album list


I Monster  (UK)

Neveroddoreven  (2003,  56.51)  ***½

It's hard to know how to describe I Monster, named for the 1971 Brit-horror flick; I've seen comments along the lines of 'the British Air', but that only touches on their sound. Essentially, their eclectic mixture of electronica, lounge, folk and various pop forms, all while ironically referencing 1970s Britain gives a very strong impression of 'Northernness'. This music sounds like Sheffield and as if to accentuate their background, Pulp collaborator Richard Hawley guests on guitar on three tracks. Mellotron samples are used throughout (confirmed by the band), with string, flute and choir parts on various tracks, with the most major use being on the untitled hidden track at the beginning of the album and the strings on Cells. Stop press: I'm pleased to be able to tell you that they've now actually bought a real M400, used on their more recent work.

I.E.M.  (UK)

I.E.M.  (1998,  45.05)  ****
I.E.M. Have Come for Your Children  (2001,  72.37)  ***½
Arcadia Son  (2001,  46.00)  ***

A.k.a. the Incredible Expanding Mindfuck, if you like, or even if you don't. Basically a Porcupine Tree side-project, I.E.M. has no personnel credits (I believe it's mostly Steven Wilson), although it manages instrumental ones, first of which is 'Mellotron'. Indeed, within a minute of 12-minute opener The Gospel According To The I.E.M., pitch-bending 'Tron choirs enter the equation before the first of many spaced-out guitar solos over a driving rhythm section. A few minutes in, the piece quietens down as some string chords come out of nowhere, apparently played via a sampler, despite their wobbliness. Direct samples, rather than third-party efforts? The Last Will And Testament Of Emma Peel has some more strings, and there may be a little choir at the end of Fie Kesh, but that's about it on the fake 'Tron front. I'm led to believe that the title of closer Headphone Dust (recorded two years after the rest of the album) refers to a ratings system for music, of which 'dust' is the lowest possible score. It's actually a nice drifty acoustic track, with some of Wilson's trademark slide guitar laid over the acoustic, finishing the album off in a serene kind of way.

The 'band' have a rather convoluted discography, but the next album 'proper' after '99's An Escalator to Christmas EP was 2001's I.E.M. Have Come for Your Children, largely recorded in 1999, which takes the concept of their debut a stage further, not least by refusing to give any of the tracks a title. To add to the confusion, the double vinyl edition (allegedly only 90 copies pressed) is longer, with an extra eight-minute piece inserted between tracks 4 and 5, and with track 1 split into two (you can still hear the division on the CD version). Much of it isn't actually that difficult a listen, certainly compared to some of the more out-there work of, say, Julian Cope, although 'symph or die' progheads probably won't get much out of it. Track 1 dominates the hour-plus album with its 30-minute plus length, dwarfing even the lengthy Track 4, and is also the second-'easiest' listen on the record, after Track 6, recorded at a different session. In fact, Tracks 1 and 6 are the only two fake 'Tron tracks on the album, with track 1 containing several shortish bursts of choir, while track 6 is solely hammered dulcimer and choir, making it a minor sampled 'Tron classic.

I expected Arcadia Son, from later the same year, to be more 'normal', for some reason, but if anything, it's weirder, with more sampled cut-up stuff, including a hapless female American musician called Beth Krasky who makes herself look slightly silly on the track of the same name. The oddest part of the album, though, has to be a recording of (presumably) Wilson himself, aged four, reading in an extremely cute manner from 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' onto a hissy old tape. Not an awful lot of fake 'Tron here, although there's a string part towards the end of Circadian Haze and some choirs on the lengthy Shadow Of A Twisted Hand Across My House.

I Was a King  (Norway)

Old Friends  (2010,  30.00)  ***

I Was a King's second album, 2010's Old Friends, is a slightly uncomfortable mixture of fairly generic powerpop and something rather further out, so jangly stuff like Echoes or the closing title track rubs shoulders with the twisted Americana of Learning To Fly and lethargic psych-fest Unreal. Not that I have a problem with diversity, you understand, but I'm not fully convinced that it necessarily works in this case. I also have a quibble with an element of the mix: given that this is presumably meant to be a variant on 'pop', why are the vocals so muffled? I'm beginning to feel a little churlish, actually; this is a good, listenable record, although were the less essential tracks removed, it would end up as more of a long EP. Joshua Stamper plays samplotron flutes, with a nice line on Snow Song and a chordal part on Here To Stay.

