Raphaële "L" Lannadère's Initiale is a quietly beautiful album of mostly piano/vocal pieces, with minimal accompaniment, at its best on opener Mes Lèvres, Petite, closer Les Corbeaux and special edition bonus track La Pluie. Someone calling themselves Babx is credited with Chamberlin, but the strings on Jalouse and upfront repeating string part on Petite don't quite ring true to my ears.
Chicago's L'Altra have been described as indie, electronica and even chamber pop, but to my ears, their third album, 2005's Different Days, is a straight post-rock/pop crossover. And yes, that's as bad as it sounds, to the point where I am entirely unable to pick out anything even remotely resembling a 'best track'. Joshua Eustis is credited with Mellotron, amongst many other instruments, but I seriously doubt whether a real one came anywhere near their recording studio. In fact, I'm not even convinced they used samples: are those background choirs on It Follows Me Around? Flutes and/or strings here and there? This dismal record really is to be avoided at all costs, unless dreary, long-winded modern pop sounds like your bag.
Sweden's LEAK, led by Danjel "Tolufim" Eideholm, also featuring In the Labyrinth's Peter Lindahl and another, entirely unrelated Peter Lindahl (!), tend to be described as 'dark ambient', or similar. Their debut album, 2001's The Old Teahouse, is a dark, meditational record, seemingly utilising a real Buchla synth for many of its sound effects (Don Buchla was a synth pioneer, along with the better-known Robert Moog and Alan R. Pearlman). All nine of its tracks are titled simply Untitled, a sure sign of avant-gardeness, if ever there were one. Although it occasionally raises the energy levels, the bulk of the album sounds like a malfunctioning analogue synth in a wind-tunnel; that's actually a recommendation, in case you weren't sure. Someone calling himself Dr. B. Uhno plays 'duo-Mellotron', whatever that means, with strings on track three that are most likely sampled.
L.E.O. are probably best described as powerpop, although the usual influences are largely missing. Alpacas Orgling (er, huh?) contains a mixture of styles, with the funkyish Ya Had Me Goin' (spot the clavinet) and the slightly rocking Make Me contrasting sharply with the near-psych of Goodbye Innocence and Distracted, which sound like a superior E.L.O. as much as anything. Er, L.E.O.? E.L.O.? Is there something we should be told? Of course, Jellyfish established the E.L.O./powerpop connection in the early '90s, but it's rarely as overt as here, in my experience; I mean, just listen to those backing vox and (real) strings on Don't Let It Go... The album features several nice production touches, not least the reverbed baritone guitar on Private Line, although the overall effect is a little on the sweet side, as you'd expect from faithful followers of Jeff Lynne. Turns out it's all quite deliberate and they're a pick-up band featuring Bleu and Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer, amongst others, not to mention their 'hidden' version of Don't Bring Me Down...
Maclaine Diemer plays 'Mellotron', but going by the obvious Chamberlin samples on Make Me, it's probably fake throughout, which shouldn't really come as that much of a surprise. Anyway, strings and cellos on brief opener Overture, with a little more of the same on Goodbye Innocence and that Chamby solo male voice on Make Me, plus upfront strings (too smooth! Too smooth!) on Nothin' Will Ever Change and Sukaz Are Born Every Minute (is that the MkII 'moving strings' I hear on the latter?). So; a decent-enough record in its chosen genre with some reasonable 'Tron/Chamby samples. All a bit too 'decent' and 'reasonable' enough for me, though. More dirt next time round, please, although I'm fully aware that that's entirely beside the point. Whatever.
Ruhm Kennt Keine Gnade is a diverse album of German pop/rock, at its best on the gentle E Stöck Nöher Dran and the Eastern-flavoured Hallebad, although novelty efforts such as Jede Morje Ess Ich Ene Hungk would improve the whole by their absence. Rolf Lammers plays obvious samplotron flutes on E Stöck Nöher Dran, probably from eMu's then-new Vintage Synth module.
Lacrimosa are the Swiss-based darkwave duo of German Tilo Wolff and Finn Anne Nurmi, formed as far back as 1990. They have apparently shifted through several variants on the goth template over the course of their career, passing through a metal phase in the late '90s and moving on to a more symphonic style a few years later. 2003's Echos bestrides those two approaches, although some of it, lamentably, sounds more like Andrew Lloyd Webber goes metal, I'm afraid to say. In German. I'll admit there are some beautiful key changes on the two lengthy pieces that bookend the album, Kyrie (Overture) and Malina (Bittruf - Part 2), Middle-Eastern scales being used with reasonable subtlety, but far too much of the hour-long disc meanders through various goth and symphonic metal clichés, saying little new in the process. A bassist known as Jay P (also credited as Janet P) is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on Apart (Bittruf - Part 1) are fairly obviously sampled (he said, with the usual frisson of fear that he may've got it wrong. Again). Overall, one for that special person in your life who wears black nail varnish, eyeliner and too much purple. Good at what it does, but too overblown for the rest of us, I suspect.
The Ladybug Transistor are yet another Elephant 6 Collective outfit (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Marbles, Apples in Stereo) and, I have to say, one of their more twee examples. Their '60s-pop-just-about-crossing-into-psych schtick works for a few tracks, but quickly becomes tiresome, although Going Up North (Icicles) and Catherine Elizabeth work well enough. No-one's actually credited with Mellotron, which is probably a good thing, as it sounds heavily like it was sampled. We get strings and cellos on Going Up North (Icicles) plus flutes on Catherine Elizabeth, Fjords Of Winter and closer Caton Gardens, but something about the timbres (not to mention the speed at which they're sometimes played) gives the game away. So; good at what it does, if you happen to like that kind of thing, I suppose. I'd stick with some of the other Elephant bands myself.
Ladytron (from the Roxy Music classic, of course), formed by a pair of Liverpudlian producer/DJ types in the late '90s, play a female-fronted updated take on that Depeche Mode/early New Order electro sound, at least on their second album, 2002's Light & Magic. They're keen on analogue gear, using a range of old Korgs and the like (and a new Moog), using them to produce a series of 1981-style robotic pop songs of surprising quality, highlights including Human League-alike opener True Mathematics, the early Ultravox! of Cracked LCD, the beautifully clunky string synth part that closes Re:agents and the title track itself. Someone plays Mellotron choir samples on Fire and flutes, cellos and strings on Blue Jeans, or at least, I'm pretty sure they have little to do with anything using magnetic tape. To my considerable surprise, this is a very listenable album of its type, a world away from the landfill indie I'd been expecting, even if the Mellotron's sampled.
In Disruption Theory, Andre LaFosse has produced something impossibly rare: genuinely original music. Of course, it's comprised of familiar elements (nothing new under the sun etc.), but his combination of techno/drum'n'bass rhythms and several flavours of metal/progressive metal guitar is something I've heard nowhere else, which is quite a feat. Impossible to recommend individual tracks; this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. Samplotron? Presumably the strings on the title track.
Mujer Divina: Homenaje a Agustín Lara is a thoroughly average Spanish-language, Latin-flavoured adult pop release, of the kind that never transcends its origins. In other words, don't go looking for this at your local record shop, all assuming such things even exist any more. Lafourcade is credited with Mellotron; are those chordal strings on La Fugitiva? Definite flutes on Piensa En Mí - definitely sampled, too.
Despite his not-very-Spanish name, John Lakveet is one Spain's premier EM artists, whose fourth album, 2004's Building Sequential Stones Vol. 1: Ecclesias Cathedrales Aedificans (Vol. 2 appeared later that year) makes a welcome change from the Berlin-School-by-numbers of so many of his contemporaries. As so often in this genre, it's the overall feel that matters, which is more experimental than the average, frequently more textural than melodic, Lakveet's (analogue?) synths often being used as noise-makers, rather than sound sources for a conventional melodic approach. Lakveet uses his Mellotron samples sparingly, a long, slow pseudotron string note comes in towards the end of Exudus 3:14, with a more orchestrated, clearly sampled part on Oratio, with a handful of other, brief parts across the rest of the album, although the flute on Voluta and Oratio sounds real, or at least generic samples. 2009's The Force of Reason is not dissimilar, although the element of surprise is lost. Samplotron flutes on Platon In The Cave Of Mirrors.
