Minot play a kind of instrumental, punky, psychedelic post-rock, for want of a better description, their 2013 single being a decent enough listen. Benjamin Thorne's credited with Mellotron, but I can't get too excited about the cello part on The Means Relativize The Ends.
Bristol-based David Edwards' one-man-band project Minotaur Shock specialise in electronica, I suppose. His/their third album, Maritime, consists of a host of sampled instruments juxtaposed with considerable care and harmonic invention, although his use of percussion samples becomes wearing after a while (closer Four Magpies in particular). You've probably really got to be into this style to get very much out of this album, although parts of it could be considered restful, if that's what you're after. Edwards plays 'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, although I'm quite sure it's sampled, with flutes on Vigo Bay and strings, choirs and background flutes on (deep breath) Somebody Once Told Me It Existed But They Never Found It, although the cellos on Luck Shield sound like generic samples. So; British electronica on 4AD (home to the Cocteau Twins, amongst others), a couple of tracks of sampled 'Tron. Done deal.
Fly Away is, in some ways, an above-average German progressive album of its type, if only because most of the competition was so woeful. Let's be honest; German symphonic prog is mostly a bit rubbish, although, of course, there are some major exceptions. This is a perfectly decent record, if somewhat low-budget; at least the band understood dynamics and didn't just slather everything in sight with layers of bland string synth. Dietmar Barzen is credited with Mellotron. It isn't.
The Mint Chicks were a kind of punk/noise/experimental outfit, unsurprisingly signed to Flying Nun, New Zealand's premier alternative label. Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! shifts between several styles, including fairly authentic '77 punk (opener Ockham's Razor, You're Just As Confused As I Am), twisted powerpop (Welcome To Nowhere, Real Friends) and quirky, Split Enz on steroids fare (This Is Your Last Chance To Be Famous, My Love and If My Arm Was A Mic Stand, Would You Hold My Hand?, the latter definitely the album's best track). Kody Nielson's Mellotron credit presumably refers to the sampled flutes on Real Friends.
2003's Wrestling the Angels is Kelly Minter's third (and second major-label) release; a sloppier selection of gloopy Christian balladry it would be hard to imagine, frankly. Love Has Come's alt.rock makes a welcome change from the standard sickly-sweet balladry, which isn't to say it's any good, just the least bad thing here. Bizarrely, an Amazon review opines that (I paraphrase), "While most CCM has little substance, this album has stacks". Where, sir, where? Stephen Leiweke plays a brief near-solo samplotron flute part on the final verse on Walk Me Through, the album's other least offensive track.
Holly Miranda plays a kind of folky indie electronica, which sounds like several contradictions in terms, but is about the best description I can summon up. 2010's The Magician's Private Library (apparently her uncle's superb description of Dark Side of the Moon) is her third released album (her second on an actual label), although it seems there's an unreleased effort dating from her teens sitting in the BMG vaults. It's harmless enough, but rather drippy, to be honest. Let's face it, I'm not her target audience; wrong sex, wrong age. Shit, wrong generation. It has its moments, but production tricks like the irritating string-ish sound on No One Just Is really don't help. Producer David Andrew (Dave) Sitek, of TV on the Radio, plays 'Mellotron', with distant choirs on Joints and less distant ones on Sweet Dreams, although Slow Burn Treason features a string note that holds for around a minute and is clearly nothing of the sort. I thought the string part on Everytime I Go To Sleep sounded wobbly enough to be genuine, especially at the end of the song, but it turns out to be real, which says something about how good the original Mellotron sounds were. Anyway, light years away from the commercial dross that clogs up the airwaves, but not something I'd want to hear too often. Her third, self-titled album lets the quality drop somewhat, while not being so different, stylewise, from its predecessor. Mellotron on Come On from both Miranda and Sitek again, who also produced the track, with strings (and mandolin?), although a credit on the track for 'sampler' doesn't help. Sorry, but I find it difficult to enthuse about this kind of stuff.
