Leaves
Song for an Island
The female-fronted Ciccada have greatly surprised me by being a new progressive band from somewhere outside Scandinavia who are trying to do something with the genre, if only in a limited way. Actually 2010's A Child in the Mirror's chief influences seem to be medieval music in general and Änglagård in particular; rarely a bad thing, although some of it's a bit blatant, particularly the root-to-flattened-fifth chord changes heard here and there. Overall, though, while lacking originality, this is a very listenable album, although too long by a good fifteen minutes, to be honest. Standout tracks? This is one of those 'should be listened to as a whole' records, rather than something you dip into. Plenty of fake Mellotron, with string, cello and choir parts dotted throughout, although the flute is real. Hurrah! A new prog album that isn't full of pointless riffing guitar and overwrought vocals! While this is very good, I suspect Ciccada can do better; I look forward to their follow-up.
And... here it is! A five year wait, but worth it. I'd be lying if I attempted to accuse the band of originality, but within the stylistic parameters they set themselves on their first release, this is a triumph, highlights including instrumental opener A Night Ride, the folk-inflected Around The Fire and The Finest Of Miracles, a five-part epic that, er, sounds like five different tracks. Mucho samplotron, with flutes, strings and brass all over A Night Ride, choirs and strings on Eternal and combinations of the above on pretty much everything but the under-a-minute Lemnos.
Question: how do you inject any real originality into symphonic progressive rock these days? Answer: fucked if I know. I don't think Ciccada know, either, but they still manage to produce some of the most melodic examples of the genre in these moribund times. Well worth hearing.
John Peel Sessions: Season 2 (2003, recorded 2000-2001, 47.01) **½
Because I'm Beautiful
Lollobrigida (French version)
Yesterday Once More
Quick, Before it Melts
Health and Efficiency
Cinerama began as a Wedding Present side-project, quickly eclipsing them before leader David Gedge split the band and reformed the 'Weddoes'. Confused? Good. Cinerama recorded so many Peel sessions that they've been released in three volumes; I haven't heard the first and third in the series, but John Peel Sessions: Season 2 consists of four live tracks and eight studio, all in the band's faux-early '60s style, clearly in thrall to Serge Gainsbourg and John Barry. I suppose you really have to be into the era's ethos to get anything much out of this material; suffice to say, the lyrics (some of which are really very good) seem to take precedence over the music, which is pretty bland fare, all told.
Sally Murrell (Gedge's then-partner and chief Cinerama collaborator) plays keys, including Mellotron flute samples on several tracks, notably Aprés Ski (probably the best thing here, at least lyrically), Lollobrigida (French Version), Sly Curl, their take on The Carpenters' horrible Yesterday Once More and Get Smart. Not exactly what you'd call essential listening, then, although Gedge fans will lap (and almost certainly already have lapped) it up.
Official Cinerama/Wedding Present site
See: The Wedding Present
Signal Morning (2009, 46.17) ***
|Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant
Rocks and Stones
This Morning (We Remembered Everything)
The Breathing Universe
News From the Heavenly Loom
|I You We
Gold Will Stay
The Frozen Lake/The Symmetry
Until Moon Medium Hears the Message
Circulatory System are yet another neo-psych act straight outta Atlanta's Elephant Six stable (Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control), although the original grouping apparently dissolved in the early 2000s. Will Cullen Hart was E6's chief guiding light in the '90s, but an MS diagnosis has slowed him down in recent years, making Signal Morning his first significant release in the better part of a decade. It's certainly psychedelic and in a particularly skronky way, but is it any good? Influences include Syd's Floyd (of course) and what sounds to my ears like various US protagonists of the era, the end result being varied/confused (delete according to taste). Best tracks? Hard to say, although the druggy Rocks And Stones and surprisingly mainstream (circa 1968) The Breathing Universe stand out.
As with every other 'Mellotron' E6 band, sample use is de rigeur, with obvious flutes on This Morning (We Remembered Everything) and distant strings on Gold Will Stay, with other probable parts dotted around, low in the mix. To be honest, if you're after a twee, sub-Piper...-esque album, I really couldn't recommend Signal Morning, but if something a little more out there is more to your taste, feel free. At least it's better than Thee Oh Sees.
