Colors We Knew
Company of Thieves
Consorzio Acqua Potabile (CAP)
La Coscienza di Zeno
Crippled Black Phoenix
Crowned in Earth
C'mon Tigre (2014, 57.32) ***
Federation Tunisienne de Football
Fan for a Twenty Years Old Human Being
A World of Wonder
Queen in A3
|Life as a Preened Tuxedo Jacket
Building Society - The Great Collapse
Building Society - Renovation
Welcome Back Monkeys
Malta (the Bird and the Bear)
C'mon Tigre are an anonymous duo from Bologna, whose eponymous 2014 debut combines a whole host of genres into a relatively original whole, not least various types of jazz, soul, funk, experimental... One of the most notable things about the album is its unusual use of brass, many tracks featuring mournful flugelhorn and/or euphonium parts, heavily (and refreshingly) out of kilter with the soul/jazz mainstream. Best tracks? Maybe sparse opener Rabat, the Hammond-heavy December and Life As A Preened Tuxedo Jacket, complete with some raucous guitar work.
Ahmad Oumar is credited with 'drum machine and Mellotron' on six tracks, but, while the beatbox is fairly obvious, there's absolutely no sign of anything Mellotronic. Since it seems unlikely that he'd bother dragging a real machine in, only for it not to be used, samples (even inaudible ones) seem the obvious option. A surprisingly original release, then, though not one that's likely to get that many of you excited, I'd imagine.
X-Ray Sierra (1999, 49.10) **½
Art of Listening
Willie Dixon Said
Marianne and Lenny
Windy Night in Fall
|Piece of Your Soul
This is the World
Tom Cochrane is better known as Canadian stars Red Rider's mainman; going solo in the early '90s, he's now reunited with two of the band's other founding members. His fifth solo album (including one pre-Red Rider release), 1999's X-Ray Sierra (presumably the phonetic alphabet code for XS/excess), is a rootsy AOR effort of the kind that sounds best coming from your car radio as you drive across the prairie, although it all falls a bit flat on a rainy afternoon in Britain (OK, it didn't rain today, but you know what I mean). Best track? Probably closer Northern Frontier, although it would've been improved by the removal of the almost random percussion slathered all over it.
Cochrane is credited with Mellotron, but going by the strings on opener I Wonder, er, I wonder, frankly. In fact, I wonder to the point where I've dumped this into 'samples'. One for fans of radio rock, then, but the rest of us really should avoid.
My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash (2007, 37.02) ***
On My Way
French duo Cocoon play a melancholy kind of English-language folk/pop; even the more upbeat songs on their debut album, 2007's My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash (miserablists? Us?) have an, er, downbeat side to them, despite the cutesy sleeve. It's a perfectly respectable album of its type, but you'll probably have to be into that Gallic thing to gain an awful lot from it.
Despite a Mellotron credit, the strings on Cliffhanger and (especially) flutes on Chupee are quite clearly sampled, if not merely synth approximations of the sounds. Very poor, at least on that front. So; listenable enough, but a rather large excitement gap, though to be fair, that's really not where Cocoon are coming from.
Alba y Ocaso (1999, 114.16) ***
|Alba y Ocaso
El Eco de Tu Voz
Danza de Equinoccio
Un Ensayo Menor
Página del Pasado
El Relato del Bardo
Origins/Under the Wheel/
Mechanical Landscape I
Mechanical Landscape II
Labrynths - A Log of Dreams
|Into the Machine
A New Millennium
Spirits in Motion I
Spirits in Motion II
The Perpetual March of Time
On the Threshold of Peace
Guitarist Marco Corona moved from LA to Monterrey in Mexico during the '90s, recruiting a group of classically-trained musicians to record Códice's lone album, 1999's double-disc Alba y Ocaso. A fair proportion of the set falls into the typical 'symphonic' category, highlights including Página Del Pasado, beautiful instrumental interlude El Relato Del Bardo, Vorágine and Corriente Abajo, amongst others. Unfortunately, the album also features elements of sub-Spock's Beard-ish 'modern prog' and full-on '80s neo-, the worst example being El Eco De Tu Voz. Other stylistic quirks include the sequencer-driven synth work on Labyrinths - A Log Of Dreams, more modern EM than prog, Into The Machine is clearly heavily influenced by ELP, while parts (but only parts) of A New Millennium have an almost Focus vibe about them.
Either Corona or Mario Mendoza plays the occasional sampled Mellotron, with distinct string parts on Página Del Pasado and Corriente Abajo and possibly less obvious ones elsewhere. It's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend an album this long, as its near-two hour length fails to hold the average listener's attention; 'symph fatigue', possibly. It has excellent moments, not least its several brief interludes, but so much music (and not all of it good) in one hit is far too much of a passably good thing.