IQ  (UK)  see:


Ianva  (Italy)

Italia: Ultimo Atto  (2009,  68.50)  ***
La Mano di Gloria  (2012,  73.42)  ***

Ianva are apparently aligned with the 'neo-folk' movement (Current 93, Death in June and the like), although their (understandably) Italian approach doesn't sit too well with the movement's more usual Teutonic themes. Not understanding the language is something of a handicap when listening to Italia: Ultimo Atto, as you get the feeling that at least some of the music is more intended as backing for the lyrics, rather than for its own sake. Influences include folk and various eras of classical music, with occasional goth touches for good measure, all in an Italian context, of course. Elisa Montaldo plays 'Mellotron' on L'Estate Dei Silenzi, but the strings, choir and (surprisingly, especially) flutes don't sound right at all. And are those low string notes 'Tron samples an octave or two down? Horrible, anyway. This is actually a perfectly good album with considerable progressive overtones, but not one for those wishing to hear a real Mellotron.

Their second album is apparently a concept piece set in the 'near future', but most of us will run into language barrier issues on the narrative front. I'm afraid this is more 'musical theatre' than 'progressive rock', all a bit spaghetti western for my taste, with rather more trumpet than an album like this really needs. It's also wildly overlong, although I'd imagine the length is needed to tell the story fully. Beppe Spanò's 'Mellotron'? Presumably the keyboard strings used across the album. Not really a Mellotron, is it?

Ice Cream Hands  (Australia)

Broken UFO  (2002,  52.58)  ***

Ice Cream Hands are an Australian powerpop band who seem to be highly rated by many, though I'm not entirely sure why. I've heard plenty of good stuff in this area, but most of Broken UFO passed me by without making any real impression, I'm sorry to say. Stay In The Same Room is the first track that really pushes the classic powerpop button, coming on like a Big Star outtake, but too much of the album suffers from Country Wannabee Syndrome (see: Leaving All The Best), or is content to plod along unexcitingly, without bothering too much about memorable melodies; surely a given in this genre? Samplotron on a handful of tracks from East VanParks, with a distant flute melody on Head Down and a more upfront one on Diplomat's Daughter, with occasional background bursts of flute on Come Down Come Down.

Lia Ices  (US)

Grown Unknown  (2011,  38.44)  ***

Why is it that female singer-songwriters are almost invariably compared to their peers, unlike their male contemporaries? The comparisons have become reviewing clichés; you know, the 'Joni Mitchell type', the 'Kate Bush type', even the 'Vashti Bunyan type'. It's not as if it's uncommon for women to write songs and sing them, is it? Nonetheless, it seems to be expected, which makes Lia Ices, on her second release, 2011's Grown Unknown, a cross between the Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom varieties. Lazy journalism? You got it. It's one of those albums which promises a great deal and may well deliver it on repeated plays (when?), but left this reviewer feeling slightly deflated on an initial listen. It's difficult to pick out highlights, as most of its near-forty minutes sounds pretty much the same, but Daphne (a collaboration with Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon) and closer New Myth might just tip the scales. Lia plays samplotron flutes on New Myth, but only just.

Icky Blossoms  (US)

Icky Blossoms  (2012,  42.13)  ***

Nebraskan electrpop trio Icky Blossoms' debut is a rather mixed bag, at its best on the amusing Babes, all the better for Sarah Bohling's dry-as-dust vocal and the suitably, er, stark Stark Weather. David Andrew Sitek is credited with Mellotron on I Am. Really? The faint background choir sound, only audible at the end of the track? I think not.

Idaho Falls  (US)

The Spark  (2010,  41.17)  **½

Raymond Richards' The Idaho Falls' third album, The Spark, sits somewhere in between a '70s West Coast feel (Richards is Californian) and modern indie; not promising, I'll admit, although it manages a few better tracks, not least opener Blood In The Wine and and Die Tonight. Richards is credited with Mellotron, but the muted flutes on Cloudy Day and Hard Weather clearly aren't genuine.