Lali Puna's second album, Scary World Theory, is a record of entirely average electronica, German-style, with lacklustre female vocals from Valerie Trebeljahr, who may be enjoying herself although it's rather hard to tell. In all honesty, I'm finding it difficult to think of anything constructive to say about this album at all; it's sort-of electronic, sort-of gothy, and definitely dull. Sampled 'Tron on a few tracks, notably the flutes on Don't Think, where you can actually hear the loop point; extra low marks for using such a low-rate sample - the loop seems to be under a second long. So; Continental electronica freaks may go for this, but I can't imagine anyone much else will.
...This is... not a typical EM album, which has to be applauded, although Barry Lamb's approach may be considered only borderline listenable by more conservative listeners. Samplotron flutes on The Arrogance Of The West, to no great effect.
Shane Lamb's Disengage kicks off as an above-average country rock album, at its best on Someday and To Get You through, although, sadly, the songwriting quality drops off slightly as the album progresses. Casey Woods' 'Mellotron' flutes on On My Mind (and others?) are fairly clearly sampled.
Kurt Wagner's Lambchop are one of those bands I've always expected to crop up in Planet Mellotron territory at some point, although I didn't expect it to be via a remix. 2000's Up With People is probably pretty typical of their oeuvre, an alt.country/pop combi, basically, UK 'downtempo' electronica duo Zero 7 remixing the track for the flip, alongside Lambchop's own, vastly superior Miss Prissy. Zero 7 add samplotron strings to their remix, their smoothness giving the game away. Do you need to hear this? Depends how much you already like either Lambchop or Zero 7, I suppose; I doubt whether I'll be bothering again.
Ray LaMontagne's Supernova bears a passing resemblance to its predecessor, 2008's Gossip in the Grain, although more of a Syd-era Floyd influence makes itself heard here and there, notably on She's The One and Smashing. Sadly, most of the rest of the album sounds somewhat lacklustre compared in comparison; more mainstream, more radio-and-TV-friendly, even when its ups the rock quotient slightly. Leon Michaels (misspelt Micheals throughout) supposedly plays Mellotron on most tracks, although the only audible use is a distant string line on Airwaves; not even the sole track featuring producer Dan Auerbach (Ojai) has anything that might be seriously described as 'Mellotron'.
I believe Lamp of the Universe is essentially New Zealander Craig Williamson's solo project; with a name like that, it should come as no surprise to any of you that he/they are psychotropic adventurers of the finest kind. 2009's Acid Mantra is their seventh album, featuring more sitar than you can shake a rainstick at and mucho reverb-drenched (naturally) acid guitar, along with the trippiest lyrics this side of Steve Hillage's long-awaited '70s band reformation. Its one real fault is that it, er, 'goes on a bit'. I'm sure that's the Grateful Dead-esque idea, but if you're not smoking the same stuff as Mr. Williamson (or indeed, anything at all), it does drag in places, docking it half a star. Samplotron from Williamson, with distant choirs on opener Love Eternal (although the flutes on Searching For A Sign are synthesized), while closer Universe Within is smothered in strings, right through its eleven-minute length.
Braden Land is a fairly typical Americana artist, making country-influenced folk/rock with none of your horrid Nashville schmaltz. I believe 2008's Stumble & Glow is his second album; it's not a bad record, certainly within the confines of its genre, but I have to say, I've heard rather better, too. What's wrong with it? Hard to say, exactly, but while I'm sure he identifies strongly with the songs contained herein, few of them impinged themselves on this reviewer, the notable exception being Amy, one of the album's more acoustic tracks, with the heartrending line, "I though she'd filled the bathtub with red wine". Tyson Rogers is credited with Mellotron, with faint flutes and possibly cellos on Silver And Gold, one of the album's better tracks, all sampled.
While Alexa "Lex Land" Holland's debut album, 2008's Orange Days on Lemon Street, sits well within the 'confessional singer-songwriter' genre boundaries, it's nowhere near as bad as that sounds, although she crosses the 'twee' barrier a little too often for comfort. Its obvious highlight is closer What I Want From You, building continually over its five-minute length, complete with relatively psychedelic guitar solo, although nothing else here comes close, to be honest. Peter Bradley Adams supposedly plays Mellotron, but the vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Play in Reverse and orchestral sounds on other tracks are not convincing me. So; better than it might've been, but nowhere near as good as it could be, with no obvious Mellotron.
Land of Talk seem to be, effectively, Elizabeth Powell's alter-ego, as against a band 'proper', whose schtick appears to be the most tiresome end of indie-by-numbers, sadly. E.O. Laoghaire (presumably pronounced 'Leary') is credited with Mellotron, but the background chordal flutes on Swift Coin and Better And Closer tell another story.
Lands End's second album, '95's Terra Serranum, apparently features a real Mellotron, though not one that's sounding particularly well, which probably prompted the band not to use it again. The following year's An Older Land is, frankly, a bit of a mess, starting off badly (after the brief Ashes) with the entirely tedious Wind Across The Water and Wake To Find Me Dead, although the, er, jazzy Jazz Magic Potion's jamming and the laid-back K are rather better. Unfortunately, the grotesquely overlong (and impeccably-titled) Dross and The Last Word (presented in no fewer than three versions) drag the album back down, to the point where it barely scrapes that extra half star. We get excruciating samplotron choirs on Wind Across The Water and Wake To Find Me Dead and marginally better strings about ten minutes into Dross, but recommending this on any grounds is difficult. '97's Natural Selection features faux-'Tron on most tracks, with a string part towards the end of its closing 30-minute epic title track which exposes its fakeness for all the world to hear. The album itself is reasonable US neo-prog, better than the dullsville North Star, but not a patch on Echolyn or Spock's Beard, not that either band actually counts as 'neo-' at all, begging the question, "What exactly do you call something that's newer than new?"
By all accounts, the members of this multinational outfit haven't all been in the same place at the same time since the late '90s, which hasn't stopped mainman Fred Hunter from writing, recording and releasing 2005's The Lower Depths. As far as I can work out, its second disc, ...Plundering the Depths, contains reworked outtakes from across the band's career (plus a leftover from disc one, ...The Lower Depths), but with the disappearance of their website, I can't tell you what with any precision. Basically, it's more of the usual and when I say more, I mean more, to the tune of over two hours'-worth, the worst offender being the fucking interminable Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept (I believe this was the 'source material' for An Older Land's Dross. No comment), while lowpoints include the crummy pseudo-analogue neo-prog synth solo on Digital Signatures, most of the vocal parts and an overall paucity of imagination. Hunter brings in three guests (all Brits): Cathy Alexander from The Morrigan, Bruce Soord from Pineapple Thief and Steve Anderson from Sphere³/Grey Lady Down, although only the latter's guitar work particularly impresses. Samplotron-wise, we get pretty full-on (and slightly more convincing) strings on most of disc one and Eyes Of Venus, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot.
Anyway, Natural Selection's a passable enough effort, a statement which belies the enormous amounts of work I'm sure the band put into it; sorry, guys. Unfortunately, I can't even be that kind about either An Older Land or The Lower Depths, both of which bored me rigid. Rather dodgy 'Tron samples, too, though fans of modern US prog may well like these. Incidentally, the band provided exclusive tracks for the second and third Cyclops Samplers, the neo-orientated British Cyclops label probably being their spiritual home. Both Eyes Of Venus and Breathing Deep are pretty typical Lands End fare; not bad, not that good, quite neo-. I'm sure the 'Tron strings on both tracks are sampled; they're far too smooth to be the broken-down relic they used on Terra Serranum.