Smooth Plebeian (2015, 16.58) **½The Only Way is Down
Dancing on the Bones
It's Awfully Sunny for a Rainy Day
Sink Like a Stone
The Colors We Knew seem near-indistinguishable from a Christopher Haas solo project; he sings and plays everything except the drums on their 2015 EP, Smooth Plebeian. Hard to know how to describe this: alt.rock? It's kind of alt., kind of indie, not effervescent enough to be powerpop... Not especially interesting or memorable, to be perfectly honest.
Haas credits himself with Mellotron on two tracks, but the high strings on The Only Way Is Down and lower ones on It's Awfully Sunny For A Rainy Day are far too smooth for their own good. Rather dull, sampled Mellotron. Next...
All (2008, 65.13) ***½
She Said (2012, 81.43) ***½She Said
Colour Haze are a stoner/psych trio from Munich, whose seventh album, 2008's All, while grungy in places, is a long way from their Sabbath-emulating origins. Admittedly, several tracks sound like Sabbath if they'd taken different drugs, but the album's best tracks are probably the centrepiece title track, a near-quarter hour psych monster, all sitars and swirling, Doors-esque guitar lines and Fall, similar, but with the murky guitar tone of the album's heavier tracks. Keys man Christian Hawellek is credited with Mellotron on four tracks, but there's nothing obvious on Lights, If or All and when a choir part appears near the end of Fall, it becomes obvious that samples (or indeed, generic modern synth sounds) are being employed. Hawellek's Hammond B3 is specifically credited, down to where it was recorded, but given that the rarer Mellotron isn't, I think we can safely assume that it's fake.
Their tenth album, 2012's She Said, justifies, just for once, its considerable length, as the band let rip on no fewer than four out of eight tracks (sometimes well) over ten minutes. The bulk of the album is exactly the kind of downtuned, Sabbath-esque riffage you'd expect, although the brass riffing towards the end of the epic Transformation is something you don't hear too often in this genre, while Grace steps right out on a limb, starting as a lengthy downtuned 12" string/electric guitar/string quartet piece, before slipping into a familiar groove, ending as it began. Although Roman Bichler's credited with Mellotron, the background flutes on Stand In..., er, aren't, I'm afraid. Still, they're hardly one of the album's premier features, to the point of near-irrelevance and should have no bearing on your potential purchasing decision.
The samplotron use shouldn't put you off hearing these, though (what, you mean it wasn't going to anyway?), as they're two of the better 'stoner' albums I've heard in a while. Recommended.
Running From a Gamble (2011, 51.10) *½
Queen of Hearts
Look Both Ways
Never Come Back
Nothing's in the Flowers
Death of Communication
King of Dreams
Won't Go Quietly
On their second album, 2011's Running From a Gamble, Chicago's Company of Thieves play a particularly irritating form of indie/soul crossover that is every bit as bad as it sounds. Despite being such a new band, they've had their material used on various mainstream US TV shows, which says more about them than I ever could. Gorgeous/Grotesque is probably its least bad track, if only due to its unusual (for them) energy levels, but the bulk of the overlong album's completely horrible.
Mike Maimone is credited with Mellotron, but the exceedingly background strings part at the end of Look Both Ways and the flutes on Gorgeous/Grotesque aren't kidding anyone, frankly. What's more, despite its occasional forays into sub-crescendo rock (not exactly a groundbreaking genre itself, these days), this is pretty awful. Avoid.
Il Bianco Regno di Dooah (2003, 68.00) ****
L'Illusione della Sfera
Luna Impigliata Tra i Rami
Ginevra: Regina Senza Regno
Grande Ombra Gentile
Nello Spazio di Una Notte per Magia
Trova Quel Vento Che...
Si Dice Ai Delfini Sussurri
...Alla Marcia del Sole
Tra Piccole Storie di Lune Impigliate
...Dietro Cristalli di Lune Impigliate
Cosa Rimane di Quei Giorni
...Nel Tempo di Dooah
Camel Tribute: Harbour of Joy (1996) ***[CAP contribute]
Harbour of Tears
Around the time I started this site, at the fag end of the last century (OK, let's make it sound even longer ago than it already is), I noted that CAP, or Consorzio Acqua Potabile, were reported to be using a Mellotron on their new album. I was never able to trace a 1999/2000 release, so I rather gave up on the whole business, until, that is, hearing their last album to date, 2003's Il Bianco Regno di Dooah. OK, so it was delayed a bit. But first, a quick bit of history: reports vary, but CAP formed some time in the '70s, possibly as early as '71, but never managed to get an album out. Given how many obscure Italian bands did, that was actually some feat, it seems. Anyway, a reformed CAP appeared in the early '90s, alongside re-recorded versions of some of their old material, '92's Nei Gorghi del Tempo, and a genuine archive release the following year, Sala Borsa Live '77. Robin delle Stelle followed in '98, then the album in question after another five years. At this rate, the next one will be due in 2008, though I wouldn't hold your breath.
