Girls, Guns & Glory formed in 2005 as a largely successful attempt to fuse country, rock'n'roll and R'n'B, all influences plainly obvious on their fourth release, 2011's Sweet Nothings. Be warned: those allergic to American roots rock are unlikely to get much out of this, but if you're even occasionally partial to a spot of pedal steel, tracks like Sweet Nothings itself, Maryanne and 1,000 Times may well float your boat. Paul Dilley is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be amazed if the vague flutes and strings on 1,000 Times turn out to be anything other than samples. So; good at what it does, as long as you like what it does, but don't bother for a smattering of crummy Mellotron samples.
Sunflowers Light the Room is a passable, jazz-inflected singer-songwriter effort, better tracks including Healing Hands, the slightly more rocky Down To Earth and When Lightning Strikes. This is yet another of those 'there used to be an online reference to Mellotron use, but there isn't any more' albums; I seem to be having a spate of them at the moment. Anyway, Denis Keldie doesn't play Mellotron.
For some reason, Glass Hammer seem to be one of the lesser-fêted of the '90s American prog outfits, although a near-twenty year career should silence the naysayers. Falling chronologically between Echolyn and Spock's Beard, their debut, 1993's Journey of the Dunadan (***), was a highly ambitious attempt to encapsulate part of Lord of the Rings into a single album, combining ELP-style Hammond, Yes-like bass work, a slightly cheesy sub-Styx approach to the song structures and rather unnecessary spoken dialogue into an album that works in places, while missing the mark in others. Its follow-up, Perelandra (***½) (from the C.S. Lewis novel; its predecessor's title, Out of the Silent Planet, had already been used by King's X), is a rather better proposition all round, despite being another fantasy novel-based concept, losing some of ...Dunadan's cheesier aspects. '97's Live & Revived (***½) combines live material from their first two albums and outtakes, although the band were yet to use sampled Mellotron, still opting for generic string and choir samples at this stage. Incidentally, it's gradually come to my attention that Glass Hammer are Christians, although they keep it out of the way of their music as far as possible, so we'll pretend it isn't happening.
The first of their albums to actually concern us here is '98's On to Evermore (possibly subtitled The Story of Arianna & the Sculptor), with a concept based around a sculptor and the woman he creates. Like its predecessor, it successfully combines their influences, with a distinct Kansas bent to some of its material, while still managing to sound mainly like themselves, Fred Schendel's Emersonisms on the Hammond becoming thankfully more scarce. The album's best track is probably its longest, Arianna, although there are only a few moments of 'why did they do that?' here, mostly involving female vocals (OK, OK, I know they're necessary to the story line) and more slightly unnecessary dialogue. Finally, we get actual sampled Mellotron (?) strings on Only Red and Junkyard Angel, with possible minor parts elsewhere, but not enough to give the album more than a T should it have been relevant.
2000's Chronometree is an amusingly self-deprecating concept effort about a guy who believes his record collection is speaking to him, which makes a change from the usual pretentious guff that passes for a 'concept' in this cloistered world. It's a good album, almost good enough to hit four stars, although something holds me back from that accolade, probably a lack of originality, which, I'll admit, seems a little unfair in this kind of relatively closed loop. The concept is actually irrelevant to the quality of the music (the band are aided by friends, not least Arjen Anthony Lucassen from Ayreon and Terry Clouse of Somnambulist), which should make Kansas and Spock's Beard fans happy, although those hoping for a recreation of 1972 may be a little disappointed. Plenty of sampled 'Tron, mostly strings and choirs, mostly not too obviously fake.
2002's Lex Rex is another concept effort, by the sound of it (do they do any other kind?), with pretty much the same pluses and minuses as before, better tracks including Tales Of The Great Wars and When We Were Young, although I'm not sure the album doesn't slightly lose its way as it progresses. Bit of editing, guys? Plenty of samplotron again, with choirs and (clearly sampled) strings on most tracks and flutes at the end of the lengthy Further Up And Further In. 2004's Shadowlands has more of a Genesis influence than before, although the ever-present Yesisms are, er, present and correct. It's another solid effort, although the usual caveats remain; it's overlong and derivative, with a little too much musical faff for its own good. But isn't that what prog is all about?, I hear you cry. Matter of opinion, sunshine; instrumental passages are fine (hell, instrumental albums are fine!), but they have to be relevant and interesting, or boredom can rapidly set in. In fairness, most of the instrumental work here does the job it set out to do, but the band could easily have trimmed several minutes from the album's length and improved it in the process. The occasional samplotron strings are pretty obvious, too; why go to so much effort to get your album sounding really good, then let it down with something so basic? Shame.
The same year brought the band's next studio release, Live at NEARfest, which documents the previous year's appearance, their set mostly drawn from their two previous releases, particularly Lex Rex. On the downside, Cowboys And Mendians is a completely superfluous drum solo, while the album's (slightly unfair) upside is Kansas' Rich Williams' guest spot, the band tackling Portrait (He Knew) with aplomb, the only obvious amendment being the welcome addition of samplotron strings. Somehow, most of the material comes across better in this setting, despite the loss of studio fidelity; treated as a 'best of' Chronometree and Lex Rex is enough to give this that extra half star. I know full well that there were three Mellotrons at NEARfest that year (and most years, come to think of it), as Änglagård used them during their set, But Glass Hammer doggedly use their samples, mostly strings.
The band went quite mad on the following year's double-disc, vaguely Arthurian-concepted The Inconsolable Secret, disc one consisting of a mere two tracks. It's every bit as overblown as you might/might not (delete according to taste) wish for, going all choral on disc two, although, once again, I feel that a better album might have been produced by trimming the material down to the nuggets of really good stuff spread amongst the acreage of filler. The samplotron use is relatively low this time round; probably a good thing, as the strings are particularly poor - no idea why, as they used better samples on earlier albums. Incidentally, I must single out Fred Schendel's superb keyboard - particularly Hammond - playing, especially good on this release. 2007's Culture of Ascent is a slightly odd release by Glass Hammer standards, adding a couple of contemporary influences (notably occasional programmed beats) into the mix, actually improving the album as a result. I'd imagine they considered it a total coup getting Jon Anderson to guest on a couple of tracks, to the point where they bizarrely opted to open the disc with an admittedly impressive version of Yes' South Side Of The Sky; unfortunately, it overshadows the rest of the album, particularly given its placing on the disc. Still, a step forward, or at least sideways. Not an awful lot of samplotron, though at least they seem to be using better quality samples this time round, with strings and choirs on a few tracks, used sparingly.
Glass Hammer took a sharp left turn on 2009's not-too-well-received Three Cheers for the Broken-Hearted, attempting a symphonic/psych-pop crossover effort, opting to cover The Zombies' superb A Rose For Emily, amongst their own material. Does it work? Not really, no, though top marks for breaking the mould and trying something different. Aside from the Zombies cover, better tracks include The Lure Of Dreams, the rocky Sleep On and The Mid-Life Weird, although the quality drops off as the album progresses, the experimental Schrodinger's Lament being the nadir. It seems the band were attempting to reach out to a new audience, obviously not realising (or facing up to the fact) that they're only really known to the rather hidebound prog crowd, so anyone else is going to merely lump them in with that genre, come what may. A failed experiment, but a brave one, with some decent material and samplotron strings, flutes and choirs scattered throughout.
2010's If sees the band back on track; while it could be seen as a retreat into familiar territory, I'm quite sure the band's fanbase are more than happy. The bulk of the album works well enough, although twenty four-minute closer If The Sun not only goes on a bit, but is probably the weakest track to boot. Edit, chaps, edit... Loads of samplotron (those high choir notes are horrible, by the way), including some major flute parts, with their first obvious use of murky, yet definitely 'Mellotronic' cellos on Beyond, Within. One, from later the same year, is another GH aberration, a poorly-received disc of mainmen Schendel and Babb's early electronic experiments, although the following year's Cor Cordium sees them do what they do best: Yes-like prog, rarely stepping outside the genre 'rules', although the shortish and overtly-Christian Salvation Station throws some blues into the mix in an unexpectedly successful move. Less samplotron this time round, although we do get a brief snippet of the MkII 'moving strings' in Dear Daddy, making it likely that an M-Tron purchase has been made at some point.