Lana Lane (US) see:
Mark Lanegan broke into the foulness known as the 'music industry' by singing for Screaming Trees from 1985 to 2000, before finally bailing out and carrying on the solo career he'd been running concurrently since 1990. Since then, he's played with Queens of the Stone Age, The Twilight Singers, Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian and no doubt others; a busy man. Field Songs is his fifth solo album, a minor masterpiece of mostly quiet, melancholic, Americana-influenced music from someone who understands the power of understatement. Of course, he knows how to rock out, too, but by and large, he seems to do that in band situations, appearing to prefer to keep his more personal material for his solo oeuvre. It's difficult to pick out 'best' tracks, as pretty much everything here is good and will doubtless reap further rewards should I ever find time to play them more often. There's nothing here with the raw power of Because Of This, the last song on 1998's Scraps at Midnight, although Fix (also the last song) has a shot at it, in a more restrained fashion. Samplotron on one track from Keni Richards, with a nice upfront string part on No Easy Action.
Mark Lanegan continues to plough his very singular furrow with 2012's Blues Funeral, which sounds better to my ears as Funeral Blues, although I'm sure he knows what he's doing. It's a typically murky, Laneganesque release, better tracks including propulsive opener The Gravedigger's Song, the ultra-distorted Quiver Syndrome and epic closer Tiny Grain Of Truth, although I'm sure he wouldn't thank me for comparisons with U2 on a few tracks, notably Harborview Hospital. Alain Johannes plays keys, including sampled Mellotron, with flutes (?) on Bleeding Muddy Water, Phantasmagoria Blues and Deep Black Vanishing Train, strings on Ode To Sad Disco and Tiny Grain Of Truth and cellos on Leviathan. 2013's Imitations is Lanegan's covers album (well, they're obligatory, aren't they?), apparently influenced by his parents' easy-listening and country record collection, alongside the gloomier end of his own taste. The approach really works on his takes on Chelsea Wolfe's Flatlands, John Barry's Bond theme You Only Live Twice (originally by Nancy Sinatra) and (Gérard) Manset's Élégie Funèbre, although I'm rather less enamoured by the three (!) Andy Williams songs. Two credited Mellotron tracks: Bill Rieflin's massed strings and choirs on I'm Not the Loving Kind and Alain Johannes' distant flutes on Élégie Funèbre, but neither sounds at all authentic, I'm afraid. Overall, I concur with the NME's website, who said that he 'just about gets away with it' due to being a 'classy bastard'. Worse things to be, I'd have said.
2014's Phantom Radio returns to the feel of Blues Funeral, only more so, with sheets of electronica (some of the drum parts were written on an app on his phone and sound like it) underlying most of its tracks. The end result is an uneasy compromise between his earlier style and a more contemporary electronic sound, but I'm far from convinced that the unlikely combo works. Best tracks? Opener Harvest Home holds the synths at bay, while Judgement Time and I Am The Wolf sound more like the old Lanegan, but too many pieces of cheap electronica (Seventh Day, Waltzing In Blue) only serve the drag the album down. Of course, this is missing the point, because this is what he's doing now, but I can't say I'm blown away by his 'this is my new direction'. Mellotron? Johannes is credited on Waltzing In Blue, but the track's string part doesn't even sound that Mellotronic this time round. The same year's No Bells on Sunday EP is available on its own or as part of a two-disc set with Phantom Radio. It takes what seems to be Lanegan's new style and runs with it, at its most listenable on Jonas Pap and its least on opener Dry Iced and tiresome, repetitive eight-minute closer Smokestack Magic. Supposed Mellotron from Johannes on two tracks, but the strings and flutes on title track are clearly sampled, while there's nothing obviously Mellotronic on Smokestack Magic anyway. 2017's Gargoyle shows little change on the stylistic front, better tracks including Beehive, with its 'honey just gets me stoned' refrain and Emperor, but it's all rather slim pickings for fans of Lanegan's earlier work. Johannes' 'Mellotron' on four tracks, with nothing obvious on Nocturne, chordal strings on Blue Blue Sea, high strings on Sister and more chordal strings on First Day Of Winter. If the thought of listening to several albums of what Pink Floyd memorably referred to as 'quiet desperation' sounds like your idea of fun, Mark Lanegan's yer man.
Saskatchewan native Doug Lang's self-explanatory Crooked: The Norway Sessions is an album of superior Americana, at its best on The Luck, Summer Of St Augustine and the title track. Harald Værnor's Mellotron consists of the obviously sampled flutes that open the album, extending all the way through their parent track, Scarecrow.
Kathryn Dawn "k.d. lang" Lang (note lowercase, possibly inspired by e.e. cummings) is one of Canada's most fêted country singers, while simultaneously a gay/animal/Tibetan etc. rights activist. Subversion, I think it's called. Her thirteenth album (in a near thirty-year career), 2011's Sing it Loud, credited to lang and the Siss Boom Bang, is a long way from full-blown country, being more a little bit country/little bit jazz collection of slightly torchy ballads; difficult to fault, although this listener also finds it difficult to like. lang has collaborated with Ben Mink, once of the mighty FM, but not only is he not present here, but he's hardly going to persuade her to cover City Of Fear, is he? No, he isn't. Joe Pisapia plays samplotron on two tracks, with background cellos on The Water's Edge and the title track.
Mads Langer's second album is a sloppy, pseudo-American singer-songwriter effort, of the 'would like to be used on mainstream US TV shows' variety, shifting into a particularly unpalatable form of indie when it kicks up a gear. Just what the world needs. Nikolaj Torp and Claes Björklund are both credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Fact-Fiction simply... aren't.
Benny and Maria Wenda were granted asylum in the UK after fleeing the disputed West Papua territory, illegally annexed by Indonesia in the late '60s. Ninalik Ndawi tells their story, although without a translation of the lyrics, I'm afraid their message is largely lost on an English-speaking audience. Their harmonies are an acquired taste, having little in common with Western ideas of intonation, which I regard as my problem, not theirs. Musically, most of the album is much of a muchness, two voices riding over acoustic guitar and ukulele, the one stand-out being Yieouwai, a piece for treated vocal. Roger Harmar plays credited samplotron flutes on Elegeniro.
New Jersey's Frank "Lanky" Stabile's Inner Onwriter is a commercial-end-of-singer-songwriter album, every bit as unexciting as that sounds. Wayne Dorell's credited Mellotron must be the cello samples on closer Bonus; yes, that's its actual title.
Going by 2009's My Name is Hope Webster, Karen Lano writes melancholy folk/pop infused with more than a hint of her French heritage, despite singing in English. In fairness, it's a perfectly good album of its type, neatly avoiding the 'slush trap' of trying to appeal to crummy US TV shows by writing the kind of dross that everyone else writes, ending up sounding more like, say, Rickie Lee Jones than anyone contemporary. Kudos, incidentally, for a decent Neil Young cover, Don't Let It Bring You Down. Michael Leonhart is credited with Mellotron (as well as mellophone, confusingly), with a chordal flute part on The Clearing, doubtless sampled.
After the relative disappointment that was Cavalli-Cocchi, Lanzetti, Roversi's self-titled release from 2011, 2015's Quasi English (without drummer Gigi Cavalli-Cocchi) is a revelation: full-on Italian progressive rock, with no middle-aged Mediterranean balladry. The duo keep it varied, with the gentle Heartsick Clever contrasting sharply with the prog-with-riffs of the first two tracks and the jazzy Latitude Aloud, although the album manages a cohesion denied to many lesser practitioners. They even cover Gentle Giant's Convenience (Clean And Easy), from 1980's underrated Civilian; to my embarrassment, I didn't recognise it... Roversi's credited with Mellotron, but I suspect he's back to his bad old ways, after using a real machine briefly, although... I could be wrong. The presumed samples turn up on most tracks, with distant choirs on the opening title track, more upfront ones (and what the hell are those strings?) on Worn To A Shine, strings all over Latitude Aloud... I think Heartsick Clever's the only track entirely free of it, though I could be wrong. Anyway, a fine effort, vastly better than its effective predecessor.