So, "What's it like?", I hear you cry. Well, they seem to have a proper understanding of Italian prog as it was, as against the horrible, dumbed-down neo- rubbish that most Italian 'progressive' bands were spewing out in the early '90s. Given the band's age, this could be seen as unsurprising, but it didn't work for Il Balletto di Bronzo's reformation, to name but one. I've seen one real pasting for this album, which completely ignored the sense of excitement the band can conjure up at their best, not to mention their feel for their country's illustrious progressive past. About the only real criticism I can level at them is their relative (note: only relative) lack of originality; Ginevra: Regina Senza Regno manages to cop bits of Spock's Beard, Rush and Kansas all in the same song, although I can't say I noticed any other howling rip-offs.
It's hard to tell just how genuine the vintage-sounding keyboards here are, although everything sounds fairly authentic (isn't that a Roland JX-3P in Il Regno?). There's a MiniMoog pictured in the booklet, but as for the Hammond and Mellotron, who knows? No specific credits, but both Romolo Bollea and Maurizio Venegoni play keys. I've actually shifted this from the regular reviews, due to a growing sense of doubt (you can tell I've got too much time on my hands, can't you?) that it's genuine, but what we get is 'Mellotron' on nearly every track (Luna Impigliata Tra I Rami is an acoustic guitar piece), with almost nothing but choirs for the first few, in true '80s prog style; ironic, given that that's the one decade of the last four in which the band haven't recorded... Just when you thought they weren't going to use the strings, however, in they come on La Danza, and are then used on and off throughout the rest of the record. It sounds like real flute (from Silvia Carpo) on Intro, but the last seconds of the 22-minute Il Regno definitely have the 'Mellotronic' version, and it may crop up elsewhere, too.
All in all, this is a fine album from a band whose name rarely seems to crop up when good modern prog is mentioned; it may not be the most original work ever, but it beats the crap out of most of the competition. Decent samplotron work, too, although its authenticity is in serious doubt. Assuming you can find this, buy. Incidentally, CAP also crop up on Mellow Records' Harbour of Joy Camel tribute, with what sounds like sampled 'Tron.
See: Harbour of Joy | Dante's Inferno | Odyssey: The Greatest Tale | The 7 Samurai
Artilleria Pesada, Presenta (1999, 58.39) **½
Instancias (Los Vigilantes)
Desde la Tierra (El Tercer Planeta)
Control Machete play growly Spanish-language hip-hop, which is probably all you need to know about 1999's Artilleria Pesada, Presenta. Someone who knows a little more about this stuff than me tells me it's wholly unoriginal, although I think I'd already guessed that. There is a little sonic variety on offer, with Danzón having a very distinct Latin flavour about it, but the bulk of it's yer usual generic stuff, albeit in Spanish.
A gentleman naming himself 'Toy' is credited with Mellotron, but all I can hear is a repeating string part on Esperanza that sounds most sampled, although, as so often, I could be mistaken. You don't seriously want to hear this anyway, do you? Do you? I didn't.
Butterfly House (2010, 41.34) **½
|More Than a Lover
Walking in the Winter
Green is the Colour
Falling All Around You
She's Comin' Around
[Bonus disc adds:
Into the Sun
Coming Through the Rye
Dream in August
The Coral are a successful psychedelic indie outfit from the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool. 2010's Butterfly House is their fifth full-length release in eight years, a harmless, yet curiously unengaging album, full of muted '60s references, unfortunately filtered through a modern indie sensibility. Six-minute closer North Parade is probably the best thing here, but it's all a bit anodyne, if truth be told.
Someone (there are no obvious instrumental credits) plays Mellotron string samples on Walking In The Winter, although the strings on the title track are probably real. Are you going to buy this to hear one track of samplotron? Thought not.
REloaded (2014, 63.30) *½
|1 on 1
More of You
All That I Need
Living for You
God Held Me Together
|He Brought Me
He Laid His Hands on Me
One More Time
Zacardi Cortez is described as a 'gospel [and] Christian R&B artist' on Wikipedia, which sounds about right, going by his second album, 2014's REloaded. In many ways, it sounds like a weird '80s throwback, from the screaming, yet neutered guitar on More Of You and For Me, the dated slap bass that turns up on a couple of tracks and some of the synth sounds. Is there a 'best track'? Possibly the soul/blues of He Brought Me, despite its god-bothering lyrical stance, but that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of a recommendation.
Bobby Sparks is credited with Mellotron. Where? The strings on He Laid His Hands On Me? Sorry, really not hearing it, so this is consigned to 'samples' until or if I should find otherwise (most unlikely, frankly). Believe me, if your taste is even remotely akin to mine, you don't want to hear this, anyway.
Sensitività (2013, 55.17) ****La Città di Dite
La Notte Anche di Giorno (2015, 44.09) ****
Il Giro del Cappio
Impromptu Pour S.Z.