2012's Perilous, another concept effort, is actually the band's best work in ages, the constrictions of the form seemingly conspiring to tighten up the writing, as on the mostly tiresome Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory. No obvious standout tracks, although the Hackett-esque classical guitar work on Crowbone deserves a mention, as do the rather overt Yes 'borrowings': a bit of a Heart Of The Sunrise rip in Our Foe Revealed, while they channel Awaken in closer Where Sorrows Died And Came No More. Reasonable levels of samplotron strings and choir across the album, for what it's worth. Album odd fact: the track titles constitute a short poem, if read in sequence. 2014's Ode to Echo can't quite match its illustrious predecessor, although it features fewer obvious lifts. Highlights include Misantrog and I Am I; suffice to say, if you're a fan, you won't be disappointed. More samplotron this time round, with strings on several tracks, particularly heavily on Misantrog, choirs on I Am I and flutes on The Grey Hills, amongst other usage.
Once initiated, Glass Hammer have been fairly consistent with their samplotron use. One problem: on their website, under 'studio gear', they list a 'Mellotron MkIV' (surely M400?) as 'available when necessary'. Surely recording sessions count as 'when necessary'? The band have clearly never used a real Mellotron, so why list it? Odd. Anyway, while largely generic, Glass Hammer are a pretty decent band, although they're badly infected with the modern propensity for overdoing it; trim your best ideas down to forty-odd minutes and start making some great albums, chaps.
In true Max Webster style (is this a Canadian thing?), Glen Nevous is entirely imaginary, being Ontarian Chris Page's nom-de-plume. Sell Out Slow is a Billy Bragg-esque folk/punk blast, furious, thrashy-yet-clean electric guitar, but no drums, at its best on The Trouble With Thursday Ann, The Opeechee Contender and closer Motor Skills Fading. Dave Draves plays samplotron cellos on the last-named, to reasonable effect.
Oslo's superbly-named Gluecifer were an unreconstructed, balls-out rock'n'roll band (the Scandic countries have a habit of doing this), whose singer had the balls to call himself Biff Malibu. Biff Mailibu! Utterly, stupendously, fucking brilliant! Almost as good as the much-lamented Peter Cook's outrageous suggestions to Equity when they demanded he change his professional name, including 'Xavier Blancmange', 'Sting Thunderpants' and possibly the best of the lot, 'Wardrobe Gruber'. Er, moving swiftly on... 'Mellotronically' speaking, I'm unconvinced by Soaring With Eagles at Night..., title quite possibly inspired by the aftermath of your typical gig. It's a great album, highlights including opener Bossheaded, Get The Horn (!) and the kind-of epic Deadend Beat, although The Lee Fett Conspiracy (a.k.a. Lee Fett)'s supposed Mellotron is entirely inaudible.
Their fourth album, 2002's Basement Apes (ouch) is a good, rocking album in the grand tradition, irony-free and all the better for it (remember The Darkness? No? Good), with balls-to-the-wall numbers like Brutus, Easy Living and Not Enough For You, with the occasional slower one chucked in for good measure. Alleged Mellotron from (according to source) either Kåre Chr.(istoffer) Vestrheim and/or Soundtrack of Our Lives' Martin Hederos, with strings on four tracks and possible additional flutes on closer I Saw The Stones Move, although I'm not convinced by any of it. Although 2004's Automatic Thrill was the band's swansong, it's almost as good as its predecessor, albeit marginally less energetic. Cato Salsa plays samplotron, but only just, with a background string part on Take It that wouldn't especially be missed were it not there.
I can't tell you much about Gnomen, other than that they're an American progressive outfit with a strong King Crimson bent, complete with sax, à la early Crimso, not something you hear too often in their imitators. Difficult to pick out highlights, as it's all good, although the raucous Labyrinth might just have the edge. Rick Lombardi allegedly plays Mellotron, but the strings on Quarter Past 53 and elsewhere, not to mention the choirs, are clearly sampled.
Gods Child [sic.] were an American powerpop outfit whose second album, Aluminum, has been rumoured to have some Mellotronic input. A close listen to the intro to track 5, Space Boy, reveals Mellotron string samples that sit well in the mix, but don't stand up quite so well on their own. The band's material is nearer '90s indie than classic powerpop, so don't go expecting a Cheap Trick soundalike here (sadly), although those faux Mellotron strings are on most tracks. The band later morphed into Joe 90, named in homage to Gerry Anderson's late-'60s 'Supermarionation' series. Incidentally, for more information on the persistent US misspelling of aluminium, the 13th element of the periodic table, have a look at: World-Aluminium.org, home of the International Aluminium Institute.
Louise Goffin? Daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, so you might expect some songwriting skills to've come her way, if not genetically, then through early exposure. Unfortunately, Sometimes a Circle (her fourth album and first for fourteen years) is a bland, mainstream effort, fatally compromised by a raft of contemporary (2000s-style) production tricks that have dated it horrendously, all of a decade later. It's at its least dull on gentle closer Quiet Anethesia, despite the pointless distorted - something? - running through the song. Someone plays obvious fakeotron flutes on the opening title track, with MkII left-hand manual flute phrases and moving strings (plus M400 choir) on Sleep With Me Instead and strings all over Light In Your Eyes, with other use elsewhere. Not even close to authentic.
Going by the evidence of 2011's The Ornament, Grant Olsen's near-solo project Gold Leaves play the worst kind of plinky-plonky indie nonsense you can imagine, leading me to ruminate on the question, "Just what, exactly, makes 'indie' indie?" I believe the answer goes something like this: 'indie' = a poor copy of bands who were influenced by bands who had heard The Velvet Underground, each generation moving further from the source material, the end result taking all the worst elements of the VU while missing what made them great by a country mile. Rather like most 'genre' artists, then. Gold Leaves are as bad as any, their low-energy, remedial, almost tuneless dirges making me want to fling the disc out of a tall building, tempered only by the knowledge that it would almost certainly survive the fall. Jason Quever is credited with Mellotron, but the vaguely Mellotronic string and flute sounds that crop up occasionally seem highly unlikely to have anything to do with a real machine. Why does anyone like this kind of stuff? Fucked if I know.
Adam Kline's Golden Shoulders' most recent full-lengther at the time of writing, Get Reasonable, is a singer-songwriter-plays-indie album, at its least irritating on Let My Burden Be and the Elvis Costello/Watching The Detectives-isms of Little Nixon (even sounds like one of Costello's titles). Josh Klinghoffer's samplotron flutes finally appear on closer Listen Closely (I Will Fight You Now Liar), to no great effect.
Golden Smog returned after an eight-year break with 2006's Another Fine Day, Jeff Tweedy only appearing in a guest role. It's immediately obvious that they've shifted away from 'pure' alt.country, towards a slightly psychedelic Americana, for want of a better description, with late-'60s Kinks-ish opener You Make It Easy, pseudo-glam (Corvette), hard rock (Hurricane) and various other previously-unheard-on-a-Golden-Smog-album styles. Alleged Mellotron from Gary Louris on closer Think About Yourself; I'd guess it provides the vague, background strings that waft in and out of the track. It's been pointed out that, by releasing albums in consecutive years, the band are in danger of losing their 'side-project' status. 2007's Blood on the Slacks (ho ho) is actually a mini-album, including two covers amongst its eight tracks, Bowie's Starman and Dinosaur Jr's Tarpit, nestled in between another six tracks of psychedelic Americana. Of their own material, the quirky instrumental Magician is probably the best example, some of the rest not quite coming up to previous standards, which isn't to say it's a bad release. Louris' samplotron rears its ugly head on Starman, with a string part similar to the real one on the original.
Goldenboy, a.k.a. Shon Sullivan, are/is a classic case of how certain artists can seriously polarise opinion; one online reviewer says 'too good for a debut', I say 'dreary indie'. 2002's Blue Swan Orchestra has its moments, certainly (Twenty Months In A Hail Storm, the melancholy Summertime, with Elliott Smith on backing vocals), but the majority of its material exists in a kind of indie limbo of repetitive guitars and overly-sweet melodies. I'm not sure I'll ever understand why this stuff's so popular; born too early, I suppose. Good. Producer/label owner Dave McConnell supposedly plays Chamberlin, although the only thing here that even might be one is the heavily-vibratoed flutes on album 'proper' closer Almost Perfect.