Ideamen  (US)

May You Live in Interesting Times  (2009,  45.05)  ***½

Chicago's Ideamen are devilishly difficult to categorise, which is rarely a bad thing: prog metal? Intelligent pop? The bastard sons of Houston heroes The Galactic Cowboys? 2009's May You Live in Interesting Times (the alleged old Chinese curse) features mad waltzes rubbing shoulders with riffarama and accomplished piano playing paired with multi-part vocals in a heavy-yet-quirky mish-mash that reminds some reviewers (though not especially myself) of Faith No More. It's difficult to pick out specific tracks for praise; the album works best as a whole (thankfully, it's a sensible length) and should probably really be listened to that way. Chris Gardner plays samplotron, with strings on Emergency, Sunshine, Incident and Your Signature Here X____________, plus cellos on Quares, albeit always in the background and usually only for a few seconds at the end of the song.

Idlewild  (UK)

Everything Ever Written  (2015,  54.05)  ***

Edinburghians Idlewild formed in the mid-'90s, 2015's Everything Ever Written being their seventh album. I wasn't sure what to expect; it's actually at the 'rock' end of indie, yet not in a cheesy, terrace-chorus kind of way (see: Oasis), more like an indie, British take on REM, perhaps. Best tracks? Surprisingly heavy opener Collect Yourself, Come On Ghost and (Use It) If You Can Use It, maybe. Keys man Luciano Rossi supposedly adds Mellotron to Radium Girl; well, that's what it says on the credits, anyway. Standing out on its own at the beginning of the track is a massive string section/flutes mix, somewhat on the smooth side, that immediately has me thinking 'M4000D combined patch'. Possibly not, but I strongly suspect so. Anyway, far better than yer run-of-the-mill indie, if nothing jawdropping.

Billy Idol  (UK)

Devil's Playground  (2005,  54.26)  ***

Billy Idol? Stop laughing at the back. AND at the front. Ever since Generation X's 'weekend warrior' status in the punk pantheon (Kleenex my arse, er, so to speak), William Broad has had a serious credibility problem, although the masses that bought his mid-'80s albums couldn't have cared less. Rightly so, you might say; he's been a provider of raucous, heavy rock'n'roll for the last three decades, making it difficult to knock him when he does something so well. I discovered the 'Mellotron' use on 2005's Devil's Playground by sheer fluke, spotting it while listening to a compilation which just happened to feature the relevant track. The album itself is... well, it's a Billy Idol album; what more can I say? Highlights include ridiculous (OK, more ridiculous) opener Super Overdrive, Sherri and Scream, all adhering to his usual template, Plastic Jesus is (intentionally) amusing and while Yellin' At The Xmas Tree's seasonal tale of domestic violence (!) might not be the best thing here, it seems to be at least trying to make a serious point. Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, the onanistic Planet X) plays on some of the album, including samplotron choirs (albeit fairly distant ones) on Plastic Jesus.

Iguanas  (US)

Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart  (2003,  56.52)  ***
If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times  (2008,  48.42)  ***

The New Orleans-based Iguanas mix pop/rock with a Latin sensibility; think, a younger Los Lobos with more of a Tex-Mex feel. Their fifth studio album, 2003's Plastic Silver 9-Volt Heart, is decent enough, if rather unexciting in places, although Flame On is that rarity, a great modern 'party' song. Either Rod Hodges or Joe Cabral has an excellent, whisky-sodden voice, used to good effect on several tracks in the way that only Americans can do. Rene Coman plays samplotron, with strings all over opener Yesterday (no, not that one) and the brief, unlisted track tacked onto the end of the album. It took the band five years to follow up with If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times, which starts off sounding like any other contemporary garage band, until second track in, Malas Vibras, which, er, switches straight into Latin mode. Like its predecessor, it's a bit of a mixed bag, the Tex-Mex stuff working less well for yours truly, but it's a reasonable listen. Coman on samplotron again, with probable strings on Morgan City.

Ralf Illenberger  (Germany)

Red Rock Journeys  (2011,  51.34)  ***½

Red Rock Journeys is a beautiful album of solo acoustic guitar pieces, with the occasional floaty synth part. Despite Illenberger's credit, there is not a jot of Mellotron to be heard.