Mission of Burma formed in 1979, but only made one studio album before splitting four years later, two members going on to form Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Three of the four original members reformed nearly twenty years after the split, releasing another three albums to date, the second being 2006's The Obliterati. Staying true to their post-punk roots, better tracks include the wittily-titled Donna Sumeria, incorporating the band's mutation of I Feel Love, the dynamic Man In Decline and closer Nancy Reagan's Head. It's difficult to say for certain, but the weird, solo male voice on Nancy Reagan's Head sounds an awful lot like the notorious Chamberlin sound, although it seems unlikely a real one was used on the recording. You're not going to buy this for its brief Chamby sample use, but anyone who liked the original band should be wary of dismissing their recent work.
Mist & Mast play a terribly unexciting form of rather ramshackle indie on their eponymous album, at its least dull on Eyes Adjust To The Dark. Jason Lakis' 'Mellotron' is clearly sampled, with high-end cellos on Glass Tiles and strings on Core Deep.
Although Coz Littler's Mr. Chop have four confirmed Mellotron albums on this site, I feel unable to add Illuminate to the list. Musically, it sits at the clattery, more irritating end of electronica, with far too much techno-esque vocal sample manipulation for comfort, probably at its best on You Want More Life and Arcane Future. I must've found a 'Mellotron' credit for this at some point, or it wouldn't be here, but, of course, I can't find it now. Nothing obvious, anyway; the choirs on You Want More Life that don't even sound like one.
Mizukagami, named for a Japanese historical epic, are a current progressive outfit, taking their inspiration from the '70s bands and the first wave of Japanese prog, I'm pleased to say. Their problem is, a few minutes of their music makes you feel that the future of progressive rock is in safe hands, but two or three tracks have you (or at least, me) reaching for the 'skip' button. The music's good, but there's a fatal lack of variety, while Tanaami Futaba's vocals are almost unerringly flat when she hits high and/or sustained notes, apart from the rare occasions when she's sharp. This is no small matter; her vocals are so central to the band's sound that her appalling tuning (who produced this and are they incapable of asking for more takes?) frankly ruins the effect completely. You don't need to have perfect pitch to wince every time (and there are many of them) she doesn't quite reach the note. Small doses of their eponymous 2003 debut are impressive, but nearly fifty minutes is quite brain-deadening. Junya Anan's samplotron work is all over the album, with upfront flutes and background strings on Sakura, choirs on Haru No Sono and strings and/or flutes elsewhere. They followed up with 2007's Yugake; not bad, but its cumulative effect is mildly numbing, to be honest, with the unwelcome addition of the aforementioned vocal problems. It's a real shame, actually, as she has a lovely voice. If only 'twere in pitch... Anan on samplotron again, with flutes on all tracks, plus background strings, well above the instrument's range.
Perfectly respectable Norwegian-language folk rock, highlights including haunted opener Mannen I Ausa, Grønt Lauv I Snyen and Krokstav-Emne. Hasse Rosbach's Mellotron? Occasional samples.
2015's Strangers to Ourselves ends an eight-year recording hiatus for Modest Mouse, although, sad to say, not in a good way. I've struggled to find something nice to say about this album, but from its irritating, chanted vocals to its uninspired songwriting and the tiresome indieness of the instrumentation through to its excess length, it's defeated me. Singer/guitarist Isaac Brock supposedly plays Mellotron, but the background strings on Pups To Dust have little ring of authenticity about them. Their earlier work isn't so bad, but this was a real teeth-gritter. Awful.
Mojobone are a Swedish stoner/trad hard rock outfit, who appear to be a side-project for most (or all) of the musicians concerned. Their debut recording, 1999's mini-album Tales From the Bone, is a prime example of how the Scandinavians in general and Swedes in particular have taken a genre regarded as outdated and given it a swift kick up the arse. Its six tracks all conform to the basic template: mid-paced, '70s-esque heavy rock played with enthusiasm and skill, although none of them really stand out compositionally. The 'Mellotron' is played by one Wibärg, better-known as Per Wiberg of Spiritual Beggars, Opeth et al., with a background string part on Brother that doesn't particularly stand out. I believe this is now available in an expanded edition, so if you go for that retro hard rock thing, go for it.
5th Dimension is a crazy melange of J-pop, metal, (Brian) May-esque guitar harmonies and laptop glitch, plus about a hundred other things all thrown into the melting pot, testing the listener's tolerance for Japanese girly vocals and modern production techniques. Speaking of which, fuck me, talk about brick wall mastering... This is actually quite painful to listen to, even at low volume. I thought the volume wars were over by 2013? Maybe not in Japan. Anyway, good at what it does - I think - but not something I'll be listening to again any time soon. Rui Nagai's massed 'Mellotron' flutes and choirs on Tsuki To Gingami Hikōsen really aren't, the held flute note at the end giving the sample game away.
