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.
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.
IQ (UK) see:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three-track single of overly-sweet soul/funk. Needs to lessen the Philly influence. Daniel Clarke's 'Mellotron' on Pillows? Isn't.
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, as you can see from the track titles. 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.