John Laprade's World-Class Faker opens with the dirty blues-rock of Soul Shaker, although lighter efforts such as Blind or Infinity do him no favours. The album turns out to be a little inconsistent overall, although other highlights include the fiddle-driven country hoedown of Last Time and the raucous Knock You Down. Andrew Hollander's Mellotron credit consists of vague background strings on Knock You Down and flutes on Before There Was You; who knows, they might even be real.
To call Spray on Sound an electronica album would probably be to miss the point. It's a collage of found sound, seemingly random samples and eccentric production decisions, while attempting to pinpoint any 'better tracks' would be futile; this really is one of those 'listen to in one hit' kind of records. Pierre Duplan plays samplotron string and flute lines on Autumn On Electris.
Patty Larkin plays medium-awful mainstream singer-songwriter pop/rock on Red = Luck, at its most listenable on its sparser material, including Normal and the title track. Mellotron use only ever rumoured; good job, as whatever we're hearing on opener All That Innocence has nothing to do with one.
Marit Larsen is a Norwegian singer-songwriter at the poppier end of the spectrum, produced by Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim (Gluecifer, Morten Harket), whose first two Scandinavian albums, 2006's Under the Surface and The Chase, from two years later, have been cherry-picked for 2009's worldwide compilation If a Song Could Get Me You. While perfectly good at what it does, Under the Surface is a desperately unsatisfying listen for anyone interested in music below the surface, being no more than vapid adolescent pop; efficient pop, yet still pop. Vestrheim is credited with Mellotron, although the flutes on Only A Fool and The Sinking Game fail to convince. Spark is no more exciting, I'm afraid, probably at its best on the slightly overblown Fine Line. Vestrheim on 'Mellotron' again, with absolutely nothing audible on either I Can't Love You Anymore or Have You Ever.
The Last Hard Men (named for the 1976 film) were a bizarre, one-off conglomeration of Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Jimmy Flemion (The Frogs), Kelley Deal (The Breeders) and Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin. Their sole, eponymous album is even more eclectic than that lineup suggests; possibly the oddest thing about the project is that they presented the finished product to Atlantic Records and were presumably surprised when it was turned down. It crept out on Deal's Nice Records in '98, subsequently re-sequenced and reissued in 2001 on Spitfire, the version reviewed here. And it sounds like...? A very knowing send-up of various '90s styles, complete with odd, between-song interview snippets with band members, all of whom are asked the same set of questions, subsequently explained as their views on themselves, sex etc. Hmmm. Musically speaking, odder tracks include a peculiar version of Alice Cooper's Schools Out, Deal's sardonic rendering of Rogers & Hammerstein's I Enjoy Being A Girl, Deal and Chamberlin's If You Want To Rock, Go To The Quarry and, possibly above all, an effectively straight cover of the Scorpions' deathless In Search Of The Peace Of Mind (from their 1972 debut, Lonesome Crow). Someone adds what are quite clearly samplotron string and flute parts to The Most Powerful Man In The World, but you really aren't going to bother tracking this down for one track of sampled Mellotron, frankly. I have no idea what persuaded the participants to record this; a sense of humour, probably, although at whom it might be aimed can only be a matter for conjecture. Fans of The Frogs?
Lars Pedersen (also of experimentalists When) formed the superbly-named The Last James during the '80s, releasing three albums over the course of the following decade. Their calling card was psychedelically-influenced powerpop, sitting somewhere in between (at their best) The Beatles and Syd's Floyd, although, to be brutally honest, their compositional chops weren't quite up to those of their mentors. Their second release, 1993's The Last James, is a decent enough album of its type, if a little unexciting in the cold light of day. Its relatively lightweight psychedelia is typified by material such as Goodbye Lyve, Oh Louisiana, Waiting For Sleep and No No No, although many tracks have an unfortunate tendency to start well, before slipping into mediocrity. In fairness, no-one's credited with Mellotron, as the exceedingly background strings on Oh Louisiana, flutes on Chrisbus Chrissieland and strings on Mama and No No No really don't have that ring of authenticity about them. Is this early eMu Vintage Keys use? Mellotron samples weren't easy to come by at that time, but the eMu module was released that year.
1996's Kindergarten is an all-round improvement, highlights including the opening title track, the powerpop of True Love Fades, the heavily psychedelic Civilization (opening with a brass fanfare over a sitar drone) and the Moody Blues-esque Watery (Part 1)/Drunk/Watery (Part 2)/Kindergarten (Reprise) segue that finished the album. Other notable features include the explicitly McCartney-esque vocal melody on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and the string arrangement on the sparse The King Has Left His Castle. Pedersen adds samplotron to several tracks, with queasy, wildly (and inauthentically) pitchbent strings all over the title track, also played too quickly to be real, with more strings on Waiting For The Day (played by Vidar Ersfjord), low string notes on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and background strings on Watery (Part 1), Drunk, Watery (Part 2) and Kindergarten (Reprise).
Greg Laswell is the kind of modern, indie-esque singer-songwriter whose songs get used on TV and in films, which probably says as much about him as you need to know. Mainstream? Just ever so slightly... 2008's How the Day Sounds EP is almost his career in microcosm, featuring upbeat, vaguely U2-ish jolly efforts (the title track, Days Go On), er, downbeat, less jolly ones (Salvation Dear, Embrace Me) and a couple of alternate versions of tracks fitting one of the two aforementioned templates. Laswell plays samplotron flutes on the title track and strings on Embrace Me.
The EP was a precursor to that year's Three Flights from Alto Nido; effectively, more of the same, when the EP was quite long enough, thanks. Laswell on samplotron again, with strings and flutes on It's Been A Year, flutes on How the Day Sounds (same as the EP version) and occasional strings on Not Out. 2010 brought Take a Bow; an even more drab effort than before, perfect for lovelorn young women, utterly useless for the rest of us. Laswell adds samplotron strings and choir on My Fight (For You) (and is that a MkII Mellotron guitar I hear?), strings on Around The Bend, very obvious flutes on In Front Of Me and strings on You, Now. Overall, Mr. Laswell has little in common with his East Coast namesake, Bill; this Laswell couldn't be more mainstream if he tried.
I was originally under the impression that Zak Laughed was a band, but it turns out he's a fifteen year-old French lad - his nom de plume is apparently a literal translation of his full name, Zacharie. His self-written debut, 2009's English-language The Last Memories of My Old House, is full of breezy, Gallic folk/pop and slightly fraught ballads, let down by one overriding problem: Zak's voice. Admittedly, it's not his fault that it hadn't yet broken at the time of recording - in fact, the decision was taken to record the songs written for his immature tones before it did - but it is his fault (and his record company's) that he's committed his tuneless, appallingly flat warblings to a recording medium without pushing himself into better performances. Is this deliberate? If so, why? Frankly, at its best, he sounds as if he's trying to pull off that American half-spoken effect, but as soon as he tries to carry a tune, pain ensues. Zak and Denis Clavaizolle play samplotron, with polyphonic flutes on opener December Song and a monophonic line on Travelling Cat.
James Lavelle is half of UNKLE, going on to become an in-demand DJ, producer and remixer (it says here), while Global Underground is a series of compilations of progressive house DJ sets, initially recorded at, later inspired by club nights in exotic locations. Romania #026 is Lavelle's contribution, virtually indistinguishable from any other random similar effort to the uninitiated (that'll be me); effectively a compilation, but released under Lavelle's name, which is why it's here and not in various artists. What does it sound like? It sounds like a dance album. Yes, I'm thoroughly ignorant. No, I don't care. Dave Eringa plays samplotron on South's Colours In Waves (UNKLE Reconstruction), with a faint, high string line that you probably wouldn't even pinpoint as Mellotronic were it not credited.