To my total lack of surprise, Mona Lisa's 1998 reformation album appears to contain (at best) sampled Mellotron, which may actually only be decent string samples that have a 'Tronlike quality when un-stringlike block chords are played. Somewhat more to my surprise, De l'Ombre à la Lumière is actually passably good, albeit overlong (so what's new?) and with too much filler (ditto). Even more than on their '70s material, they sound like Ange here, although Dominique le Guennec's theatrical (French-language) vocal style makes for lazy comparisons. The material veers between the 'almost as good as they ever were' opener, Captif De La Nuit, through the 'better-than-you'd-expect' ten-minute Voyage Avec Les Morts, complete with lengthy guitar solo, to some more average fare towards the end of the disc. Fake 'Tron strings on several tracks, which never really convince, though you can see how they could deceive the ear in places. So; nowhere near their classic, 1977's Le Petit Violon de Monsieur Grégoire (****½), but a respectable enough album from a reformed band, given some of the competition. Incidentally, it seems that the band is essentially Le Guennec backed by the members of '90s French act Versailles, so there's little musical connection with the old outfit.
Janelle Monáe released her first album in 2003, taking, for a new artist, an almost unprecedented seven years to follow up with the hugely ambitious soul/R&B concept album The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III). What's it all about? Fucked if I know, but it actually succeeds in drawing together many disparate styles, throwing not only the two previously-mentioned genres into the pot, but also hip-hop, funk, even Broadway... To be frank, unless you're into what I believe is now known as 'urban', you're probably not going to like this, but I have to give it kudos for its ambition, many of the tracks tied together by brief orchestral interludes in a way that would leave 50 Cent and his ilk shaking their heads in bewilderment. Nate Wonder plays alleged Mellotron, with flutes on Cold War and Neon Valley Street (patently obviouslt sampled here) and literally four choir notes on Make The Bus. The Electric Lady manages to pull the same trick again, only less 'urban' this time round (more 'rural'?), with no obvious samplotron, let alone Mellotron, unless the credit's referring to the polyphonic flutes on Sally Ride?
Going by Everything Anyhow, Freddy Monday's at the less authentic end of the powerpop spectrum, often straying into cheesy '80s American pop/rock territory, not least on She's A Teazer and Who Am I Gonna Dance With, all parping synths and virtual big hair, while closer Poptop features Monday whistling, of all things. Better moments? Opener Give Me Your Heart, the title track and Trail Of Tears, but it just isn't enough to save this one. Monday's supposed to play Mellotron on Rain All Day and Fracture, to which I can only say: piss off.
Monica's Last Prayer describe themselves as 'post-punk', although Prayerbook strikes me as nothing more interesting than a dreary, vaguely gothy form of indie; my relief when they picked up the pace on Youths was palpable. Leader (sole member?) Paul Broome plays samplotron, with background strings on Omen and choirs (giving the sample game away) on the title track.
I first heard UK electronica duo Mono around 1998, maybe a year after they'd released Formica Blues; I seem to remember my girlfriend du jour being less than wholly impressed by my interest being (publicly) piqued at the sound of what I thought was a Mellotron. I was so unsure, however, that I had it italicised on the albums list for years, until I tracked down an interview with their musical half, Martin Virgo, on the Sound on Sound site, although I'm sure there was a more definite remark re. the album's Mellotron use. Anyway, Formica Blues has a very mid-'90s sort of sound about it; you know, a bit trip-hoppy, a lot louche, '60s penthouse, fairly French pop blah-di-blah. It works quite well on a sub-Air kind of level, though Siobhan De Maré's breathy pseudo-Gallic vocals irritate after a while and you find yourself wishing you could hear the production subtleties without her emoting over the top for once. Or I do, anyway.