Lenta Discesa All'Averno
Il Paese Ferito
Come Statua di Dolore
Named for Italo Svevo's seminal 1923 novel ('Zeno's Conscience'), La Coscienza di Zeno are a current Italian progressive outfit, operating chiefly at the 'pseudo-'70s' end of the spectrum, which is, believe me, vastly preferable to the slew of European neo-prog bands that appeared during the '90s. Not even any sampled Mellotron on their eponymous debut (***½), but their second release, 2013's Sensitività, is quite a treat, full of unexpected key changes, loads of piano work and a refreshingly un-neo- approach to composition, with no more riffy guitar than you'd get on the average Italian prog album from the mid-'70s. Luca Scherani and Rossano Villa's 'Mellotron' credits are a little optimistic, however. The (unusually rather uninteresting) solo choir chords in La Città Di Dite give the sample game away; too smooth, too lacking in character to be genuine, ditto the strings on Chiusa 1915 and elsewhere.
2015's La Notte Anche di Giorno, despite consisting of just two long pieces, has a very different feel to its predecessor. Because? Because it comes across as an album of relatively short songs, rather in the way that Genesis' The Lamb consists of shorter material in a progressive format. Does it work? yes, actually; what we lose on the 'epic' front, we make up on accessibility and eccentricity, not least on the odd little Impromptu Pour S.Z., while in Come Statua Di Dolore, I spotted a 'borrowing' of a little piece of The Lamia, as if to complete the circle. Samplotron choirs (and occasional strings) are in evidence, though to a lesser degree than on Sensitività.
All in all, La Coscienza di Zeno are a fine band; not content to merely ape their forebears, they choose to build on their achievements and produce albums that will bear repeated plays. Recommended.
Cosmic Ground (2014, 78.16/96.42) ***½Legacy
[Download-only bonus track:
Cosmic Ground 2 (2015, 77.56) ***Sol
Cosmic Ground III (2016, 70.59) ***Ground Control
Keep Us in Space
Cosmic Ground are affiliated to Electric Orange, essentially Dirk Jan Müller's ambient electronic side-project. Their/his eponymous debut is actually a far more interesting album than those of many long-term EM outfits (no, not you, r.m.i.), although I'm having trouble expressing why, exactly. More experimental? Hard to say, but it certainly seems to have more life than many ostensibly similar releases. Samplotron on all tracks bar Deadlock, with a particularly powerful part opening the album, plus choirs and strings elsewhere.
The originally-titled Cosmic Ground 2 is, fairly unsurprisingly, more of the same, with the interesting addition that, in places, you can see Müller's techno roots rear their heads for a few moments before sinking back into the murk. Extraordinarily little samplotron this time round, with naught but drifting choirs on Organia. Cosmic Ground III (at least we've gone Roman numerals this time) repeats the same tricks, admittedly with very pleasing results, although listening to these three albums on the trot has a slightly mind-numbing effect. Perhaps that's the idea. Anyway, plenty of samplotron on opener Ground Control and a major flute part on Crumbling Darkness, although that's yer lot.
So; in many ways, 'typical' EM, but with just enough of Müller's own personality to lift these above the mountains of near-identical albums by a host of uninspired synthesists.
See: Electric Orange
The Man Left in Space (2013, 55.29) ***How Did I Get Here?
The Good Earth Behind Me
The Vacuum That I Fly Through
This Naked Endeavour
The Man Left in Space
When The Air Runs Out
Robin Armstrong, a.k.a. Cosmograf, is a current British progressive multi-instrumentalist, whose speciality seems to be the (sometimes dreaded) concept album. His third, 2013's The Man Left in Space, is hugely ambitious, punching slightly above its weight, to be honest, featuring guest spots from members of Also Eden, Big Big Train and even Spock's Beard. The storyline concerns an astronaut whose mission goes horribly wrong. Sounds familiar? There's actually a little musical nod to Bowie's Space Oddity at one point, so forget that plagiarism suit right now. But is it, y'know, any good? I liked it in parts, but found others to be lacking in imagination, with far too many rather bland, sub-Floyd-esque passages, the music clearly acting more as a backdrop to the story than as something that can stand on its own two feet. Harsh? Sorry, but this isn't original enough to really grab me, despite its plus points. Speaking of which, I like the way Armstrong uses different musicians for different emphases, giving the music some much-needed variety.
On the samplotron front, there's a little burst of strings halfway through the title track, although that would seem to be our lot. Not one for anyone wishing to hear even sampled Mellotron, then, but an ambitious (that word again) album that will almost certainly improve with repeated plays.