Illya Kuryaki & the Valderram  (Argentina)

Versus  (1997,  68.22)  **

Argentine funk duo Illya Kuryaki & the Valderram contain no-one of that name, nicking their moniker from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. character and Colombian football player Carlos Valderrama, apparently. Their fifth album 'proper', 1997's Versus, contains a not especially appealing combination of funk, soul, hip-hop and rock; the rocky Xanadú is one of its more listenable tracks, along with the occasional guitar explorations, although the hip-hop element made me reach for the 'next' button. Claudio Cardone supposedly plays Mellotron, but I've no idea where he sourced a machine in Argentina. Answer: he didn't, of course. The flutes on opener Expedición al Klama Hama and strings on Xanadú are, at best, sampled and, at worst, merely generic sounds.

Natalie Imbruglia  (Australia)

White Lilies Island  (2001,  51.08)  *½
7"  (2002,  12.09)  *½

Do you remember when Natalie Imbruglia was completely ubiquitous, in those long-gone days of the late '90s? Shit, wasn't it? Like previous Neighbours star Kylie Minogue, Imbruglia has gone on to make the most mainstream of mainstream pop; unlike Kylie, she does it with little flair or humour, the end result being the sort of crud that emanates from shopfronts and car windows in the summer. Oh well, at least our summer only lasts a few weeks; imagine what it must've been like in her native Australia.

2001's White Lilies Island is possibly best-described as 'post-fame'; it could also be described as 'instant shit'. A horrible, über-mainstream effort full of overlong horrors like Sunlight and Butterflies, her breathless delivery on opener That Day makes it sounds like she's forgotten to breathe between lines, while lyrical gems include "She'll fly to France, 'cos there's no chance..." (closer Come September). Producer David Munday's 'Mellotron' consists of vague flutes on Satellite and Do You Love?, with more obvious ones on Talk In Tongues, but I'm pretty sure they're duds. Wrong Impression was released as a single the following year and is every bit as bad as you'd expect; the only reason it's here at all, of course, is Munday's 'Mellotron' again, with a pitchbent string part on first b-side track Always Never that doesn't sound particularly genuine to me.

L'Impero delle Ombre  (Italy)

I Compagni di Baal  (2010,  47.54)  ***½

Going by their name, L'Impero delle Ombre (The Empire of the Shadows) sound like they should be the latest pseudo-'70s Italian symphonic prog crew, although, given that their albums appear on the Black Widow imprint, we should probably know better. To no-one's great surprise, they actually specialise in a variety of Italian-language, organ-driven proggy hard rock, not a million miles away from Bigelf, albeit without that outfit's panache or sense of humour. Saying that, their second album, 2010's I Compagni di Baal (In the Company of the Devil?) is a fine record, if rather derivative, bringing Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath (natch) to mind, a comparison exacerbated by the CD bonus, an enthusiastic, if rather clunky version of Snowblind. Top tracks? Probably Diogene, L'Oscura Persecuzione and the speedy Cosmochronos, though nothing here lets the side down. Andy Rizzo adds pseudotron to a couple of tracks, with string parts on Ballata Per Liliana and La Caduta Del Conte Di St. Germain, although the strings on the last verse of Snowblind sound more like generic samples to my ears.

In the Cage  (UK)

Two Sides Live  (2002,  62.12)  ****

In the Cage are now probably Britain's second most popular Genesis tribute outfit, and still on the way up. Musically, they're pretty close, although vocalist Trevor Garrard doesn't particularly sound like any Genesis singer, although that isn't necessarily a problem. His approach to their stageshow is influenced by his theatrical background, so, as well as the expected costumes, he's come up with a few of his own, which would probably get him shot if he tried it in Québecois The Musical Box. In the Cage started by concentrating on the early Collins period, but have moved backwards into the Gabriel era, too, usually splitting gigs down the middle into later/earlier material.

Their Two Sides Live CDR (ho ho) mixes the eras up, and features several of the highlights from their (lengthy) live sets, including several pieces rarely heard on British stages, namely Eleventh Earl Of Mar, A Trick Of The Tail and Duke's Travels/Duke's End. Keyboard man Mark Rae (hi, Mark), uses a Roland with the vintage synth board (the same as their M-VS1 module) for his Mellotron sounds, getting as reasonable a likeness as you're likely to from samples. Eleventh Earl has most 'Tron parts present and correct, although the stupendous crescendo on the intro and outro are less 'in your face' than I'd have liked. Fountain Of Salmacis has all the right parts in all the right places, as does Supper's Ready (bit obligatory for Genesis tributes, this one...). In fact, most of Mark's sounds are pretty good, whether he's emulating an ARP Pro-Soloist or a 2600, although there's a couple of parts on Supper's Ready which could've been slightly smoother.