Amy Lavere's Stranger Me is even more diverse than This World is Not My Home, although not necessarily for the better, as it comes across as slightly uncohesive in places. Better tracks include opener Damn Love Song, her upright bass to the fore, the electric blues of Red Banks and the rhythmic title track, although too many songs lack the energy that might allow them to cut through. Rick Steff plays samplotron flute chords on A Great Divide. 2014's Runaway's Diary is a better effort all round, her country influences tempered with something more personal. Lyrically (and vocally), she takes on the persona of a small child on Big Sister, an unusual, yet effective technique, while opener Rabbit, Snowflake and the playful rockabilly of I'll Be Home Soon all stand out. Sam Shoup plays distant samplotron strings and cellos on Don't Go Yet John.
Marc Lavoine's background is more chanson than le rock'n'roll, at least going by his eighth, eponymous album from 2001. OK, it has a few programmed beats thrown in for the sake of modernism, but take the contemporary touches away, and this could've been made in the mid-'60s. Lavoine duets with several female vocalists, although the only one I've heard of is Françoise Hardy, I'm afraid. The material's almost above criticism; it's French popular song and it does what it does, like it or not. Uncredited 'Mellotron' flutes on opener Le Pont Mirabeau from Jean-François Berger, although the credited Mellotron on Ma Solitude.com is clearly sampled. Proof? MkII rhythms and guitar.
The Lazily Spun (a reference to the famous 'see how spiders spin webs on various drugs' experiment?) are a UK psych outfit who seem, going by their various releases I've heard, to be as heavily influenced by '80s and '90s developments in the genre as by the standard touchstone, a.k.a. Syd's Floyd. Is this a good thing? Not from where I'm standing, unfortunately; you really can have too many weebling, Pothead Pixie-type voices. No, really; you can. After a 1997 demo, a four-track EP and a track on a Ptolemaic Terrascope compilation, the band apparently put some tracks up on their website for (free?) download, eight of which have been compiled onto a 1999 bootleg CD, along with some of their earlier material. Bootleg? Well, I've made no provision for sample bootlegs and anyway, since the CD inner states 'from MP3 collection at web site', that makes them technically 'released', at least in my book. If they wrote more material like the gentle Alibi and Cubic Zirconia Smile and less like the lysergic tedium of Bikes (enough mushrooms, already) and Body, the happier I might be, but then, the band are making music for themselves and can do anything they like, so what does my opinion matter? Mellotron? I've got the band listed as having used one on their eponymous 2003 release, but, going by the strings on Lipse Of Marchpane and the flutes on Sea Of Me, I'm far from convinced that I'm going to hear a real one when I finally get my hands on a copy. Could be wrong, but I'm sure I heard some 'eight second-plus' notes on the former. Anyway, do you need to hear this? If you take loads of drugs and love those Terrascope compilations, then yes. Otherwise...
Discogs' 'style' markers for NYC-based Italians Lazybatusu include 'deep house, future jazz, downtempo', but, for this listener, it's all club music and club music of the most mindless variety at that. Yes, I'm an old fart. No, I don't care. This is fucking dreadful. Four different mixes on one 12" = 4 × the pain. Half a star extra for Alejandro Santos' flute playing. Simone Giuliani, a.k.a. "4MuLA" may very well be credited with Mellotron, but those are barely even samplotron strings. More of the same on the following year's QaF**T, featuring a voice sample of some cockney geezer commenting that, "It's quite a fucking thing". No. No, it isn't.
Le Concorde, a.k.a Stephen Becker, Ph.D. (hey! Diggin' the education!)'s debut, Universe & Villa, is undeniably clever, albeit in the kind of way that makes you want to stick pins in the artist's eyes, as does said artist's wispy voice. The album's beyond-twee, '80s-esque indie pop 'features' light-as-air compositions that sound as if they were written by committee, not to mention synth sounds so bad that I wonder whether someone dug out an ageing Yamaha DX-7 for the recording. Ed Tinley's credited with Chamberlin, presumably referring to the block-chord strings on I Will Go To My Grave Wanting You To Love Me. Fail. 2007's Suite EP is marginally less appalling, to the point where closing ballad Lullaby For Dollface is actually quite acceptable. David Gamson's Mellotron, however, is nonexistent.
Bruno "Maxime" Le Forestier has not only had a near-forty year career, but, unlike many of his sadder contemporaries, makes no attempt to hide his advancing years. Yes, folks, it's called dignity. 2008's Restons Amants is his umpteenth album, a perfectly good singer-songwriter effort, without especially standing out musically, which is probably to miss the point. Better tracks include opener L'Ère Étrange, which sets Le Forestier's stall out unequivocally and the inventive guitar work on La Meute Et Le Troupeau, but nothing here made this listener squirm. Vincent Mougel plays a nice samplotron flute part Sur Deux Tons.
Leaf Rapids are the husband-and-wife duo of Keri and Devin Latimer, both members of Nathan, whose debut, Lucky Stars, is, essentially, a country album, better tracks including Vulture Lullaby, the spaghetti-westernisms of Agent Of The Night and their six-minute version of Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World. Producer Steve Dawson plays Mellotron, or does he? I've been less than fully convinced by his previous 'Mellotron' work and this album drives the final nail into the 'authentic' coffin. The vibes on the title track are far too clean, so into samples it goes. Well, a Nashville-recorded, yet all-Canadian country album, well done, yet hard going for non-fans.
Dylan LeBlanc's career began in his early teens; he was only 22 when he released Cast the Same Old Shadow, having already worked his way through several bands. While technically country, it's more a singer-songwriter album of the most mournful kind, a 'listen to in one hit' record, as against a 'highlights' one. Ben Tanner's 'Mellotron'? "...I got this mellotron that had all these recorded sounds. The device actually has recorded voices, recorded strings... So it's actual strings that you are hearing, but it's played on a mellotron." It's sampled.
Ben Lee is an Aussie singer-songwriter at the 'extremely wussy' end of the spectrum, loosely comparable to, say, Pete Yorn and similar horrors. 2007's Ripe is his sixth solo album post- his early career in Noise Addict and is... well, suffice to say that it made me grind my teeth in places and you'll probably get a good idea of just how insipid this nonsense really is. I was hoping the occasional lyric might catch my ear (What Would Jay-Z Do? had potential), but no. Nic Jones plays samplotron, with background strings on American Television. Why do I bother? Why? Answers on the back of a used circuit diagram for a Mellotron motor speed controller to the usual address.
Rita Lee (ex-Os Mutantes) used a Mellotron on her 1974 release, Atras do Porto Tem Uma Cidade, but by the time, 26 years later, Lee finally uses the sound again, it seems to be only in sampled form. 2000's 3001 is a passable modern Latin pop album, but nothing to get too excited about, frankly. 'Mellotron' flutes on Cobra, one of the album's better tracks, but nothing to really write home about. 2001's Aqui, Ali, em Qualquer Lugar [a.k.a. Bossa'n Beatles] is Lee's Beatles covers project, tackling their songs in both English and Portuguese, mostly in a vaguely Latin style. Whether or not you like what she's done to them, the quality of the material is, of course, impeccable, and the whole thing's done to perfection. The samples here are a bit more obvious, with flutes on With A Little Help From My Friends, All My Loving, Minha Vida and In My Life, all used well. Shame she couldn't have found a real one, really. (Or is it??!).
Russ Lee's Words in Time is probably best described as pop/soul, harmless enough, for a Christian album (!), with the odd interesting moment like the subtle semitone key-change in Free Fall, but it failed to engage my attention for long, I'm afraid. Glenn Rosenstein plays background samplotron strings on opener Live What I Believe.
American indie darlings Superdrag finally ground to a halt in 2013, John Davis and Brandon Fisher formed The Lees of Memory, more shoegaze than mainstream indie. Their third (?) single, Soft Places, sits firmly at the rocky end of the genre, although the very indie-ish repetition on the 'B' quickly becomes tiresome. As far as Davis' 'Mellotron' goes, the distant strings on the 'A' just... aren't. The following year's full-lengther, their second, Unnecessary Evil, proves to be more of the same, unsurprisingly, many of its tracks dreary and overlong, although better efforts include the propulsive Artificial Air and closer Look Away. The 'Mellotron' is, again, clearly nothing of the sort, the background strings on No Power and the upfront ones on Squared Up having none of the presence of a real machine.