Small White Town (2005, 43.33) **½
|Devil in Disguise
It's Only Life
4 a Ride
Take My Heart
JC I Try
Rare Child (2008, 38.56) ***
|Make U Move
Bang My Drum
|Let it Ride
The Real Book (2014, 46.59) ***½
|Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
They Won't Go When I Go
The Daily Mail
Hope She'll Be Happier
Can't Find My Way Home
|Throw it Away
Bridge Over Troubled Water
This Will Be Our Year
Danielia Cotton doesn't fit the 'black female singer' stereotype in any way, thankfully, so no crummy R&B nonsense, no Autotune, no bling, just a great voice and a rock-orientated approach, evident on her debut, 2005's Small White Town. Sadly, the album's more mainstream than reviews led me to believe, though I don't know why I'm surprised; it's perfectly acceptable, but all too much of it's sub-Bonnie Raitt, although when she switches on the blues, everything improves (and it rhymes). Best tracks? Probably It's Only Life and Today, gutsier than the hopeful radio-fodder surrounding them. Rob Arthur on supposed Mellotron, with clearly sampled strings on It's Only Life and 4 A Ride.
2008's Rare Child is broadly similar to its predecessor, although Cotton's now perfected the technique of sounding like she really means it without going overboard, particularly on closer Bound. Tom Mandel is credited with Mellotron, but the album's occasional string parts all sound real, the one possible exception being the high, held chord right at the end of the album.
Cotton's 2014's release The Real Book is that frequently-reviled thing, a covers album, all too often a way for an artist to mark time, or to show that they've run out of inspiration. Not, however, in this case; the album is Ms. Cotton's way of proving that beating cancer and going through a divorce aren't going to slow her down. Danielia tackles well- and not-so-well-known material with aplomb, not least songs by The Eurythmics, Stones, Radiohead, Aretha, Blind Faith and Simon & Garfunkel. Highlights? Maybe Gimme Shelter and Can't Find My Way Home, although I'm afraid I'm unconvinced by her ukulele version of The Zombies' This Will Be Our Year.
Rob Clores and Jack Petruzzelli are both credited with Mellotron, but not only do the 'Mellotron' strings on Gorilla sound little like the real thing, but there's no sign of one in the 'making of' video (although the Hammond's real), while a Nord can be seen, sitting there balefully, like the sample-player that it is. Er... You're not going to bother with this on those grounds, but I urge you to listen to what Danielia's stunning voice does with a range of other people's songs. Worth hearing.
See: Danielia Cotton
Red Kite (2015, 37.02) ***
|On the Swings
Nothing Left to Talk About
In the Dark
Underneath the Stars
Hearts Are for Breaking
Take the Silver
|I Close My Eyes
It's Never Too Late
I am Not Your Enemy
Saint Etienne chanteuse Sarah Cracknell's second solo album, 2015's Red Kite, comes almost twenty years after her first. Unsurprisingly, it bears some comparison with the band's work in its early '60s influences, both compositionally and instrumentally, while Cracknell's voice is less '90s indie, more Dusty Springfield. She describes the record as 'cosy', which seems to sum it up well; tracks like opener On The Swings (how's that for evoking a British childhood in three words?), In The Dark and Ragdoll come across like a visit from a distant relative of, say, Nick Drake, although direct comparisons would be a little optimistic.
Carwyn Ellis is credited with Mellotron on no fewer than seven tracks, but, going by the unidentifiable Mellotronic sound in On The Swings (a woodwind instrument? viola?), or the cello on closer Favourite Chair, it's all far too smooth to be genuine. And is that too-cleanly pitchbent vibes in On The Swings? I can't honestly say this is really to my taste, but it's good at what it does and will most likely keep Saint Etienne fans happy.
See: Saint Etienne
Reflections From the Inner Light (2004, 78.30) ***Narissa
Touching the Void
Chasing the One
Create, a.k.a. Steve Humphries, is a typical British EM artist, his work, at least on his debut, 2004's Reflections From the Inner Light, sounding an awful lot like Tangerine Dream, as do the vast majority of his genre-mates. That isn't to say that the album is in any way substandard, merely unoriginal and overlong; The Tangs wrote to a more reasonable, LP-length format out of necessity. Any two or three tracks picked at random make for a good listen, but nearly eighty minutes of too-clean digital synths and too-accurate sequencers set the attention wandering, the interesting harmonic quirks in Downside Up notwithstanding.
Humphries plays obviously sampled Mellotron flutes in a solo part on opener Narissa, flutes and choir on Touching The Void, choirs and strings on Medusa, flutes on Downside Up and choirs on closer Chasing The One, for what it's worth, although you're never going to mistake his samples for a real machine. EM-by-numbers, then; good at what it does, but not a jot of originality.
Bagus (2002, 76.03) **
|Gli Uomini e le Donne Sono Uguali
La Cameriera dei Giorni Più Belli
Mary Seduta in un Pub
|Due Stelle in Cielo
Vieni a Vedere Perchè
E Invece Sei Tu
Let me get one thing out of the way before I begin: I worked as an extra in a Cesare Cremonini video a year ago (this nonsense) and not only have not yet been paid, but am beginning to think I may never be [n.b. I wasn't]. This isn't actually Signor Cremonini's fault - the blame lies with the production company - but, as the production's public face, I feel reasonably justified in laying at least some of the blame at his feet. That aside, the averageness of his debut album, 2002's Bagus, is pretty indisputable unless you happen to be a) a fan of mainstream 'adult' pop and b) Italian. While material such as La Cameriera Dei Giorni Più Belli and the rocky PadreMadre stand out slightly, the coveted 'best track' award goes, with no serious competition, to the weird, eighteen-minute, near-instrumental jam that follows the title track and accounts for the album's considerable length.