Hologramatron (2010, 64.50) ***½
|Lake of Fire
You'll Just Have to See it to Believe
Stars of Sayulita
What Have They Done to the Rain
Dateless Oblivion & Divine Repose
Abandoned Mines Forrest Fang remix
You’ll Just Have to See it to Believe alt.mix
Lake of Fire Evan Schiller remix]
Musically active since the '80s, guitarist Barry Cleveland stretches the definition of guitar 'playing' to its extremes, although much of his work on 2010's Hologramatron is surprisingly straightforward. His best-known collaborator on the album is ninja bassist Michael Manring, while obvious influences include King Crimson (almost all eras), Peter Gabriel, jazz and various world musics. Highlights? Vicious protest piece Lake Of Fire, vocalist Amy X Neuberg giving it her all and Discipline-era Crimsonesque You'll Just Have To See It To Believe, although ('bonus' remixes aside) there isn't an expendable track here.
Cleveland adds Mellotron string samples to opener Lake Of Fire and Suicide Train, though barely on the latter; it's hardly what you'd call central to the band's sound, anyway. All in all, an imaginative and relatively original release, as you'd expect from New York's forward-looking MoonJune label. Worth hearing.
Cliffhanger (Netherlands) see:
Record Collection (2015, 40.55) ***½
The Mystic's Mistake
Along With You
High as the Rising Sun
Too Soon Was Yesterday
What if I Found You
|As You Are
A Sadness in Sorry
Let Us All Find Peace
Cloud Eleven is powerpop hero Rick Gallego's nom de plume, under which he's released five albums, the latest being 2015's Record Collection. Gallego covers a lot of genre ground in forty minutes, from the opening title track's classic Beatles/Badfinger-esque powerpop, through the propulsive High As The Rising Sun, the Bacharachesque duo of Too Soon Was Yesterday and What If I Found You, to first cousin to Within You Without You, Indian Guru. Personal favourite? Probably A Sadness In Sorry, complete with its almost certainly unconscious borrowing of a melody from The Motors' incomparable Airport. Amusingly (well, it amused me), the opening title track reminds me, albeit only in spirit, of Put Me On, the lead-off track on Styx's Crystal Ball, in its 'plea from a slab of sentient vinyl to be played every once in a while'.
As for Gallego's 'Mellotron' credit, the flute melody in The Mystic's Mistake is too fast and too smooth, ditto the parts in As You Are and A Sadness In Sorry, while the high strings on Too Soon Was Yesterday just don't have that 'authentic' ring about them. Nonetheless, a fine album from an unfairly obscure talent. Worth a punt.
Perfect Dark Zero [game OST] (2005, 73.56) **½
|Perfect Dark Zero - Title
Datacore Demolition - Training
Datacore Demolition - Camspy
|Datacore Demolition - Escape
Glitter Girl (Evil Side)
Limelight (Radio Edit)
Subway Retrieval - Stealth
Subway Retrieval - Action
Subway Retrieval - Descent
Rooftops Escape - Main Theme
Mansion Infiltration - Stealth
|Mansion Infiltration - Action
Deathmatch with Maihem!
Laboratory Rescue - Stealth
Laboratory Rescue - Action
River Extraction - Lab Escape
River Extraction - Riverchase
Trinity Infiltration - Stealth
Trinity Escape - Main Theme
|Temple Surveillance - Main Theme
Arena Showdown - Main Theme
Pearl Necklace [by MorrisonPoe]
David Clynick's soundtrack for the Perfect Dark Zero Xbox game is pretty much exactly what you'd expect of a game soundtrack: mostly an electronic/metal hybrid, with hip-hop elements thrown in for good (?) measure. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would choose to listen to this mash-up for pleasure; isn't it irritating enough while playing the game?
Several tracks feature samples that may or may not have been recorded from a Mellotron sometime in their ancestral past, although the only track on which it's actually credited, closer Pearl Necklace (actually by MorrisonPoe), it's completely inaudible. Unsurprisingly, although I applaud this album's professionalism, I really can't recommend its actual contents, fake 'Tron or no fake 'Tron.