Leevi & the Leavings began their twenty-five year career way back in 1978, 1993's Turkmenialainen Tyttöystävä (Girlfriend From Turkmenistan) being their tenth release. I'm not sure what I expected, but this is relatively harmless yet weak-as-water folk-influenced pop/rock, the Finnish-language lyrics clearly taking precedence over the music. If there's a 'best track', it's the brief, instrumental Muurahaisen Munat, but the bulk of the album is most unlikely to appeal to listeners outside the band's home audience. Although the band sometimes credited not just 'Mellotron', but 'Mellotron M400' on their releases, I'm reliably informed (thanks, Juho) that they always used samples. Well, listening to this, you ain't kidding... The nearest this gets to anything even vaguely Mellotronic is some vague string and choir sounds that really could come from almost anything. '93 was extremely early in the day for Mellotron samples (eMu's Vintage Keys module was the only commercial sample set available at the time), so I doubt if they're even using those.
Two years on, Rakkauden Planeetta adds a rather unwelcome electro influence, notably on opener Rei Ban Bombay, although, for example, Sunnuntaiksi San Franciscoon has more of a Byrds vibe about it, the remainder of the album veering between these two competing styles. Riina Silpoja's 'Mellotron 400'? Surely not the strings on Takaisin Hiekkalaatikkoon? '98's Kerran Elämvssä returns to their tried'n'tested formula, with what I presume are samplotron strings on Eldorado. Really? 2003's Hopeahääpäivä is more of the same, if not even duller than before. Erik Kääriäinen's 'M400' (this is bloody cheeky, isn't it?) turns out to be nothing of the sort, of course. I mean, the strings on Lahopää-Liisa? Or Matkalla Omiin Hautajaisiin? Or the flute line on Sandy? I think not. What can I say? Don't bother.
Sonia Leigh is a mainstream country artist, although her fifth album, 2011's 1978 December (her birth month) has enough rock input to avoid the full Nashville, coincidentally making it slightly more palatable to the average Planet Mellotron reader. Better tracks include poppy opener Ain't Dead Yet, the lyrically vicious My Name is Money and the vaguely rocky Ribbon Of Red, although country hoedown Bar is slightly unnecessary. Clay Cook plays distant samplotron strings on the closing title track.
Croatians Boris Leiner and Mišo Hrnjak were two thirds of '80s Yugoslav new wave trio Azra, so it's no great surprise that their third album, 2010's Viša Sila, features an eclectic mix of styles, from reggae-lite opener Kralj Birtije (and several other tracks) through the '80s hard rock of Došla Sam Vam Japa Dimo to the folky new wave pop (!) of the title track. Best track? Probably one of Došla Sam Vam Japa Dimo, odd little folk ditty Curica or pleasant instrumental closer Vinjeta. Jurij Novoselić plays Mellotron flutes on Vrela, with a line following the pop/reggae guitar melody.
Angels Under Cover was Josiah Leming's third EP, an insipid indie/singer-songwriter crossover effort. David Kosten's 'Mellotron' is inaudible.
Selim Lemouchi emerged from the ashes of the fêted Devil's Blood, apparently carrying on in reasonably similar fashion in his solo work. Earth Air Spirit Water Fire is an ambitious project, a combination of various forms of progressive and stoner metal, at its best on the choral The Ghost Of Valentine and lengthy closer Molasses. Downsides? The 'la-la-la' backing vocals on opener Chiaroscuro are a distraction and I'm not convinced by the lead voice on Molasses. But I quibble. Milko Bogaard's 'Mellotron'? No more than some high, background samplotron strings on Molasses.
Lenka (Kripac) occasionally comes across as a less offensive Aussie version of Lily Allen, although most of the material on her eponymous debut is less feisty and more blandly mainstream. Lenka isn't actually an offensive album, just a rather dull one, but then, it isn't aimed at me, but at her teenage girl fans, I'd imagine, with titles like Dangerous And Sweet and Live Like You're Dying. Mike Elizondo plays samplotron on Knock Knock, but only just, with a deep background string part than only becomes even slightly apparent at the end of the song. 2011's imaginatively-titled Two is more of the same, better tracks including the vague electro of the opening title track and the '60s girl group sound of Roll With The Punches, although it's mostly lightweight pop, a more unnecessary moment being the Autotune on You Will Be Mine. No! Fail! Lenka and Eamon Ryland play samplotron, with flutes on Sad Song and strings on Blinded By Love.
It's devilishly difficult to find an accurate discography for Korby Lenker, it seems, but I think his eponymous 2014 release is his sixth full-lengther. Korby Lenker is an album of two halves, one kind-of good, one not. Material such as If I Prove False To You, Lovers Are Fools and April May all have a melancholy folk edge to them, while he manages not to ruin Neil Young's Heart Of Gold, even if covering it seems a little redundant, but the vocal line in Forbidden Fruit made me gnash my teeth in fury, although Gotta Do, Got To Be More and the ukulele-fuelled My Little Life are only medium enraging. Tim Lauer allegedly plays Mellotron on the album, but the chordal flutes on Gotta Do really aren't cutting the mustard, I'm afraid. Despite a handful of reasonable tracks, the overall balance tips towards 'avoid'.
Sean Lennon acted in and soundtracked 'superhero comedy' Alter Egos, his accomplished, frequently noir-ish compositions and arrangements working well even without the visuals. Of course, this isn't for everyone, often sounding more like a record made in the pre-long-player days of the '40s than anything remotely contemporary, although the electronica of Fridge Walks and skronky New York-ness of The Dance Part 2 stand out from the pack. Lennon supposedly plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin on the album, but the only even slightly obvious use is the sampled (Chamby?) vibes on Ms. Unseen.
Mostly French-language singer-songwriter stuff, sometimes tipping over into very average pop/rock fare, at its best on the hypnotic, Eastern-flavoured Out In Time and bluesy instrumental closer Moon Grill. Marc de Vinci plays samplotron flutes on J'aime Pas Ça Quand Tu Pleures and the title track, dropping below the instrument's range on the latter, as if to prove a point.
Sondre Lerche is a Norwegian singer-songwriter who crosses over into the mainstream pop market, going by his debut, 2001's Faces Down. It's not that it's an inherently unpleasant album, but its cheerfulness disguised as misery (well, I know what I mean) becomes an irritant after a few tracks. If the album has a best track, it's probably opener Dead Passengers, but chances are that's only because the irritation hasn't kicked in yet. Worst? Possibly Modern Nature, largely because it's a duet with the entirely tuneless Lillian Samdal, whoever she may be, or neverending closer Things You Call Fate, simply because it's over nine minutes long, for no good reason. Producer H.P. Gundersen plays samplotron on a couple of tracks, with flutes on You Know So Well and Virtue And Wine. It took Lerche three years to follow up with Two Way Monologue, a similarly dull effort in an indie/singer-songwriter vein; in fact, the longer it goes on, the worse it gets, losing half a star 'twixt beginning and end. Guitarist Kato Ådland is credited with Mellotron, but not only is it apparently sampled, but there's precious little of it to be heard anyway, with naught but possible flutes on It's Our Job.
Le Cheshire Cat et Moi is a rather beautiful, (mostly) French-language singer-songwriter album, at its weakest when Leroy sings in English; her voice seems to suit her own tongue far better. The occasional forays into indie territory could be lost, too, although we'd end up with a half-hour album at that rate. Teitur (Lassen)'s credited Mellotron on Cauchemar can only be those non-Mellotronic cellos.