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, collectively Goldfrapp, have shifted their sound with each release, confounding their critics and probably irritating their fans. After their ambient debut, 2000's Felt Mountain, 2003's Black Cherry has far more of a dance vibe about it, although apparently less so than its successor, 2005's Supernature (yeah yeah, Cerrone reference). My chief problem with Black Cherry is a lack of good songs, as against excuses for some neat programming and drifty vocals; a little of those goes a long way round these parts. However, the (genuine analogue?) synth work on most tracks is a distinct bonus, notably on Crystalline Green, Train, Twist and Strict Machine, with its Donna Summer vocal homage. I keep being told there's some Mellotron on the album, but all I can hear is some possible 'Tron flute on the title track, which sounds sampled anyway. Given that Gregory is rumoured to use a raft of vintage gear, it's possible it's real, but I'll need confirmation from someone who actually knows to shift this into the regular reviews. Anyway, a decent enough modern synth album, basically, probably best avoided if you're allergic to the dancier end of things.
Tally of the Yes Men is full-on indie-by-numbers, incorporating all the genres clichés you can imagine. Eight-downstrokes-to-the-bar? Check. Whiny lyrics set to a twee major-key 'melody'? Check. Chord sequences that rarely explore beyond, say E-to-A, repeat? Check. Arlan Schierbaum's credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin. What, the vague background strings on Motorcade? I've wasted forty minutes of my life for this?
Zoloft? A.k.a. Sertraline, a commonly-prescribed antidepressant, apparently, potential side effects including diarrhoea, sexual dysfunction, and troubles with sleep (thanks, Wikipedia). Sounds a right bundle of laughs. Fortunately, Songs in the Key of Zoloft is an under-twenty-minute EP, so, after a brief instrumental intro, it only contains four songs of Hartley Goldstein whining about his childhood, for which I am truly grateful. I have absolutely no idea why Joe McGinty's credited with Mellotron.
Teddy Goldstein, not to mention his Goldsteins' Alright is the New Fantastic is an Americana-end-of-singer-songwriter mini-album, at its best on Livin' Like We Care and Union Street, as much for the lyrics as the music. Ken Rich is credited with Mellotron on Comeback, but the sampled vibes on the track can also be heard on Not The Real Thing.
Selena Gomez, who rose to fame through the Disney Corporation (see: Miley Cyrus, a million others no-one over 25 has heard of), began her musical career with her band, The Scene, in 2009, going 'solo' (or more solo) after three albums with them. 2014's For You is actually a compilation, of the 'includes a handful of new/rare recordings' variety; it covers Gomez' first four albums, although you'd be hard-pushed to spot any progression from one to the next, band or no band. A repeating feature (aside from the shitty R&B of almost every track) is her vocals: ridiculously high in the mix. Welcome to 'pop' productions, ladies'n'gennelmen. Irritatingly, another repeating trope is a vaguely interesting sonic trick of one kind or another used at the beginning of a track, until the vocals and programmed drums kick in, at which point it all goes to shit. Is there a 'best track'? Well, Falling Down's about the least bad, principally due to being vaguely rock and not actually R&B. Rami Jaffee (whose Mellotron credits are highly suspect these days) is credited on opener The Heart Wants What It Wants, one of the new recordings, but with nothing obviously tape-replay-generated on the track, I think we can safely say: samples, deep in the mix. You're not exactly going to go out of your way to hear this anyway, are you?
After his '90s success with The Matthew Good Band (loving the originality there), Good went solo, Lights of Endangered Species being his fifth studio release. When you hear the phrase 'brass section', you really aren't thinking of the way Good uses them; more colliery band than Tower of Power, his arrangements bring out the inherent mournfulness of many members of the brass family. Echoes of Scott Walker, early 20th-Century classical music, even the more orchestral end of progressive rock, all crash headlong (albeit rather quietly) into Good's alt.rock and singer-songwriter backgrounds, the end result being unique, if not always entirely successful. Producer Warne Livesey is credited with Mellotron, while Good credits himself with 'claratron', apparently no more than the rarely-heard Mellotron clarinet sound, but, as you can imagine, there's nothing obvious to be heard.
The Good Life grew out of Cursive's frontman Tim Kasher's solo project, their third album, 2004's Album of the Year, being an awful lot better than the parent band's Happy Hollow, at least. That isn't to say it's a great album; the opening title track has a great narrative lyric, but the bulk of the record drifts along in a folk/indie kind of way, with only the occasional burst of energy (Notes In His Pocket, Needy), to liven things up at all and did Inmates really need to be nearly ten minutes long? Mike Mogis plays samplotron on Lovers Need Lawyers, with a brief background flute part at the end of the song.
Delta Goodrem is yet another massively-successful musician I've never heard of, which means that my attempts to completely divorce myself from modern popular culture are clearly reaping rewards. Starting her career as a child actor, Child of the Universe is her fourth album, an unappealing mix of the more sophisticated end of dance/pop and piano balladry, which really is all I need to say about it, I think. Gary Clark is credited with 'Mellotron string machine' on the title track. Er... Wot? Suffice to say, given the real strings on the track, there's nothing audible, whether real Mellotron, string machine or samples.
Gabriel Gordon's overlong Gypsy Living is a typical upbeat modern singer-songwriter effort, full of material that sounds like it should be used in mass-market TV shows. Perhaps it is. Gordon's credited with Mellotron, but all we get is distant samplotron strings and flutes on the title track, flutes on Key To The City and other possibles elsewhere, not that it matters.
Coyote's Calling is an album of heartfelt Americana, probably at its best on Jack's Dream and You Can Have What's Left Of My Heart, although it occasionally tips into the kind of mawkish country that gives the genre a bad name. Evan Gordon (his brother?) plays samplotron strings on Hey Amanda.
By the mid-'90s, Dutch death metal crew Gorefest had softened their approach to the point that their fourth album, 1996's Soul Survivor, is, in many ways, a trad hard rock album with metal overtones, not least a continuation of their earlier death metal vocal style, sadly. High points? Quite a few, maybe surprisingly, including the brief harmony guitar part on the title track, a little riff at the end of Blood Is Thick and several Maiden/Metallica-style harmony sections. René Merkelbach's 'Mellotron' strings on River and lengthy closer Dragonman, however, simply aren't; I can't tell whether they're eMu or Roland samples, but they're certainly one or the other, with the wrong attack on both slow and fast sections, which is quite a trick. Well, this would be thoroughly acceptable had the band opted to drop that ridiculous vocal style; as it is, by this point, they'd alienated all their old fans anyway, so they might as well have 'done an Anathema', dumped their old style completely and looked for a new fanbase. As it is, it's not a bad effort if you can ignore the vocals (and the spelling mistakes), but the Mellotron's a definite fake.
Gorki were a successful Belgian alt.rock outfit, whose fifth album, Ik Ben Aanwezig, is a rather dull '90s indie effort from a classic 'locals' band. You know, sound quite like famous international acts for your local market, often singing in your own language. It's harmless enough, I suppose, but overlong, at its sort-of best on Wie Zal Er Voor De Kinderen Zorgen and Mijn Dierbare Vijand, maybe. Luc Heyvaerts plays most likely sampled Mellotron acoss much of the album (although they also have two 'real use' LPs), notably the strings on opener Aan De Rand Van De Beschaving, Adam Is Dood and elsewhere. Perhaps they were trying the sounds on for size before getting the Real Deal.
Stone Gossard (actually his real name) is, of course, long-term guitarist with Pearl Jam, as well as working his way through Seattle proto-grunge legends Green River, Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog, placing him at the epicentre of the whole movement. Of course, whether you like Pearl Jam et al. is another matter; I find them a largely tuneless dirge, but I'm sure many people feel the same way about one of their chief influences and occasional collaborator, Neil Young, so what do I know? Bayleaf is Gossard's first and to date, only, solo album, although I believe his follow-up is in preparation at the time of writing. It sounds like a more laid-back version of Pearl Jam to my ears, with even more overt Neil comparisons, although none of the songwriting really stands up. Maybe you have to be really into the style. Pete Droge plays a variety of instruments on the album, not least samplotron, although you wouldn't know were it not credited. I have to assume it's on opener Bore Me, making the discordant sound that swells up out of the mix here and there, although it could be just about anything.
The Gotan Project are an international Paris-based collective, whose music is essentially Brazilian crossed with electronica, making them the type of band unlikely to appeal to the average prog fan. 2004's Inspiración-Espiración (or, correctly, Inspiración-Espiración: A Gotan Project DJ Set: New Tracks, Remixes & Funky Tangos Selected & Mixed By Philippe Cohen Solal) is effectively a remix album, although what kind of 'DJ set' this would make I'm not sure; it has far too many slow bits to make it particularly danceable. Anyway, while I'm sure it's perfectly good at what it does, it's overlong and I can't say it exactly grabbed this particular reviewer. Joey Burns adds samplotron to one track, with watery flutes on La Del Ruso (Calexico Version).