Walter "Walls" Mameli is credited with Mellotron on Jalousie and the title track, but the vague string and even vaguer choir parts on the tracks lead to the realisation that we're hearing what are, at best, Mellotron samples, assuming they're even that authentic. You really don't need to hear this, frankly, despite that electro-jam he stuck on the end. So, Ches, where's my money?
The Resurrectionists & Night Raider (2009, 140.02) ***½
Rise Up and Fight
Crossing the Bar
200 Tons of Bad Luck
Please Do Not Stay Here
Song for the Loved
A Hymn for a Lost Soul
|Human Nature Dictates the Downfall of Humans
Time of Ye Life/Born for Nothing/Paranoid Arm of Narcoleptic Empire
Along Where the Wind Blows
Onward Ever Downwards
A Lack of Common Sense
Trust No One
I Am Free, Today I Perished
200 Tons of Bad Luck (2009, 77.08) ***½
Rise Up and Fight
Time of Ye Life/Born for Nothing/
Paranoid Arm of Narcoleptic Empire
Crossing the Bar
A Real Bronx Cheer
A Hymn for a Lost Soul
A Lack of Common Sense
I Am Free, Today I Perished
(Mankind) The Crafty Ape (2012, 86.07) ***
|Nothing (We Are...)
The Heart of Every Country
Get Down and Live With it
(In the Yonder Marsh)
A Letter Concerning Dogheads
Born in a Hurricane
|Release the Clowns
A Suggestion (Not a Very Nice One)
(Dig, Bury, Deny)
We'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Faced With Complete Failure, Utter Defiance is the Only Response
No Sadness or Farewell (2012, 45.09) **½How We Rock
Hold on (So Goodbye to All of That)
What Have We Got to Lose?
One Armed Boxer
Long Live Independence
Crippled Black Phoenix are Britain's new great white hope in the post-rock stakes, as far as I can work out (they even boast a member of Mogwai in their ranks), although there's a healthy dose of psychedelia in what they do, too. Their second album, the double The Resurrectionists/Night Raider is an almost obscenely lengthy listen, near-impossible in a single sitting, featuring prog epics (the 18-minute Time Of Ye Life etc., the brilliantly-titled Burnt Reynolds), pokey indie rock (Rise Up And Fight, 444), acoustic whimsy (Crossing The Bar) and often all the above and more within a single 'song', for want of a better word. They suddenly morph into Tom Waits en masse on Along Where The Wind Blows, à propos of nothing at all, before lurching into a full-on Mellotron psych-out on A Lack of Common Sense, which seems to fit the band's ethos pretty well. Due to the album's inordinate length, a (still very lengthy) single disc version was released simultaneously, 200 Tons of Bad Luck, containing just one track not on the double, the 35-second A Real Bronx Cheer, which isn't exactly unmissable.
Mellotron strings pop their heads up above the parapet here and there, but it seems highly likely they're sampled, although the part on A Lack Of Common Sense could almost be genuine. The other major use is on the Time Of Ye Life medley, with other, faint parts in the background on a few other tracks. Suffice to say, this sprawling effort, while impressive, is far from an easy listen, and not always for the right reasons. I would say, 'buy the single disc version', but if you like what they do, it would be almost criminal not to obtain as much of it as possible, and it doesn't seem that the material left off the shorter version is noticeably inferior. Impressive, yet strangely empty, with snippets of something Mellotronic on occasion.
2012's (Mankind) The Crafty Ape is merely very long, as against stupidly, unbelievably long, although it still manages to outstay its welcome once you get onto the second disc. Heavier this time round, the band still cover a fair bit of stylistic ground, not least the more eclectic disc two's acoustic sort-of blues (Dig, Bury, Deny) and the vaguely churchy We'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Not much samplotron this time round, principally a heavily overextended flute chord opening and closing The Heart Of Every Country, but are those Mellotron FX church bells on (In The Yonder Marsh)? This is a band who work too hard for too little artistic return. The same year's No Sadness or Farewell heads back towards more familiar post-rock/psych territory, the band turning into Pink Floyd on ironically-titled opener How We Rock. Best track? Jonestown Martin, to my ears, although I find myself unable to explain why. Credited Mellotron on One Armed Boxer, but the vague string part on the track is barely enough to even put it into this section.
Crippled Black Phoenix are quite infuriating; they combine moments of musical genius with long, rambling passages of pointlessness and seem unable to self-edit, pretty much defining the law of diminishing returns. There's one very good album to be compiled from the three discrete releases above, but four and a half hours of this stuff really is only for the truly dedicated fan. For what it's worth, these aren't the band's only releases over this timespan, either.