Lesbian are so-named because (excuse me if I misquote), "All the cool names had gone" and because it, "Evokes pure, sexually-charged freedom", which certainly shows some serious insight into the sapphic demi-monde, I have to say. I've seen Power Hôr (with or without the ˆ) described as 'a run through the history of heavy metal' or somesuch, but to my ears, it's merely a modern progressive/death release, written by guys who listened to Iron Maiden a little too much in their youth. The album's four pieces ('songs' seems a little inadequate) average out at around fifteen minutes apiece, moving through vast, distorted soundscapes, punctuated by the occasional (and really, really unnecessary) 'cookie monster' vocal. Please don't do that again, chaps. It's ridiculous and not the slightest bit threatening. This is certainly 'progressive', but it's also a real grind (pun intended) for the non-faithful, but then, Lesbian are directing their energies at their core audience, while the rest of us can go fly a kite. Samplotron from Steve Moore, with background strings on Powerwhorses, Loadbath and Irreversible and possible flutes on Loadbath, but it's hardly a defining feature; I'm reminded of Trettioåriga Kriget's mid-'70s use in a hard rock setting, for some reason.
Mathieu "Lescop" Peudupin's debut album, 2012's Lescop, is a thoroughly modern synthpop effort, mixing sounds and styles from the early '80s with more contemporary ones, for better or worse. Better tracks include sparse opener La Forêt, the vaguely Ultravox-esque Ljubljana and the wondrously-titled Slow Disco, but I wouldn't actually recommend this to first-time round genre fans, I'm afraid. Nicolas "Johnny Hostile" Congé is credited with Mellotron. Where, Johnny, where? The not-very-Mellotronic string notes on closer Le Vent? Doubt it, but it's the closest you're going to get. Guaranteed to be samples, anyway, if it's here at all. Does what it does, then, but is unlikely to excite anyone who loved this stuff thirty years ago.
Donna Lewis is what Kate Bush just might've been like had she been really, really shit. I'm sure she's a lovely lady an' all that, and I know full well she's very talented, but her debut album, 1996's Now in a Minute, is barfworthy drivel. How can I describe this? Why bother? OK, here goes anyway: soul-lite crossed with appalling balladry and the aforementioned Kate B's worst moments. There are no best tracks. Although Harvey Jones is credited with 'Mellotron flutes', I suspect you'll need sharper ears than mine to hear them. Maybe they pitchbent them up until they were out of the range of human hearing. Maybe they're just really low in the mix. Maybe you could think about not even attempting to hear this album if you know what's good for you.
I'd never heard of Shaznay Lewis before I stumbled across a Mellotronic reference to her sole solo album to date, 2004's Open, although she was apparently regarded as 'the talented one' in Brit girly-group All Saints, which perturbs me as to the collective talents of the other members. Basically, the album consists of typical mid-'00s dance-pop with no redeeming features, which tells you everything you need to know about it. Noted pop producer Rick Nowels (Mel C/Dido/Ronan Keating) adds samplotron flutes to Mr. Weatherman and distant choirs to Nasty Boy, complete with its River Deep, Mountain High chorus rip-off.
Ex-pat Brit Sylvie Lewis has connections with Sondre Lerche and Richard Swift, amongst others, the latter producing her first two albums. The first, 2005's Tangos & Tantrums, is a decent singer-songwriter effort, replete with jazzy touches, highlights including All His Exes, the faux-Arabic strings on Conversation Piece and, above all, My Rival, featuring Lewis sounding particularly British. Frank Lenz plays samplotron, with a smooth string part on When I Drink, possibly underlaid with vibes. The follow-up, 2007's Translations, is another perfectly acceptable, slightly jazzy singer-songwriter effort, albeit with fewer standout tracks; those of you/us not into the style probably aren't going to get much from it. Swift on samplotron, with strings on opener Starsong, what sounds like Chamberlin solo male voice on Just You and (and I'm pushing the boat out with this one) vibes on closer Your Voice Carries.
Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson's first album, 2008's Youth Novels, is a quiet, slightly haunted record that probably loosely fits under the 'indie' umbrella, while being nowhere near that simplistic or derivative. Various influences are displayed, including that catch-all 'alt.rock', electronica and folk, amongst others. Best tracks? This Trumpet In My Head stands out for me, but nothing here actually offends. John Eriksson plays background samplotron cellos on Time Flies. Her third album, I Never Learn, has little in common with her debut, being a classic 'breakup album', all swooning melancholy and sparse arrangements. Its chief fault, as has been noted by several reviewers, is its relentless, monopaced misery; all the best breakup albums have something about them to lighten the atmosphere, but we're denied that relief in this case. The opening title track makes the most effective use of Li's influences, Gunshot is reasonably melodically interesting and closer Sleeping Alone seems to encapsulate the album's modus operandi in a single track. Producer Björn Yttling and Greg Kurstin are both credited with Mellotron, but it doesn't seem likely that we're hearing a real machine. The string line and/or background choirs on I Never Learn? The cello-ish sound on Sleeping Alone? I don't think so. More variety wouldn't go amiss next time. Lose the 'weeping widow' look, too.
Jamie Lidell is a British ex-pat New Yorker, specialising in layering his own beatboxing to his vocals, a trick he apparently performs onstage; proficient technically, if not necessarily musically. 2010's Compass (produced by Beck) is his fifth long-player, less 'soul vocal over beatboxing' than I'd expected; the clue's probably in his label: Warp. That isn't to say that I consider the album a milepost in the evolution of music, but parts of it are far less terrible than I'd (teeth-grittingly) expected. Pat Sansone is credited with Mellotron, with flutes on opener Completely Exposed, She Needs Me, You Are Waking and Big Drift; however, unlike many of his other credits, this one doesn't strike me as genuine.
Annbjørg Lien released her first record in 1983, at the age of twelve (!), but was in her late teens when her first album appeared. Lien sings and plays the Hardanger fiddle, the hardingfele, so it's no great surprise that her music is heavily informed by Nordic folk, although it has many contemporary touches, both instrumentally and in the arrangements. Baba Yaga is only her second album under her own name, an appealing combination of folk melodies and rock instrumentation, without doing that 'folk metal' thing that seems to have taken off in the region recently. It's difficult to pinpoint standout tracks, although Wackidoo may appeal to progheads, with its blatant ELP homage, on top of the album title's Pictures at an Exhibition reference. Bjørd Ole Rasch plays supposed Mellotron, with background strings on the title track, a polyphonic flute part at the end of Old Larry and choirs on Ritual, most likely all sampled.
Many years on, 2012's Khoom Loy shows Lien's folk roots undinished, although the rock element seems to've largely disappeared; this is folk-pop, more the former than the latter. Highlights? Eastern-flavoured opener Tareq, Gode Gut and beautiful closer Psalm. Rasch on 'Mellotron' again: those background chordal flutes on Natten? Non.
Lieutenant are Foo Fighters/Sunny Day Real Estate bassist Nate Mendel's solo project, which, going by 2015's If I Kill This Thing We're All Going to Eat for a Week, is mainstream indie, dragged down yet further by Mendel's characterless voice. In all honesty, I can't even conjure up a passable song or two, although closer Lift The Sheet is marginally less tedious than everything else; this is dreary, indie-by-numbers nonsense, although I'm sure it has an audience somewhere. Toshi Kasai is credited with Mellotron, but the vague strings on The Place You Wanna Go, Believe The Squalor and Artificial Limbs leave me thinking, 'You have to be joking!' I mean, they don't even sound much like Mellotron samples. Why do artists even bother pretending they used one when they quite manifestly didn't? Pointless.
2006's Bird on a Wire is Toby Lightman's second album, to which I can only say, I do hope her debut's better, although I rather doubt it. This is an unappealing mash-up of modern singer-songwriter stylings and R&B, with country tinges here and there, all of which adds up to a tediously mainstream record with few redeeming features. In fact, the only ones I can think of are Lightman's pleasant (if undemanding) voice and the use of vintage keyboards, including Hammond, Wurlitzer and, of course, (alleged) Mellotron. Bill Bottrell plays the samplotron, but barely, with nothing obvious apart from a brief string part on closer Good Find.