Anyway, as with the ReGenesis albums, if you want to hear a Genesis tribute on CD, this is worth the effort, but as with all the others, don't expect any real 'Tron. Incidentally, the song selection here has obviously been quite deliberately chosen so as not to cross over with ReGen more than it has to. STOP PRESS: Mark has now left the band, and has been replaced by a guy who's hauling a genuine Hammond and M400 around, so the next album should feature the 'real thing'. Shame about the vocals, though...

Incognito  (UK)

Tales From the Beach  (2008,  74.16)  **½

Incognito (alumni include Carleen Anderson) grew out of late '70s Brit-jazz-funksters Light of the World, releasing their debut album, the 'does what it says on the tin' Jazz Funk, in 1981, although the band effectively split up for a decade, until '91's Inside Life . Although I've seen them described as 'acid jazz', their sound on 2008's Tales From the Beach is essentially smooth soul/funk, professional in the extreme, while complete anathema to anyone whose booty isn't in the mood to be funked, or something. Part of the album's problem is its sheer length; not just as a whole, but individual tracks. I mean, six tracks over six minutes? Are you sure? Like many musical forms, danceable stuff of most types doesn't work well in this long-form setting, particularly when you don't like it... Dominic "Ski" Oakenfull plays samplotron, with strings throughout N.O.T. and a few seconds on Never Look Back. This album gets a relatively high rating for its sheer professionalism and exuberance, although I hate it with a passion; the band really sound like they're enjoying themselves, even if I'm not. Then again, they didn't make it for me, did they?.

Incredible Moses Leroy  (US)

Electric Pocket Radio  (2001,  53.03)  **½

Ron Fountenberry reinvented himself as The Incredible Moses Leroy, playing a kind of home-grown indie, big on cheap synths and cheerful, summery songs like Beep Beep Love, Fuzzy and It's A Sunday, slightly soured by rather more experimental stuff along the lines of Treble. Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of the material is fairly soporific, unless the stylistic combination above particularly appeals to you, I suppose. 'Leroy' is supposed to play Mellotron, but the flutes all over Fuzzy don't actually sound that Mellotronic and the cellos on It's Better even less so. As a result, samplation is assumed - that's if they're even meant to sound like a Mellotron, of course. Anyway, a handful of only halfway decent powerpoppish tracks do not a great album make.

Incubus  (US)

Light Grenades  (2006,  47.22)  **
If Not Now, When?  (2011,  50.02)  *½

I was always under the impression that Incubus were an extreme metal band, but it seems that they're just another mainstream metal-ish bunch who play whatever they think will sell (contentious? Moi?). 2006's Light Grenades is, admittedly, a fairly diverse record, skipping between full-on metal, something strongly resembling current US indie and various stages inbetween. Y'know, if it looks like indie and sounds like indie, chances are it's... Keyboard player/turntablist (aargh!) Chris Kilmore plays 'Mellotron', with possible (but probably not) strings on Dig, definite flutes on Love Hurts (no, not that one) and probable strings on Pendulous Threads, none of it even slightly essential.

Most of 2011's If Not Now, When? makes Light Grenades sound like genius at work - well, almost - in its unswerving dedication to utter mediocrity, particularly awful moments including the tuneless vocals on the otherwise not-too-offensive acoustic effort Defiance, although the best thing here, by quite some way, is the point at which the band finally discover atmosphere in the second half of the lengthyish In The Company Of Wolves, immediately followed by one of the worst, the excruciating white-boy rap of Switchblade. Kilmore on 'Mellotron' again, with weak-as-water flutes on the opening title track, Isadore and The Original and similar strings on In The Company Of Wolves that are quite certainly fake. So; absolute rubbish. Why do people buy this stuff? No imagination, I suppose. Incidentally, note their website's URL: 'enjoyincubus.com'. Won't. Shan't. Can't. Drivel.