Wouter "Wally" De Backer, a.k.a. Gotye, is an Australian (via Belgium) artist, whose third album, 2011's Making Mirrors, features a blend of pop (various eras), electronica and all-round sampledelica. Sounds appalling? Agreed, but for all my dislike of the vast bulk of current pop, Gotye's magpie instincts for sounds make him a more interesting listen than practically all of his contemporaries, better moments including Eyes Wide Open's 'Kate Bush on speed' galloping rhythm, State Of The Art's disco-era syndrum and the '60s influences scattered across the record. And is that an echo of 'honorary Aussies' Crowded House I hear on closer Bronte? Gotye adds Mellotron flute samples to Somebody That I Used To Know, used sparingly and sympathetically, although they're so minimal that, were it relevant, they'd garner a mere half 'T'. Don't imagine that I'm actually recommending this to any of you, but it's nice, just for once, to hear a mainstream pop album that doesn't thoroughly insult my intelligence.
Jean-Philippe Goude is a French composer/keyboard player, best-known for his work with short-lived Zeuhlsters Weidorje in the late '70s, although his career extends in both directions from that brief period. 2001's Rock de Chambre is something like his fourth solo album since 1990, pretty much what it says on the tin, a collaboration between a small orchestral ensemble and a band, most of its tracks dominated by the string section, whose arrangements never quite tip over into dissonance, while remaining on the 'avant' side of 'normal', whatever you take that to mean. Attempting to isolate any 'best tracks' is slightly futile; as you might expect, the album works best as a whole and should be listened to as such. Goude is credited with Mellotron, with a sparse flute part on La Dernière Marche, but it's quickly proven to be fake on La Ligne Claire (far too fast and with the wrong attack to be genuine), with more of the same on Lieber Hans, Fonquitude and closer Soliloque. All in all, a fine effort, assuming you can handle a little mild dissonance in your chamber rock. Recommended.
Gracious! (UK) see:
I'm afraid I'm unable to dissociate the name Grails from a certain Monty Python film, specifically John Cleese as 'Tim the wizard' with a broad cod-Scots accent ("Therrre arrre some that call me... Tim"), roaring "A GRRRAIL??!!" at several terrified knights. Sorry. Put it down to word-association. They're actually a prolific Portland, Oregon-based instrumental post-rock/prog outfit, whatever you may take that to mean. Ignoring EPs, they seem to spit out about an album a year, 2011's Deep Politics being something like their eighth, a record that veers between near- (though not actual) dissonance and reflective passages, possibly heard to best effect on the near-nine minute I Led Three Lives. Guitarist Alex John Hall is credited with Mellotron, but if the upfront choir part on All The Colors Of The Dark has anything to do with a real machine, I may have to reassess my levels of hearing damage. Deep Politics is an album of sublime moments hidden amid long stretches of musical filler; whether it's worth hearing for those moments is up to you.
Grain are a female-fronted full-on retro outfit from Pittsburgh, who seem to've been going since some time in the '90s, although I don't know anything about their earlier work. Their sound on The Bad Years (their second album? Very hard to tell) focuses on yer good ol' fashioned vocals/guitar/bass/drums four-piece, with vocalist Carla Simmons and guitarist Wayne Smith both doubling on various cranky old keyboards. Hoorah! Mind you, they haven't entirely ignored the last couple of decades, as Can't Lose features the band playing along with a drum loop, although the opening guitar sound on Everything You're Not rocks in a way no-one seems to do any more, not to mention the cowbell... I can't say their samplotron use is exactly over the top, to be honest: nothing audible on I Ruined Love or Can't Lose, with faint strings on Soul Session #5 (those titles!) and Broken, although the underwater flutes on Understood are rather more obvious. There's also a smattering of uncredited strings on Intro, although nothing else is credited on the track either, for what it's worth.
Grammatrain are another CCM act who transcend the 'genre' by playing 'alternative rock', or whatever you may choose to call it, rather than the insipid, near-MOR dross that passes for 'Christian music' most of the time (well, we wouldn't want to offend anyone, would we?). Flying was their second and last studio album proper and, to prove my point, Rocket Ship is actually, er, heavy, so Christians can rock, too. Kind of. Samplotron on two tracks, from vocalist/guitarist Pete Stewart, with a brief cello part on opener Jonah and upfront flutes and strings on closer For Me, stretching above the instrument's actual range.
Sweden's Grand Magus are part of the (frequently Scandinavian) current wave of seriously retro hard rock (think: Witchcraft), although I'm not sure they're one of its front-runners. It's not that their debut, 2001's Grand Magus, is a bad album, it's just a bit one-dimensional, sounding less like a band from the early '70s than like a band merely influenced by that era, with little memorable material. Largely because that's what it is. Now, Fred Estby is credited with Mellotron, but the few seconds of screechy strings on opener Gauntlet don't sound much like one to my ears. Samples? Not a Mellotron at all? Dunno, but it's enough to stick this into 'samples', at least until/if I should hear otherwise.
All the reviews I've seen of Bad Timing equate it with early-'70s rock, so is it only me that hears '77 punk in there? The first several tracks, in particular, have that 'devil may care'-ness about them, although maybe I'm just hearing their Lou Reed influences (Get Lost) filtered through other bands influenced by Reed. Influences and counter-influences... Anyway, this is Grand Mal's third album, which bravely travels a path from a raucous beginning to a rather more gentle, laid-back end, although if you're not into that New York thing, you probably won't be too into this. Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd guests on 'piano, organ, slide guitar and Mellotron' on four tracks, but it must mean collectively, not individually, as Disaster Film (how very British!) is the only one to obviously have any alleged Mellotron, with a rather screechy string part, stretching above the actual instrument's range.
Californians Grandaddy are refreshingly difficult to categorise, although their sound contains inescapable elements of the dreaded 'alt.country' ghetto. For sheer invention they outstrip any of their rivals by the proverbial mile, incorporating elements of singer-songwriter gloom, lo-fi oddness and even prog, though I expect they wouldn't be too keen on that last comparison. Despite having existed since 1992, it was '97 before their first album proper, Under the Western Freeway appeared. To my ears, the best material is the quietest, with the occasional noisier tracks sounding slightly forced. In fact, the more a track is suffused with melancholy, the better I like it, with the instrumental title track being especially strong. Most of the tracks run into each other, with a noticeable 'side' gap before Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, giving the album a bit of a 'concept' feel, although I've no idea what that may be, assuming it exists at all. Tim Dryden plays various cranky old keyboards and while none of them (or indeed, anything else) is actually listed, I can hear what sounds like two or three distinctly different late-period analogue synths squeaking, whistling and groaning away on various tracks. There's also the matter of the supposed Mellotron, with fractured choir notes on Nonphenomenal Lineage, brief, background strings on A.M.180, more upfront ones on Laughing Stock, and a flute melody on the title track.
Their second effort, 2000's The Sophtware Slump, is irritatingly inconsistent; after starting really well, it completely loses the fragility of the first few tracks for several less good rockier numbers, although it tries to make amends further along, though with only partial success. The lengthy He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot (no, I don't know either) is a gorgeous album opener, with lush samplotron strings under the chorus, along with the squiggly analogue synths and fat pads of the verses, although they never quite capture the same feel again on subsequent songs. More samplotron strings on Hewlett's Daughter and Miner At The Dial-A-View.
"La Grande" Sophie Huriaux (that's 'the great, not 'the big...') formed her first band at thirteen, moving to Paris in her twenties to further her career, 2006's La Suite... being her fourth release in around a decade. It contains an odd combination of upbeat pop and more reflective, chanson-influenced material, Aujourd'hui On Se Marie being almost café music, while Egoïste is a French-language version of Martha & the Muffins' iconic Echo Beach. Philippe Huminski plays 'Mellotron' on La Fille Du Bord De Mer, although it's actually on Les Nouveaux Héros, assuming it's real, which it almost certainly isn't. I can't imagine many non-French speakers being particularly interested in La Suite..., although it does what it does perfectly well, so with no obvious real Mellotron, I think I have to say 'no'.
Grant Lee Buffalo's third album, 1996's Copperopolis is, I'm afraid to report, the dreariest load of old cock I've heard since, er, the last load of dreary old cock to which I subjected myself in the name of Rock Criticism. Mainman Grant-Lee Phillips quite desperately wants to be Bob Dylan throughout most of the album, but given his inability to write anything remotely in the Big Zim's league, he insists on torturing us with his half-arsed attempts at songwriting anyway. Harsh? Yup. I thought GLB were supposed to be better than this, so my disappointment at hearing something this limp has probably led to a harder review than it might otherwise have got. But not much. Very little obvious samplotron from Paul Kimble, with nowt but flutes on closer Only Way Down.