Merry-Go-Round (2011, 36.57) **½
When Time Stood Still
Coming Down the Road
Probably the Rain
She Wore Red
One Little Song
Vocalist/harpist Jennifer Crook has been around the UK folk scene for a couple of decades, although 2011's Merry-Go-Round appears to be only her second solo release. Legendary folk scenester/songwriter Boo Hewerdine produces, giving Jennifer's airy material the transparency it demands, assuming anything so gentle could be said to demand anything. Unfortunately, said gentility is also the album's downfall, as while a few songs this light would nicely enhance a more varied release, an entire album's-worth gets a little sickly, like too many fairy cakes consumed in one sitting. Saying that, When Time Stood Still and Baltimore stand out, but, at least to this listener, a little more variety wouldn't go amiss in future.
Hewerdine is credited with Mellotron, but there seems little evidence that a real one materialised in Glasgow's Kyoti Studio during the sessions, not least the extremely vaguely Mellotronic strings on opener Catching Butterflies. Am I wrong? Perhaps someone could let me know? Anyway, one for the kind of young woman who tends to wear fairy wings at any available opportunity.
Secrets (2000, 50.06) **½Bleeding in Silence
Pall of Illusion
Welcome to Utopia
Playgrounds (2004, 54.02) **Let The Play Begin...
A New Beginning
The Battle Of Thalÿma
...And Enter The Game
Hansi Cross began working under his surname in the late '80s, writing the kind of neo-prog that was acceptable in some circles back then. I haven't heard his first few albums, but can state quite unequivocally that 1997's Dream Reality is shockingly bad neo-prog crud, to be avoided at all costs, unless, for some strange reason, you're of the opinion that later Galleon albums and the like are actually worth hearing. Actually, he makes Galleon sound good, ditto several other otherwise unworthy outfits.
His eighth album, 2000's Secrets, is a definite step up from Dream Reality, which isn't to especially praise it. The instrumental sections are a dead ringer for Trick/Wind-era Genesis, right down to the ARP sounds (maybe he's using an Omni himself?), which is all well and good as far as it goes, but originality clearly isn't even considered an option. Then he starts singing. No. Just no. Not that his voice is that bad, but his melodies are mostly stomach-churningly twee, making him sound like a soft-rock balladeer. Y'know, thinking about it, that's what so bad about so much neo-prog: it's essentially soft-rock with fiddly bits. Anyway, Cross plays 'Mellotron' strings on Bleeding In Silence and The Core, but it's all far too regular for its own good and almost certainly sampled.
Cross' follow-up and last album to date is 2004's Playgrounds, in a similar vein to its predecessors, albeit a bit less Genesis, although that appears to be its downfall, as without the retro-sounding instrumental sections, it's unbelievably dull. The modern keyboard sounds set this reviewer's teeth on edge and the vocals are as bad as ever, ditto the material. Mellotron samples crop up occasionally, principally the choirs on Déjà Vu, but nothing to get too (or indeed, at all) excited about.
So; bad neo-prog with sampled Mellotron, just to add insult to injury. Why? Just don't.
Neon Steeple (2014, 51.57) *
Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains)
Come as You Are
Hands of Love
Jesus is Calling
|My Sweet Lord
This I Know
Ain't No Grave
Here's My Heart
(David Wallace) Crowder is described on Wikipedia as 'Christian folktronica'. And what, pray (see what I did there?), may that be? Going by his solo debut, 2014's Neon Steeple, it's a suitably unholy cross between (you guessed it) folk and electronica, at its worst on material such as Hands Of Love, cotton-pickin' banjo awkwardly stuck onto horrible, R&B-influenced electronica, like (to quote a friend of mine) an ill-fitting wig. D'you know what this crap reminds me of? Anyone remember Swedish country/eurodance novelty act Rednex? You know, major international hit Cotton Eye Joe? 'Course you do. This is like that, only without the (intentional) humour. Is there anything here that doesn't offend? Actually, yes: My Sweet Lord (not that one) is a harmless ballad, with no overt electronica influence, while a couple of other tracks manage to be not too appalling.
Christian Paschall is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be fucked if I can tell you where it is. Samples, then, I think. Anyway, one of the worst albums I've heard this month, at the least. Quite, quite horrible.
A Vortex of Earthly Chimes (2012, 47.20) ***½Ride the Storm
Watch the Waves
World Spins Out of Key
Crowned in Earth are effectively the duo of drummer Darin McCloskey and Kevin Lawry, who plays pretty much everything else, the pair hailing from the mundane environs of Maidstone, Kent. Their second album, 2012's A Vortex of Earthly Chimes, complete with its Deanalike sleeve, is apparently quite a departure from their 'doom by numbers' debut, incorporating all kinds of early '70s influences, not least Camel's airy prog and Atomic Rooster's more tuneful take on the style. Twelve-minute opener Ride The Storm sums the album up in a rather lengthy nutshell: a prog Black Sabbath with modern stoner metal vocals, not unlike America's Astra, in some respects.