Indesinence  (UK)

III  (2015,  71.00)  ***

Now-defunct London-based extreme metal crew Indesinence's third album (duh), III, isn't actually half as 'extreme' as I'd expected; perhaps the growly vocals are enough to give it that appellation. It's a decent enough effort, within its limitations, two of its tracks well exceeding the ten-minute mark, none of its tempos exceeding 'slow'. Actually, there is a genuinely original (within the metal world) piece here: III itself is eleven minutes of ambient sound, with not a distorted guitar in sight. Rumours of Mellotron usage appear to be no more than that: what just might be choirs on Mountains of Mind/Five Years Ahead and strings on Strange Meridian are clearly sampled. My friend Paul Westwood plays drums; maybe I should ask him? Anyway, the doom crowd must love this lot and be crying into their craft ales that they've spilled.

Ingranaggi della Valle  (Italy)

In Hoc Signo  (2013,  63.39)  ***½

Italian-language prog/fusion, with extra added violin. Really rather good, although not an album for which it's worth trying to pick out 'best tracks'. Listen to in one hit. Mattia Liberati's 'Mellotron' strings and choirs on several tracks is, to no-one's surprise, sampled.

Instant Flight  (UK)

Endless Journey  (2008,  52.07)  ***½

I've already raved about Instant Flight in my review of their debut album, 2004's Colours & Lights. Suffice to say, they're one of the British Isles' premier practitioners of ye olde psychedelia, 2008's Endless Journey not disappointing. Saying that, it's not quite as effervescent as its predecessor, but is still more than worthy of your attention, top tracks including the Eastern-ish title track, Magic Stream, Dreamland and closer Play For A Fool. Those have to be Mellotron samples, particularly the solo flute part that opens Dreamland, which sounds much too smooth for its own good, although it's the string parts that really give the game away. I mean, would you use second-rate samples if you had a real Mellotron sitting there? Anyway, that's just a distraction from the central issue, that being how good this album is, even if their debut has the edge. Get to hear it, at least.

Instruments  (US)

Cast a Half Shadow  (2006,  45.07)  **½

Elephant Six collective members The Instruments are led by Heather McIntosh, who also plays/has played in Mellotron sample users Circulatory System, Japancakes and Of Montreal, making this a cast iron cert for more of the same. I'm sure some will see 2006's Cast a Half Shadow as a beautiful, drifting, amorphous album, but I'm afraid to say that exactly the same record can also be seen as blobby, unfocussed and dull, which is how it strikes me. The odd decent melody (notably on closer My Friend) is a welcome diversion, but the overall effect on this listener was at best, soporific and at worst, irritating. As with all Elephant Six-related projects, Scott Spillane's 'Mellotron' is sampled, but the only even remotely possible part here is a brief burst of the faintest of faint strings on My Friend. Well, if you like the Atlanta scene, you'll probably like this, but I get the impression that substance intake probably aids listening pleasure. Sorry, too busy to get stoned.

Internal Tulips  (US)

Mislead Into a Field By a Deformed Deer  (2010,  39.00)  **½

The duo that comprises Internal Tulips, Brad Laner and Alex Graham, both have previous with the Planet Mu label, although their current collaboration (this is their debut) owes as much to classic '60s pop as modern indie electronica, although there's a good dose of the latter to be heard on the album. My overall impression is of an earnest, melancholy pair in thrall to The Beach Boys and sampling technology who've made an album full of momentary glitches, deliberately OTT Autotune and surprisingly sparse arrangements. But does it work? If you listen to their influences, then maybe, but to the ear unaccustomed to their particular brand of digital manipulation, the more electronically-inclined tracks quickly begin to drag. Graham plays samplotron, with occasional strings on Bee Calmed, flutes and strings on 9 Tomorrows, cellos and flutes on Arlie, flutes on Dead Arm Blues #B510 and Talking Hoshizaki Blues, strings on Mr. Baby, what sounds like bits of everything on Songbird, flute on Invalid Terrace (InVALid or InvaLID?) and stabbed flute chords on closer We Breathe.