The Grapes of Wrath were a Canadian powerpop band, operating at the folky end of the spectrum; 1991's These Days was their fourth album and last before their split. Apparently, it didn't go down that well with their fanbase, although it sounds like a perfectly good folky pop/rock release to me, the gorgeous electric 12-string on Days bringing The Byrds to mind, although they shamelessly rip Zep's The Rain Song on I Can't Find My Home. Naughty. Unlike many similar efforts, I can't find any references to Mellotron use (although something must have made me put it on here in the first place), the 'strings' on You May Be Right most likely being high organ notes, while the flutes on the lengthy Miracle sound like someone playing generic samples in a Mellotronic manner. The only people involved with the recording who have anything to do with Mellotrons are members of XTC, credited as The Dukes of Stratosphear, who play, er, something on A Fishing Tale, but certainly not Mellotron.
2013's High Road is the result of the band's second reformation after their '80s heyday, sitting somewhere in between powerpop and mainstream pop/rock, rather like their previous releases. Highlights include gorgeous opener Good To See You, Isn't There, I'm Lost (I Miss You) and None Too Soon, although I remain unconvinced by the cod-electronica of Picnic and Waiting To Fly's endless repetition. Darryl Neudorf is credited with Mellotron, but, assuming the background strings on Good To See You are irrelevant, we're left with the flutes on I'm Lost (I Miss You), which sound like a phrase played once via samples, then looped.
Grasshopper and the Golden Crickets are effectively a Mercury Rev side-project, led by multi-instrumentalist Grasshopper. The parent band's Deserter's Songs is something of a recent Mellotron classic (sampled, sadly), so while The Orbit of Eternal Grace, released the same year, was never going to equal it on that front, it gets a little bit of 'Tron in here and there. The album itself is a bit of a hodgepodge, with some tracks (the samplotron-heavy The Ballad Of The One Eyed Angelfish or N.Y. Avenue Playground (Reprise)) working vastly better than others (the rather punky O-Ring, reverting to an earlier era of Mercury Rev, or the techno-esque Univac Bug Track).
I personally feel that the gentler tracks work better, including both the samplotron numbers here. The Ballad Of The One Eyed Angelfish is mostly flutes, with a few strings chords coming in at the end (going over the 8-second limit), while the instrumental title track has flutes running all the way through, going over said limit in a far more obvious way. So, I'm not sure if this is one for Mercury Rev fans or not; it's more eclectic, while having some of the Appalachian feel of their recent work. It also sounds more 'indie', so I think I'm going to have to say, one for die-hards only. Oh, and for the non-musicians out there 'SMPTE' is pronounced 'simpty'. Very droll.
German synthesist Mathias Grassow has apparently moved from the new age field into more experimental areas over the course of his career, which must be more satisfying artistically, if not commercially. I'd guess that 1993's In Search of Sanity finds him at the cusp of his transition, its long, drifting soundscapes (please excuse the cliché) bordering dissonance in places, or at least an absence of melody, while its pseudo-'tribal' rhythms on some tracks presumably remove it from the new age ghetto entirely. Troubles features a string part that sounds both Mellotronic and... non-Mellotronic. My guess is the then-new eMu Vintage Keys module, giving an impression of the sound without any real degree of accuracy, not helped by Grassow's insistence on sustaining chords way past the eight-second limit. In fairness, he may not even have known about said limit, or, for that matter, cared, as I'm sure he considered the sound no more than another part of his sonic palette. I suppose he had a point. Anyway, not something you're going to buy for a sampled Mellotron part, but a good album of its type, infinitely superior to your average new age warblings.
The Grassy Knoll (great name) are frequently described as 'fusion' of some description. OK, there's a jazzy bent to what they do, but their combination of jazz and electronica has little in common with the '70s purveyors of instrumental excess. I suppose that's the point; this has more to do with post-rock than prog and as such, is a fusion for the modern world. I can't personally say I find III an easy listen, but then, I doubt if it's meant to be. Nick Sansano's credited with Mellotron, but with so much sample manipulation going on, it's difficult to tell where it might be. All I can really hear is a few string chords in Blue Wires, but I wouldn't put serious money on those, frankly.
I think there's a good chance that you've already worked out Gravdal's chosen musical mode from 2010's Torturmantra's artwork, not to mention title. Yup, it's another Scandinavian extreme metal outfit, although the most 'extreme' things about the album (their second, to my knowledge) are 'Galge's death metal vocals and the band's ludicrous corpsepainted image. Really, chaps, it isn't necessary... Incidentally, Untitled is credited to Grieg; it seems to bear comparisons to parts of Peer Gynt. Herbrand Larsen (Audrey Horne) allegedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, but as with that band's work, the murky strings on Mishandlet and Klastrert På Ambolt sound little like a real machine. So; sort-of trad metal overlaid with pointless death metal tropes and fake Mellotron. Maybe not, eh?
Calico is Boston's Gravehaven's second release, a kind-of prog metal (mini-) album, long on technique, short on memorable material, sadly. I've clearly seen a historical reference to vocalist Ben Grenville Garceau's Mellotroning, but all I can hear is some vague, sampled flutes on closer Revive. Fail.
The casual observer might label Sweden's Graveyard 'heavy metal'. Wrong. If ever a band deserved the appellation 'hard rock', it's Graveyard; the bluesy, lightly distorted sound they utilise on their third release, 2012's Lights Out, harks right back to 1972. Counter-intuitively, the fact that the band all look like Dave Brock actually helps matters, which isn't something you can say very often. OK, ever. Their material channels Humble Pie, The Groundhogs and lesser lights such as Leafhound (spot the occasional Budgie-isms on Endless Night); solid, riff-heavy-yet-melodic rock, without a hint of any hideous '80s AORisms. Is it actually any good, though? Not bad, not brilliant, almost certainly better live; rather like most of their influences, in other words. Best tracks? Probably opener An Industry Of Murder and the bluesy Hard Times Lovin', but I'll probably say something different tomorrow. Nils Dahl helps out on keys on a couple of tracks, including credited Mellotron on Slow Motion Countdown, but the strings on the track, buried in the mix, really don't convince. Sample City, methinks. So; worth the effort? Do you like your rock relentlessly retro? If so, then a full-on 'yes', but don't even think about it if you're partial to even the tiniest hint of 'glam', 'cos you won't find it here.
Glancing back through my accumulated reviews, a pattern becomes apparent: Christian albums are routinely given some of the lowest ratings. There's a reason for this... Jason Gray's unspeakable Christmas Stories forces pop arrangements onto carols and other seasonal music. That's it. One star. Cason Cooley's 'Mellotron'? Fucked if I know. Hideous fucking rubbish.
Macy Gray made three heavy-duty tape-replay albums in the early 2000s, only (to my knowledge) returning to Planet Mellotron relevance on her eighth album (including two covers collections), 2014's The Way. While still very much in the soul/R&B field, as you'd expect, I found this far more palatable than her earlier work, highlights including suitably woozy opener Stoned, Bang Bang's dirty fuzz guitar, First Time's soul vibe and Queen Of The Big Hurt's more-acceptable-than-you-might-expect balladry. Lyrically, this is as intensely personal as anything you might care to name, too, notably on I Miss The Sex and Queen Of The Big Hurt. Chris Rob's credited Mellotron appears to be no more than one-step-up-from-generic-string-samples, going by their appearance on Hands, the title track and Queen Of The Big Hurt (and elsewhere?). No obvious real Mellotron, then, but definitely in the 'good at what it does' category.
Grayscale's limper-than-limp indie moves on their debut, That Flawless Flashing Day, serve only to irritate/enrage the discerning listener, aided and abetted by the frequently overlong material, as if this sorry mess didn't go on for long enough already. Hideous. Bruce Lowe's 'Mellotron' equates to sampled strings on So Credulous I'm Blind, One More Day and, notably, on Never Again.