Although Brian J. Anthony is credited with Mellotron, the watery string and choir parts heard across the album are clearly nothing of the sort, highlighted by the heavy 'MIDI controller keyboard' pitchbend towards the end of Ride The Storm, or the unfeasibly-sustained string chords on closer Given Time. With three out of five tracks topping the ten-minute barrier, this album is quite clearly aimed at both prog and metal fans, while having sod-all in common with the horror of prog/metal. No genuine Mellotron, but cautiously recommended.
Moments of Clarity (2004, 56.40) **½
Moments of Clarity
Flash of life
In due time
Hope for tomorrow
Cryptic Vision are a pretty typical modern US prog band, utilising elements of symphonic, neo- and prog metal styles, albeit with only a fraction of the efficacy of, say, Spock's Beard. 2004's Moments of Clarity is their first album and it does sort-of show in its overlong lack of focus (pun possibly intended), highlighted in the four-part, twelve-minute title track. The band's vocals are sometimes a little too intrusive, too, although there are a couple of moments where the harmony parts come together beautifully, though nowhere near often enough for my taste.
Although Rick Duncan is credited with Mellotron, it isn't, but nor are their samples overused, thankfully, with string and choir parts on a handful of tracks. You get the feeling that Cryptic Vision have the capacity for improvement, if only they'd learn to keep their albums down to a sensible length, although, in fairness, this could've been twenty minutes longer... Anyway, they have potential, which is more than I can say for a lot of current bands.
Skeleton Key (2001, 47.18) **½
You Put a Pain on My Heart
New Cosmic Blues
Teardrops Will Fall Tonight
No More Goodbye Songs
Love is Mighty Close to You
|The Truth About Love
Is it Me That You Love
Stephen Cummings' career kicked off with five years fronting iconic Aussie noo-wavers The Sports, shifting into a solo career after their dissolution (like the monasteries) in 1981. His tenth solo album, 2001's Skeleton Key, is a melancholy, country-based record, the exceptions being three bluesier efforts, New Cosmic Blues (no shit, Sherlock), the more acoustic The Truth About Love (with pedal steel) and electric closer Is It Me That You Love. Better tracks include No More Goodbye Songs, The Truth About Love and Is It Me That You Love, but too much of the material relies on its lyrical content at the expense of the by-numbers music, I'm afraid to say.
Bruce Haymes plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Love Is Mighty Close To You, but both the sound's attack and sustain portions have convinced me it's sampled. So; Aussie country/blues, lyrics largely better than music. Your choice.
The Creeping Vine (1999, 55.38) **Original Sin
I Will Show You Life
The Creeping Vine
Echoes (1999, recorded 1993-98, 55.30) *½
Man Amongst Men
I Defy the Sun
Tomorrow's Here Today
Follow the Flow
|Charm the Snake
Jimmy the Tank
It seems multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed originally formed Cyan as far back as 1984, clearly inspired by the previous couple of years' upsurge of interest in progressive rock, retrospectively dubbed 'neo-prog'. After the original band split, Reed formed a new lineup in 1991, releasing two albums, 1993's For King & Country and the following year's Pictures From the Other Side, both on quality-free Dutch neo-prog label SI, before the band's status dropped to being merely one of his ongoing projects.
1999 brought two releases, the former being Reed's first album of new Cyan material for several years, The Creeping Vine, a more mature work than its predecessors, although that probably shouldn't be taken as a recommendation; the composition's generally better than before, with a Celtic influence creeping (sorry) in on a few tracks, but it's still basically third-rate neo-prog, with everything that suggests. Hardly any fakeotron, with distant choirs on Goodbye World; a half-star effort were it applicable.
Echoes appeared later the same year, seven of its ten tracks seemingly being Reed's personal 'best of' his first two albums with three new recordings. All I can say is: why bother? I'm sorry to be so harsh, but this is exactly the kind of Lloyd-Webber-inspired cheeso neo-prog that gives the genre a bad name, with overwrought cod-operatic vocals on several tracks and a preponderance of crummy keyboard sounds, all inserted into some of the most unimaginative 'prog' you're likely to hear. Given when most of these tracks were recorded, it's surprising there's any Mellotron, real or otherwise, in evidence, but a few muffled choir and string parts turn up, while the worst (and most obvious) example is the 'Mellotron' flute part that opens Solitary Angel.
Reed put Cyan to sleep at this point, forming Magenta soon after (what is it with this man and primary printer ink colours?), for which we should probably all be grateful. Not, you understand, that Magenta are an awful lot better, but at least they're more '70s than '80s, which has to be an improvement. Do you buy either of these albums? No, you do not.