Interpose+  (Japan)

Interpose+  (2005,  47.30)  ***½

Interpose formed in the mid-'80s and after two turbulent decades of lineup changes, splits and reformations, finally regrouped as Interpose+ in 2003. Their eponymous debut starts badly, with Aircon sounding just like every neo-prog horror you've ever encountered, but more so, making their abrupt shift in direction on Dayflower towards more 'standard' female-fronted '80s Japanese prog all the more surprising, not to mention welcome. Zitensia is a bonkers, full-on Japanese fusion workout, while Koibumi shifts back towards Dayflower territory and Last Sign sits somewhere between the album's better tracks, being a good prog/fusion crossover, making the bulk of the album well worth a listen. Ryuji Yonekura plays samplotron, with a short string part at the beginning of Dayflower and a few chords in Koibumi.

Into the Abyss  (Greece/Germany)

Cosmogonia  (1998,  59.00)  ***

As you might've guessed, Into the Abyss began as a metal band (of Greek émigrés in Germany, as it happens), although by 1998's Cosmogonia, they'd moved into more interesting areas, viz Arabian scale-influenced psychedelic metal, with the accent on the psychedelic. Every now and again, the band go off-piste, as on Lunar Drive's space-rock (actually, this could almost be Litmus), but the bulk of the slightly overlong album concentrates on those raga scales and band mainman Janis Kalifatidis' rather overwrought vocals. Kalifatidis is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but if the strings on Thorn Clad and Crystal Eclipse turn out to be real 'Tron, I'll be stunned. They almost get away with it on the former, but the latter's unadorned parts give the game away. The rest of the album's strings are either samples or real violin, by the sound of it, the real one working particularly well on Malvasia and Helionaut. Overall, then, one for jaded metal fans looking for something less generic or psychsters who don't mind a bit of riffy guitar.

Iron & Wine & Ben Bridwell  (US)

Sing Into My Mouth  (2015,  44.53)  ***

It seems that Iron & Wine aren't a band as such, more Sam Beam's musical alter-ego, although I'm not sure if what he does is 'alt.country'; it sounds more like the good end of '70s-esque country rock to my ears (or is that the same thing?). 2015's Sing Into My Mouth, in collaboration with Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, is Beam's take on the often deservedly-maligned covers album cliché, only this time, it works. My personal preference is for the sparser end of their sound; their takes on Sade's Bullet Proof Soul, or El Perro del Mar's God Knows, while their fine version of Unicorn's No Way Out Of Here (memorably covered on his first, superb solo album by David Gilmour) reinvents the song less than you might think. Other coverees include Talking Heads (opener This Must Be the Place), John Cale's You Know More Than I Know and Spiritualized's The Straight and Narrow, but, so well have the duo turned the songs to their own purpose, that if you didn't know they were covers, you, er, wouldn't know. Rob Burger supposedly plays Mellotron, although I have absolutely no idea where or what.

Jason Isbell  (US)

Southeastern  (2013,  47.24)  ***½
Something More Than Free  (2015,  43.56)  ***

Jason Isbell joined Drive-By Truckers at a young age, playing with them for six years before heading out on his own. 2013's Southeastern is his fourth solo release, veering between full-on (good) country and something closer to his old band's southern rock, the extremes illustrated by the back-to-back solo acoustic Elephant and the all-electric Flying Over Water, other high points including Stockholm, the rocking Super 8 and the gentle Yvette. Derry DeBorja's Mellotron credit? Here's a snippet from an online interview: "For me, the big addition is a digital mellotron, which provides a lot of the strings and pads that you hear on the recording". Oh, what a giveaway. I have to say, the sounds are pretty good; I'm not sure if I'd have identified them as samples or not, frankly. Anyway, we get strings on Stockholm, following the guitar melody, more of the same on Live Oak, Songs That She Sang In The Shower and Yvette. Isbell followed up with 2015's Something More Than Free, similar to its immediate predecessor, although top-notch material seems a little thinner on the ground. Saying that, songs of the quality of Flagship, the semi-epic Children Of Children, alluding to his own status as the child of a young couple, and closer To A Band That I Loved, a paean, I suspect, to Drive-By Truckers. DeBorja on samplotron again, with strings on 24 Frames and Palmetto Rose, plus flutes and strings on The Life You Chose.