Great Lake Swimmers are pretty much synonymous with leader Tony Dekker, although one other member of the ensemble that recorded their first band LP, 2005's Bodies & Minds, Erik Arneson, is still present in their latest lineup. Their sixth full-lengther, 2015's A Forest of Arms, is a pleasant enough album, perhaps best described as a kind of indie-folk, better tracks including the mournful Don't Leave Me Hanging, The Great Bear and CD-only bonus Talking In Your Sleep. The band's soundman Justin Shane Nace is credited with Mellotron on Neil Young-ish closer Expecting You, but the chances of it being real are pretty remote, to be honest: reverbed to hell, distant and overly smooth, I'd put money on it being sampled. Anyway, a decent enough album of its type, but somehow lacking something, not least real Mellotron.
Hailing from the same two-bit town as the legendary Lester Bangs (El Cajon), Greater California are an indie/folk/psych outfit, treading the fine line between their chosen genres on their debut, 2004's Somber Wurlitzer. The album is aptly-named, every track based on the slightly gloomy tones of their latest purchase, a Wurly piano, so much more expressive than a Rhodes. Discuss. The material's fairly decent, if a little samey; not even a Donovan cover (Jersey Thursday) particularly stands out. The uncredited keyboard player adds a sanplotron cello line and a complex flute part to May Day (a run at the end gives the sample game away) and string section on the closing title track (also somewhat inauthentic).
Boris "BG" Grebenshikov (also of Aquarium) is Russia's best-known (and best-loved) rock musician, often known as "the Grandfather of Russian Rock". 2014's Salt/Соль (or The Salt) is his sixth solo album, a Russian-language mix of mainstream rock, singer-songwriter and more authentically folk styles, highlights including the folky Ne Bilo Takoy/Не Было Такой, the rockier Lyubov Vo Vremya Voyni/Любовь Во Время Войны and Esli Ya Uydu/Если Я Уйду, while seven-minute closer Stella Maris successfully pulls off the trick of being simultaneously ethereal and powerful. Boris Rubekin is credited with Mellotron on Stella Maris, but I'd love to know what it's supposed to be doing, as not only does he play flute on the track, but a string quartet's also present. Whatever it is, I think we can probably safely say 'samples', audible or not. A pretty decent effort, then, although the songs' meanings are lost to the English-speaking audience.
Accordionist Martin Green's name may be in a (considerably) larger font on the sleeve of 2014's Crows' Bones, but he's the first to admit that Becky Unthank, Inge Thomson and Niklas Roswall should all receive equal credit. The album apparently began life (ironic, given that its subject is death) as a stage show, combining new pieces in the British folk tradition with traditional material, not least the Lyke Wake Dirge, recorded by countless musicians. A haunted, ghostly album with roots deep in the country's soil, its sparse instrumentation, not least Roswall's Nyckelharpa (a violin variant), sets the scene for nine mournful songs, highlights including opener Mess Of Crows, the aforementioned Lyke Wake Dirge, the bizarre death-circus swirls of I Saw The Dead and Maklin's Bridal March/Griesly Bride. Portishead's Adrian Utley is credited with Mellotron, but, in a tediously-familiar script, with absolutely nothing audible (particularly obvious on such a sparse recording), it seems highly likely that we're looking at samples hidden way down in the mix. To be honest, I can't see how the album would've been improved by the presence of a real-or-otherwise Mellotron, anyway. Worth hearing.
Green Carnation are one of progressive metal's lesser-known acts, despite having released five studio albums to date, having been together since the early '90s. Apparently, they have become 'less heavy' with each release, 2005's The Quiet Offspring standing at a midway point between heaviness and subtlety, although the actual material is pretty much generic; think: a more tasteful Dream Theater with a more interesting vocalist. Kenneth Silden plays keys, including Mellotron flute samples on several tracks, notably When I Was You, although all string parts sound like generic samples. Stopgap EP The Burden is Mine... Alone gives a taster of their forthcoming album, although its most interesting track is a surprisingly good version of Australian Jon English's Six Ribbons, from the Against the Wind soundtrack. 'Mellotron' flutes on Six Ribbons by Kenneth Silden, but if that's a Mellotron, I'll eat my proverbial (and hopefully virtual) hat.
Their new approach sort of culminated in 2006's Acoustic Verses (clearly influenced by Opeth's Damnation), which is pretty much what it says on the tin. It's by no means a bad album, but lacks any real character, unlike Opeth's similar release, although I'm willing to admit that subsequent plays may reveal its charms. Silden on 'Mellotron' again, with vague string sounds on a few tracks that probably started life as Mellotron samples, but certainly didn't end it that way. Overall, then, a passable album, albeit a pretty unexciting one. Apparently Green Carnation are returning to the heavier end of things on their next album; let's see if they use any more 'Mellotron', eh?
Green Isac are the instrumental duo of Morten Lund and Andreas Eriksen, whose third (?) album, Groundrush, sits in a kind of ethno-techno zone, it seems, more ethno than techno, I'd say. Synths vie with percussion and various effects to form a polyrhythmic stew that's beginning to sound rather 'of its time', frankly, possibly at its best on the opening title track. Lund is credited with Mellotron, but the occasional string parts near the beginning of the record aren't fooling anyone.
The grammatically-challenged Green River Ordinance (although given that they're named after a common American local by-law, maybe it's not their fault) are one of those horrible, drippy, ultra-mainstream outfits, roughly comparable to Matchbox Twenty or Third Eye Blind - you know, the sort of stuff that makes Train look authentic. Their second full (and first major-label) album, 2009's Out of My Hands, is the kind of record that says, "Despair all ye that enter here", wussing along with wet-as-water efforts like opener Outside (probably the least offensive thing here, actually) or the vile title track. Y'know, once you get down to the level of these kind of bands, just about the only thing between them is how much they offend me, which tends to determine the album's rating, from which you can ascertain that this, while horrible, is slightly less upchuckable than some. Paul Ebersold plays samplotron, although the background strings on Out Of My Hands (only really audible at the end of the track) are the only definite sighting.
Before reading up on the album, it struck me that Tell Me That Before had a lot in common with Place of General Happiness: Lyrics By Ernest Noyes Brookings, Vol. 2. Guess what? It seems David Greenberger's the editor of The Duplex Planet, a 'zine focussing on the experiences of the elderly (not oral history, Greenberger states, quite emphatically), one of his regular contributors being... Ernest Noyes Brookings. This album features Greenberger reading over music co-written by Paul Cebar and largely played by Mark Greenberg, strange, plinky pieces, some echoing aspects of music from the contributors' childhoods before the war. Difficult to categorise, which is generally a good thing. Greenberg's credited with Mellotron, by which I presume they mean the sampled strings on Army Conditions.
Jackie Greene's fifth album, 2008's Giving Up the Ghost, maintains its predecessor's standards, better tracks including opener Shaken, the Stonesy Like A Ball And Chain, Prayer For Spanish Harlem and When You Return. Greene plays samplotron, with faint strings on Animal and more upfront ones on Follow You. Sadly, 2010's Till the Light Comes, while perfectly respectable, is also rather dull, displaying little of its predecessors' variety, sadly, although the title track is ballsy enough to make this listener prick up his ears. Greene's on samplotron again, although the only thing I can hear that even might be it is the background strings and flutes on The Holy Land.
Grégoire Boissenot, unsurprisingly, is a French singer-songwriter, whose debut, 2008's Toi + Moi ('You and Me', of course), is a bland, yet inoffensive collection of mainstream material in an adult contemporary vein, the piano-and-vocal Merci being about the best example. While a long way from 'hateful' (unless you're feeling particularly vindictive), it's also a long way from 'interesting', unless confessional French-language songs happen to be your bag. Boissenot plays samplotron flutes on Sauver Le Monde. 2010's Le Même Soleil is every bit as bland as its predecessor and probably a little less inoffensive, too, despite its brevity. Cyril Taïeb is credited with Mellotron on Mon Repère and Boissenot on J'Adore, but there's not a jot to be heard on either, as if you needed any other reason not to bother to hear this.
Virginians Gregor Samsa are a band, not a person, in the grand Max Webster tradition of 'bands named after a nonexistent front-man'. Unlike the fabulous Maxes, though, they're a rather drippy post-rock band who sound a lot like, er, a lot of other post-rock bands I can't be bothered to name, with wispy female vocals for the Cocteaus fans. Their second album, Rest, even has a typical post-rock sleeve - you know, desolate, monochrome, printed on the rough side of the cardboard. Not clichéd at all, in fact. The album isn't awful by any means, but it does exude a distinct air of 'heard it all before' and that's coming from someone who doesn't listen to any more of this stuff than necessary. None of the material stands out, although First Mile, Last Mile has a certain atmosphere about its long, slow, vaguely Godspeed-like (aargh! I mentioned Godspeed!) build-up. Champ Bennett plays lots of things here, including samplotron, with nowt but some strings in the middle of Jeroen Van Aken.