Like Wendy apparently coalesced from a drinking club; the only thing I have to say is: you can tell. A duo for most of their career, by 2003's Homeland, they'd contracted to effectively Bert Heinen's solo project, playing typical neo-prog with the occasional Genesis influence. The album doesn't start too badly, but second track in, Back To Earth, is pure neo-prog nonsense, from where it never really recovers, the lengthy title track being possibly the worst thing here, mainly due to taking longer to finish. The 'Mellotron' on most tracks is quite clearly sampled, with murky choirs opening the album, repeating intermittently throughout The Crossing Cloud, with flutes and choir on Back To Earth and various combination of flutes, choir and strings on just about every other track. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but Homeland is exactly the kind of album that gives modern progressive rock a bad name, combining pretentiousness with an inability to write anything interesting or at all unusual in fairly equal measures. The grotty Mellotron samples don't hep this album's cause, but it was never going to get a particularly high rating.
Lilacs & Champagne consist of two members of Grails, although this project's sample-based approach has little in common with the parent band. Although several instruments are credited, it's hard to tell how much is actually being played and how much a skillful assemblages of samples, which is probably the idea. There isn't much to choose between these two albums, although my preference is for the odd tracks where the duo slip into a kind of desert-rock thing, temporarily leaving the sampledelica behind. And Alex Hall's Mellotron, well, isn't.
Besoin d'Espace is an appalling album of French-language 'transcendent rock', or Muse-lite, to the rest of us, at its least ghastly on closer Là Haut. This is really, really bad. Michel-Yves Kochmann's 'Chamberlin'? What, the flutes on Bretagne Dédicace? Seriously?
Limblifter began as Kurt and Ryan Dahle's Age of Electric side-project, gradually taking over as their main band before themselves splitting. 2000's Bellaclava was their second album (of three), an indie/powerpop crossover, better tracks including Ariel Vs. Lotus, mainly for its bassline and Come On Down, although I couldn't really claim that any of it's that exciting, frankly. Dahle plays alleged Mellotron, while Richard Sera plays equally alleged Mellotron and Chamberlin, with background strings on Pregnant and slightly more upfront ones at the end of Tankhog and on Bullring, the MkII 'moving strings' on the last-named being the sample giveaway.
There's no way around it: Lindy (Vopnfjörð)'s Suspension of Disbelief is a bland, cheesy singer-songwriter pop/rock effort, at its least tedious on Look At The Way The Wild Wind Blows. Jim McGrath's Mellotron? The strings on Important? Definite sampled flutes on regular album closer On My Mind.
Link Quartet are Italy's answer to the mainly British 'acid jazz' thing; think 'James Taylor Quartet' and you won't be a million miles off. Despite forming in 1991, Italian Playboys is only their third album, but it should keep Hammond/'60s film theme/mod types happy with its unashamed homage to the era. Almost entirely instrumental, it's hard to fault on a musical level, although fourteen tracks is possibly a little too much of a good thing, as it all starts sounding a little samey to the untrained ear after a while. Frankly, organist Paolo "Apollo" Negri's Mellotron use on the album is disappointing, with naught but a background string part towards the end of Glass Onion; in fact, given his sample use on a couple of Wicked Minds LPs, I think it's probably safe to assume that the same applies here, ditto on his solo album, 2007's A Bigger Tomorrow. As far as Italian Playboys goes, it's good at what it does, as long as you like what it does, but next to no 'Mellotron', so don't bother on that front.
Mask Behaving sits somewhere in between alt.rock and electronica, with occasional hip-hop influences thrown in for (not so) good measure, at its least irritating on Every Little Inch, also the home of Reyn Ouwehand's sampled Mellotron and Chamberlin flute and string parts.
Of the several nu-metal (aargh!) bands to actually break through to some sort of commercial success, Linkin Park have always had the least credibility (strange, in a world where Limp Bizkit exist), even being accused of pseudo-'boyband' status. This seems to be an unfair allegation - the band seem to have formed in a genuine enough manner - but they're certainly at the lighter end of the mini-genre, sounding rather 'plastic', to use a particularly cutting term of which an old school friend of mine was fond. Minutes to Midnight (how many? Two?) is their third album in seven years and is generally regarded to be their most diverse yet, heading even further into the rap/rock mainstream. Personal opinion? Absolute tosh. What is the point in this nonsense? Call me an old fart, but this is bloody rubbish; giving it two stars is doing it a favour. As far as I'm concerned, nobody since Faith No More has successfully combined the two genres, and it seems unlikely that anyone's going to now. I've read all over the place that there's 'Mellotron' on the album; upon actually listening to it, most of the string parts are either real or sound like samples, leaving the cellos on In Between sounding like a Mellotron, but sampled. Rick Rubin may've produced some fine albums, but he doesn't appear to've found a real 'Tron for these boys to play. If you're lucky enough not to have this drivel forced upon you by your teenage children, avoid like the plague. Completely pointless.
Oskar Linnros found fame with 'alternative hip-hop' duo Snook, so all power to him for breaking away from a limiting genre with Vilja Bli. That isn't to say that the album's combination of mainstream pop, hip-hop, soul and hard rock (!) necessarily works - all too often it acts chiefly as an irritant - but at least he's trying. Very. Linnros' 'Mellotron'? Must be those generic flute samples on a couple of tracks.
The Lions (presumably as in 'the Lions of Judah') describe their musical hybrid as 'dusty reggae soul', which sounds about right. 2015's Soul Riot is actually pretty decent, largely reggae as it used to be, complete with slightly bogus Jamaican accents and several vocalists and toasters vying for attention. Top tracks? Probably At A Loss and Going Nowhere, complete with dub-like delay, but I wouldn't have said there was anything here to offend the old-school reggae fan. Producer Dan Ubick is credited with Mellotron, but if the strings on (Will You Be) My Girl? (and flutes on closer Wilder Style?) are meant to be it, we're in no danger of encountering a real machine, frankly, despite talk of real Hammond. Most likely not your thing, then, nor mine, but good at what it does.
Hope Street is an eccentric-end-of-singer-songwriter record, Carol Lipnik frequently utilising her superb voice in unexpected ways on her folk- and jazz-flavoured material. Highlights? The opening title track, Plain Gold Ring and closer In Faith, perhaps. Bradford Reed's credited with Mellotron, but I have no idea why.
Liquid Eclipse's Horizons starts off as a prime example of how to do jammed-out psych properly, then, strangely, slowly descends into the indie/psych dustbin by the end of the record. Play its first four (of six) tracks, then switch it off. Dale Pantalione's 'Mellotron' begins and ends with faint, sampled flutes on opener Summerhaze.
There's been a bit of a fuss over Liquid Scarlet recently, though less so than for, say, Wobbler. Unjustly, it seems, as they're actually really good, with plenty of 'that Scandinavian sound' about them, without actually sounding like they're trying to rip Änglagård. Thinking about it, they're more like Anekdoten, actually, though with enough of themselves in there to deflect any major criticism. Liquid Scarlet is a fine album, not too long, nice and varied (within the genre, obviously) and with good playing and writing throughout. It's going to take rather longer than I've got right now to extract its highlights for general consumption, but suffice to say, there's nothing here that's going to upset anyone into complex, symphonic progressive, with zero neo-prog influence, thankfully. On the fake Mellotron front (from Frida Lundström), Greyroom opens with strings blasting away over a jerky rhythm, and most tracks feature at least a little of the instrument, mostly strings and flutes, though the vibes on The Red Stairs could be Mellotron samples, too. Most accomplished, although it's a pity (of course) that they couldn't have sourced a real Mellotron, at least for the recording.
A whole year later, Liquid Scarlet II is a revelation, showing how dramatically a band can change in a short period of time. Far more 'progressive' than its predecessor, the album takes influences from a much broader palette, using a string section on several tracks, alongside the Mellotron samples. The nine-minute Rhododendron is one of the album's highlights, although the combination of Markus Fagervall's intimate vocal style and the band's original approach towards songwriting make pretty much every track a winner. In fact, I think it's fair to say that Liquid Scarlet II doesn't really sound like anybody much else, and it's not too often you can say that these days. Those Mellotron samples crop up on probably half the tracks, with new keyboard player Olle Sjögren clearly preferring to use Fender Rhodes or organ in preference.