Kenneth Ishak  (Norway)

Silver Lightning From a Black Sky  (2007,  40.39)  *½

Kenneth Ishak used to sing with supposed Norwegian Mellotron users Beezewax, his style apparently changing little for his solo debut, 2007's Silver Lightning From a Black Sky. And that style is...? Insipid indie singer-songwriter guff, frankly. Ishak's at his least bad when crooning mournful ballads (opener Passionate, closer The Sword) and when he approaches Americana (A Tall Companion, Hell), but his toneless voice ruins everything he touches, like King Midas in reverse, to, er, coin a phrase. Ishak plays a samplotron flute line on A Tall Companion.

Isidore  (US/Australia)

Life Somewhere Else  (2012,  66.42)  **

Isidore are The Church's Steve Kilbey's latest project, who, going by their second release, 2012's Life Somewhere Else, play a kind of post-rock/pop hybrid, for better or worse. Largely worse for this listener, I'm afraid to say; the bulk of the album drifts along in a sub-sub-U2-in-Joshua-Tree mode, like so many similar efforts. Pop music for people who need no more than a 'heartfelt' vocal and a watered-down version of 'crescendo rock'. There are no obvious best tracks. Zac Rae plays decent enough Chamberlin string parts on Song Of The City and The Headlight Child, while the strings on Reappearance, although uncredited, could easily be another sighting, too. Samples suspected, however.

Islands  (Canada)

A Sleep & a Forgetting  (2012,  37.47)  **½

Although I've filed Montréal's Islands' previous release, 2009's Vapours, in the 'regular' section, there's a good chance it actually uses sampled Mellotron, as it's a definite on their follow-up. 2012's A Sleep & a Forgetting consists of a spacious kind of indie, sounding like the band spent more time on the lyrics than the music (sample quote, from Oh Maria: "If every day's a holiday, today must be the Day Of The Dead"). All well and good, but you've really got to like this stuff to get through even this short an album without grimacing at least once. Between them, Nick Thorburn and Geordie Gordon are credited with Mellotron on six tracks, but the faint cellos on Never Go Solo, distant flutes on Hallways, oboes (?) on Lonely Love, vibes on Cold Again, some form of left-hand manual woodwinds on Don't I Love You and mandolins on closer Same Thing almost certainly come either from a) a perfectly set-up machine with several tape frames, or b) samples. I'll go with the latter. I can't honestly recommend this, although (he says, grudgingly) it does what it does perfectly well.

Billy Iuso  (US)

Trippin'  (2011,  39.38)  ***

New Orleans native Billy Iuso's Trippin' is a soul/funk gumbo of a record; very New Orleans, in fact. Top track? His decent take on The Who's Magic Bus, which responds well to this treatment. David Stocker is credited with Mellotron, presumably referring to the samplotron strings on closer Chasin' Rainbows.

Howard Ivans  (US)

Red Face Boy  (2013,  14.41)  **½

Three-track single of overly-sweet soul/funk. Needs to lessen the Philly influence. Daniel Clarke's 'Mellotron' on Pillows? Isn't.

Ixion  (Netherlands)

Talisman  (2006,  67.59)  **½

Ixion are essentially Jankees Braam's solo project, aided and abetted by a cast of, well, dozens. OK, a dozen. Ish. 2006's Talisman is his/their second release, a concept effort involving some kind of historical something. Braam is apparently influenced by nothing more adventurous than a raft of neo-prog outfits and as a result, the album rarely transcends its largely unimaginative forebears, the ten-minute A.D: 731 - The Abyss being a prime example. Saying that, it's a better listen than some of the dross that comes under the rightly slated neo-prog sub-genre, although being twenty-five minutes shorter would've improved it considerably. What is it about bands that makes them think they've got seventy minutes of music in them every couple of years? Instrumentally, it's all the usual suspects, including, much as it pains me to say it, much Moog Taurus overuse; yes, you can use it too much. Who'd'ha thought it on a Dutch prog album, eh? Samplotron strings and/or choirs turn up on nearly every track, used with little subtlety, though more so than the Taurus. So; not bad for a neo-prog album. That's a major caveat, boys'n'girls... Loads of samplotron, loads of (sounds like genuine) Taurus, little real imagination.

Iza  (Belgium)

Picture of You  (2010,  37.44)  **½

Annelies "Iza" Tanghe is a Flemish artist, whose Picture of You is a pop-end-of-singer-songwriter album, for want of a better description. Harmless enough, but no obvious highlights. Ivan Vertongen is credited with Mellotron on Easier Without. Really?