NYC-based Atoosa Grey's fourth album, When the Cardinals Come, is a rather limp, singer-songwriter-plays-Americana-lite record, at its best on a surprisingly decent version of Maggie May and the quietly beautiful Radio, but too much of its material wafts along inconsequentially. Jim Mastro (Julia Greenberg) plays, quite literally, two samplotron string chords on closer Drive.
Gordon Grey's Sacred Ground is a decidedly pleasant (if slightly unengaging) album of (mostly) instrumental acoustic guitar pieces, with or without accompaniment, although The Northwest Wind/Storm builds up to a full-on electric solo at its climax. Samplotron? Flutes on Horizons (no, not that one) that aren't even especially Mellotronic.
Grey Reverend is J.D. Brown's alter-ego, a gentle, mostly acoustic project, going by A Hero's Lie, vocal and guitar accompanied by occasional strings or keyboard instruments. Surreally, Brown claims to have 'built his own Mellotron': "I was obsessed with making one after I figured out how to do it. I could have used a plugin, but none of them had the sound that I was looking for. Mellotrons are quite expensive, and heavy, and hard to come by. I figured I’d give it a shot and I just took the time out to create it. It’s actually not that hard to do. Like putting toothpaste back into a tube..." Really? Using tapes? I'm afraid this is staying here until/if I find out what he's actually using. Whatever it is, it seems to be providing the strings on This Way and flutes on closer Fate.
Connecticut natives Greylyng's debut, Oiwa (recorded as a drumless duo), is a decidedly avant-prog effort, all Fripp-esque guitar and modular-esque synths. And, of course, no vocals. Any good? I'm afraid I don't have the time to put into finding out whether or not the material sticks with multiple plays, but it does what you'd expect of an album of this type as well as anyone else I could name. Jeff Cedrone's 'Mellotron' credit covers the background choirs on Vesper and possible other use, all sampled.
It seems likely that Throwing a Tempo Tantrum was The Griefs' sole release, which is a shame, as it's a better-than-average, raucous, '60s-esque effort. Think: early Kinks, or The Byrds at their rowdiest. Vocalist/guitarist Eric Stein is credited with Mellotron, but the flute line over organ chords on closer Know It True don't sound quite authentic enough for my liking. Tell me I'm wrong, chaps.
I've seen the Grifters described as 'the kings of swampy blues/rock swagger', which just goes to prove that I obviously have no rock'n'roll in my soul, as I thought they were dull US indie. Actually, I'm of the opinion that I do have a bit rock'n'roll in my soul, prog leanings notwithstanding, which may be why the Grifters' brand of mid-paced pointlessness gets me down. It's not even that Full Blown Possession is awful. It isn't; it's just... dull. Scott Taylor, one of the band's two vocalist/guitarists, allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'll be fucked if I can hear it. Extraordinarily background strings on Cigarette? Who knows. Nothing that I can pinpoint, anyway. So; dull record, no obvious Mellotron. No thanks.
The Grip Weeds are named for John Lennon's character, Private Gripweed, in 1967's How I Won the War, which probably gives you some idea where they're coming from. Actually, their chief influence on their second album (they record infrequently), 1998's The Sound is in You, is The Byrds, some of their harmonies being spot-on copies of McGuinn's mob, which isn't a criticism. Stylewise, the album's stuffed with joyous powerpop featuring all the usual shimmering 12-strings, heavenly harmonies etc., some of the best tracks being Every Minute, Games and In Waking Dreams, although, in truth, there isn't one duffer here. Just to heavily confuse the issue, the band reissued the album in 2003 with a completely rejigged tracklisting, adding three bonus tracks. Andy Burton and Rick Reil supposedly play Mellotron, along with (confusingly) Chamberlin samples, although I thoroughly distrust that 'Mellotron' credit, too. I mean, listen to those ropey pitchbends on Intro, repeated on Outro, while the high-speed strings on Better World are a real sample giveaway. Also audible: strings on In Waking Dreams, Tomorrow and Better World, plus flutes and cellos on Inca.
2001's Summer of a Thousand Years is ostensibly the same as its predecessor, only I feel the material is somehow marginally less transcendent. The album's no slouch, however, top tracks including She Surrounds Me, Love's Lost On You and Moving Circle. Andy Burton handles the samplotron chores on his own this time round, with strings on several tracks, mostly to good effect. 2004's Giant on the Beach picks up the baton again, top tracks including blistering opener Astral Man, reminding me of the much-missed Galactic Cowboys in its harmonies, Infinite Soul, complete with sitar-guitar lead, Midnight Sun and Waiting For A Sign. Burton on samplotron again, with a string part on Midnight Sun, sustaining way part the eight-second mark.
2010's sprawling two-disc Strange Change Machine is one of those lengthy albums that would've made a killer forty/fifty-minute single disc, or two reasonable shorter albums, but at eighty-odd minutes, is just too disparate for its own good. Surely a couple of lesser tracks could've been left off to make for a long single-discer? Anyway, top tracks include opener Speed Of Life, Thing Of Beauty, the gentle Sun Shower and the ultra-melodic Mistress Forest, but I could pick out several slightly lesser efforts that might've actually strengthened the album by their removal. They could always be released online, or go on an EP or something... The Reil brothers, Kurt and Rick, both play keys, with Mellotron string samples on maybe half the tracks, more obvious examples including Speed Of Life, Coming And Going and Hold Out For Tomorrow.
With 2015's How I Won the War, The Grip Weeds pay homage to the film that gave them their name; they even use a Lennon-alike's image on the cover. It's another excellent Grip Weeds album, with too many highlights to name, although Rise Up, See Yourself, Force Of Nature and Lead Me To It all stand out. Again, both Reils are credited with Mellotron, again it's sampled, with background strings on Vanish and more upfront ones on Force Of Nature, Over And Over, Truce and Lead Me To It, but, most of all, AKA Victory, where the samples can be heard for what they are at the end of the song.
Imaginings is a gentle singer-songwriter album, the occasional barbed like of About You (sadly) tempered by naïvely overly-sweet material such as Horizon or closer Save You For Last. Perfectly pleasant, but mostly unengaging. Grist and Mike Southworth are both credited with Mellotron, by which I can only imagine they mean the vague stringy things that pop up every now and again.
Not to be confused with the 'Christian rap duo' (spare us), The Grits are a British authentic '60s soul/R&B outfit, whose eponymous 2008 debut consists of slightly over half an hour of groovy instrumentals, funky Hammond to the fore. While not for everyone, I can see this stuff going down a storm in a sweaty club, even if it's been decades since people regularly went out to dance to a real, live band. Stuart Carter plays samplotron, but only just; the only place it even might be is on closer No Man's Land, with some deep cello (actually double bass) notes and a few pitchbent somethings. The Grits is a fine debut, if slightly one-dimensional. Still, better no vocals than some egotistical twat spouting nonsense all over the place, eh?
Josh Groban is a startlingly mainstream American singer of the 'multi-million sales' variety; to no-one's surprise whatsoever, I hate him. 2010's Illuminations is his fifth album, which, amazingly, starts passably well with the instrumental The Wandering Kind (Prelude), but quickly deteriorates, Groban's 'posh pub singer' vocals and the cheesy arrangements dragging the whole thing down into a mire of horrid Lloyd-Webberisms and other mock-Broadway schlock. Shockingly, this drivel's produced by the legendary Rick Rubin; hey, we all have to make a living, eh? I don't know if it was Rubin's decision to add a Mellotron (played by Andrew Scheps) to the already-cluttered arrangement on War At Home, but whatever it's doing is, unsurprisingly, completely inaudible under the layers of credited orchestra and choir. Pointless. In pact, pointless and horrible.
Emm Gryner is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose career kicked off when her second self-released album, 1996's The Original Leap Year, caught the ear of producer Warren Bruleigh. Within three years, she'd released several major-label records, toured supporting several big names and played in David Bowie's band, which isn't bad going for a newcomer. Although Stuart Brawley is credited with Mellotron on The Original Leap Year, not only is it nowhere to be heard, but I seem to recall running across a mention of a fake credit, although I can't find it now. The first of said major-label efforts, Public, appeared in 1998, overproduced to within an inch of its life, not that its insipid songs were ever going to sound particularly radical. Sadly, I struggle to find something nice to say about this record; OK, Gryner sounds like she really means it, which is more than you can say for a lot of her contemporaries and she plays a mean Wurly on several tracks, which doesn't really go that far in the 'albums I like' stakes. She also plays samplotron, with a minor flute part on The Good You Make.
Several albums on, Emm's back on her own label for 2002's Asianblue (she's half Filipina), Dead Daisy, although her style still sits firmly in the 'mainstream pop/rock' category. This time round, I can actually pick a 'best track': Christopher, nicely underproduced, just piano and voice. No, it's not a classic, but it's the least irritating thing here. More of Gryner's samplotron this time round, with strings and flutes on opener Symphonic and strings on Free and Lonestar.
2014's Americana is Guano Padano's third album, a startlingly accurate invocation of New World styles from an Italian outfit, all things considered. Best tracks? Opener The Hushed Universe sets their stall out nicely, Dago Red, featuring an excerpt from the story of the same name by legendary Italian-American author John Fante, read by his son, My City and all the bits with a spaghetti-western-style Morricone influence, although nothing here disappoints. Alessandro "Asso" Stefana is credited with Mellotron on Cacti, but the vaguely Mellotronic background strings on the track do little to convince. A pretty decent record, then, possibly more for Morricone fans than those of actual Americana.
The Guggenheim Grotto are an Irish folk/country/pop duo, whose 2005 debut, ...Waltzing Alone, is a decent enough effort, although my personal preference is for their folkier numbers, particularly Ozymandias, Koan and Cold Truth. They seem somehow less convincing when they get all rhythmic, sounding like they actually wanted to play acoustically, but got talked into using a drummer. Shane Power plays Chamberlin samples, identifiable by some over-eight second notes, with cellos and strings on Portmarock Beach Boy Blue and upfront flutes on Rosanna. This isn't the first time I've run into fake Mellotron/Chamberlin credits from the Emerald Isle; I believe there are maybe one or two Mellotrons in the country, but absolutely no Chamberlins, so any future 'credits' shall be flung into the sample dungeon immediately. As far as ...Waltzing Alone goes, it does what it does reasonably well, but ended up leaving me rather cold, to be honest.
Robert Pollard's Guided By Voices epitomised the US low-fi scene throughout the '80s and '90s, although their sound became more 'professional' in the years prior to their split in 2004. Isolation Drills is their 13th album, including several very limited home-made efforts, sounding to my ears like no more or less than a well-crafted powerpop album, albeit one with more originality than most in the genre. The songwriting's good throughout, highlights probably being opener Fair Touching, Twilight Campfighter and Glad Girls, the latter apparently nominated as 'pot song of the year' by notorious weed-fan mag High Times. Samplotron on Unspirited, with a decent string part, possibly from Pollard, with a couple of other is it?/isn't it? moments in the background strings on The Enemy and the flutes and strings on closer Privately. So; a good album of memorable powerpop, more distinctive than most practitioners of the Art Of Rickenbacker. I have no idea how it stands up to the rest of their catalogue, never mind Pollard's various other projects (he is alleged to have written over 1000 songs), but it seems to do pretty well on its own, if you ask me.
2009's Les Beaux Souvenirs Ne Meurent Jamais is French singer-songwriter Pierre Guimard's second album, played in something of an indie Dylan style, perhaps, where Dylanesque arrangements attach themselves to overly simplistic rhythm tracks. Listen to more music from the '60s, monsieur. Sorry Lisa stands out as probably the best thing here, but while nothing offends, nor does most of it particularly impinge, at least on this listener. Guimard supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes on closer Disparue Albertine sound far too clean to be real. I'm sure this album makes far more sense if you speak French, but for the rest of us, that's probably a 'no'.
Guitar Garden are the whizzy guitar duo of Pete Prown and Rich Maloof, both journalists for guitar mags. Stop! Don't run away! 2006's Secret Space is actually a very listenable instrumental guitar record, influences extending vastly further than the usual 'Paganini and other shredders' territory, into electronica, folk, prog and jazz, to name but several. Top tracks? The drifting War Echo, acoustic duet Waltz Of The Dead, the mandolin-driven, er, Mandolin Blue and closer The Groove Eternal, amongst others. I'd like to say Proggy Mountain Breakdown, merely for its title, but it's actually one of the album's weaker tracks. Opener Passchendaele (Song Of The Mellotronia), the following Evolution X and Waltz Of The Dead give the sample game away immediately; that's a Mellotron? No it isn't... Frankly, you're not going to listen to this eminently, well, listenable album for a few Mellotron samples; although there's plenty of keyboard work, you'll listen to this for some great guitar playing, most of which avoids the '10,000 notes a minute' trap.
Trey Gunn was a member of King Crimson for a good decade until late 2004, playing Warr Guitar (a Stick variant); his fifth album, 2000's The Joy of Molybdenum, is a strange record, instrumental, with far more 'ethnic' influence than you might expect, particularly in the percussion department. I'll freely admit it didn't really grab me, although there's nothing wrong with the music at all, so I can't really pick out highlights. Gunn credits himself with Mellotron, amongst other things, but unless my ears are heavily deceiving me, all I can hear is a quick burst of sampled background choirs on Brief Encounter. So; decent enough record, if the idea of a more ethnic and less full-on Crimson appeals to you, but don't bother for the samplotron.
For the handful of you unaware of the furore surrounding the amusingly grammar-free Guns N'Roses' Chinese Democracy, the story goes something like this: recording begins in 1994, members leave, arrive, leave and arrive again, millions of dollars' worth of studio time are consumed, rock trends come and go, some leaving their mark on proceedings. The album takes over from Boston's Third Stage (for the handful who even remember that furore) as 'most anticipated album ever', making that record's mere eight years' gestation look like a drop in the ocean in comparison. Release dates start being mooted in 2006 and the album finally creeps out of its lair in November 2008, fourteen years after recording started and seventeen after the band's last album of new material, the obscenely bloated Use Your Illusion sets.
So after all that, is it any good? Well, the rock press all masturbated furiously en masse at the thought of getting their hands on the actual artefact, but then, they all seem to think Velvet Revolver had something to offer the world. As a non-Guns fan (yes, they do exist), I can say that it's... a perfectly ordinary late-'00s metal album, a bit dated, with a dearth of particularly memorable material, but then, Appetite for Destruction's the only G N'R album to feature any halfway decent songs and I didn't like that either. For once, I can't complain at the album's 70-minute length, as after fourteen years, I expect at least six hours of releasable material, so I'm hoping this is the cream of the sessions, not their entire product. Basically, there's a reasonable level of diversity on the album, although the huge number of musicians contributing to each track serve only to clutter the mixes and knacker any chance the album may have at consistency. Listen, you can read hundreds of reviews of the music elsewhere on the 'Net, from people who actually like the thing and are familiar with the band's work, so I'm leaving this one here. For what it's worth, the one track that grabbed me in any way was Sorry, which has a slow-burn feel to it and a nice, bluesy guitar solo instead of the album's usual fretwank.
Chris Pitman, one of two keyboard players who seem to have lasted the course during the recording process, allegedly adds Mellotron to There Was A Time, but alongside the real and synthesized orchestrations on the track, it's impossible to tell what it might actually be doing, although doubling some of the strings seems the likeliest option. All in all, then, not what you'd call a 'Mellotron' album, although I'm sure it'll sell by the bucket(head)load to Guns fans, assuming they don't all download it for free first.
In the twelve years since their last Mellotron album, Keep it Together, I can't honestly say that Guster have improved a lot; they're still an insipid US indie outfit making drippy albums like 2015's Evermotion, their seventh in their twenty-year career. Better efforts include Gangway and Kid Dreams, but it's all pretty limp, if truth be told. Richard Swift is credited with Mellotron, but it won't come as a major surprise to learn that the strings on Lazy Love and vague choirs here and there, notably on Kid Dreams, have little of that authentic Mellotron ring about them. I found myself unable to recommend Guster's earlier albums. Nothing has changed.
The Gutter Twins are yet another Greg Dulli project, this time a collaboration with his separated-at-birth conjoined twin, Mark Lanegan. As you'd expect, 2008's Saturnalia is an intense, virtual ride on the wheel of death, tracks like opener The Stations and Each To Each beating you into submission, only slightly alleviated by the gentler (I use the term advisedly) likes of The Body and Seven Stories Underground. Dulli and co-Twilight Singer Mathias Schneeberger supposedly play Mellotron, with distant strings on The Body and Idle Hands, cellos and strings on Circle The Fringes, brass and most upfront strings on Each To Each and more of those eerie, strident strings on closer Front Street. 'Samples', says I.