The only mention of Mellotrons I can now find on that Sound on Sound page is: "...which is why there are things on the album like a dulcimer coming out of the left speaker and a Mellotron out of the right", with no mention of the thing in either the production notes or Virgo's favourite gear sidebars, although there's plenty of mention of sundry analogues, including a Juno 106, a MiniMoog, a Rhodes, a Wurly and a Vox Continental. A re-listen tells me that the flutes and strings on Disney Town and flutes on instrumental closer Hello Cleveland! (alongside a great vibes sound apparently created using a tortuous process which seems to have justified itself by the end result) are sampled. Mono were apparently pretty big in the States for five minutes, mainly due to the album's opening track, Life In Mono, being used as the end-credits theme in what appears to be an already largely-forgotten remake of Great Expectations. Whatever.
Mono are a Japanese post-rock outfit who do that 'build, crescendo, fall' thing as well as any and better than many. I can see how they could grab prog fans with their lengthy atmospherics, although I suspect a chemically-altered state probably helps in their appreciation. There's nothing much to choose between the six pieces on 2006's You Are There, four long, two short; this is an album that really needs to be listened to as a whole, and singling out individual tracks is fairly futile, although, er, closer Moonlight stands out slightly from the pack. Actually, the best way to approach this music is to think of it as a soundtrack; amusingly, their website includes a small section aimed at directors looking to use the band's music in their films, which pretty much sums them up, albeit not in a bad way. 'Mellotron' strings (from ?) all over Yearning, fairly obviously sampled, although all other string sounds on the album are presumably generic samples. Overall, then, one of the better post-rock releases I've come across lately; these guys know how to handle dynamics better than almost anyone else I've heard in the field. It's still overlong, but it's post-rock; what did you expect?
Mono Puff are essentially John Flansburgh's They Might Be Giants side-project, whose first album, 1996's Unsupervised, features a weird combination of influences, from the punk/surf crossover of opener Guitar Was The Case (ho ho) through the Spectoresque pop of Don't Break The Heart and punky hard rock of The Devil Went Down To Newport (Totally Rocking), while Hello Hello is a suitably creepy version of the subsequently disgraced Gary Glitter's Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again. Unsurprisingly, we also get several TMBG-alikes, making this every bit as eclectic as you might expect from anything involving Flansburgh's fertile imagination. The (obvious) tape-replay samples kick in straight away, with a brief, single-note Mellotron choir part on Guitar Was The Case, while To Serve Mankind is based around Chamberlin solo male and female voice samples, although the jury's out on the album's occasional brass parts. It's Fun to Steal was their second and last album, ignoring several EP releases, probably best described as loungecore, combining '50s easy listening with 'noo wave', indie and other more contemporary styles. But is it any good?, I hear you cry. Well, it's amusing in places, although I can't imagine wanting to play it too often (as in, probably ever again). Instrumentally, there's some nice analogue synth work (Oberheim, as it happens) and the Clavinet on Mr. Hughes Says is pretty cool, but unless you're big on that '50s/early '60s thing and happen to be a big TMBG fan, you're probably not going to get too much out of this. Flansburgh's credited with Mellotron on Back-Stabbing Liar, which presumably provides the weirdly compressed high-end cello solo section in the middle of the song. Samples again, says I.
Unfortunately, Monster Magnet's 2000 release, God Says No, works less well than Dopes to Infinity; it probably displays a wider range of influences, with Gravity Well reminding me of The Groundhogs, while the riff to My Little Friend is an almost straight cop from Whole Lotta Love. Not that it's a bad album, you understand, just that some of the manic energy seems to have dissipated somewhere down the line. Maybe that's what happens when you stop doing the drugs. Depends which drugs, I suppose... Anyway, less overt 'Mellotron' this time around, the string parts sounding eerily similar to some of Sabbath's use, while the most upfront part is the block flute chords on Take It. I haven't heard the intervening Monolithic Baby (shit, only Americans could get away with these titles), but 2007's 4-Way Diablo is another good collection of hard rock as it was; as with so many similar, though, it's at least ten minutes too long for its content, although I'm not sure what you'd drop. Cyclone is particularly good, dual solo and all, while Solid Gold is a veritable psych-fest, although we only get two samplotron tracks (from Dave Wyndorf?), with (as you'd expect) a major string part on their take on The Stones' 2000 Light Years From Home and less of the same on I'm Calling You.
Monsters of Folk (as in, "...Of Rock", no doubt) are yer classic 'supergroup'; members of other successful bands getting together for a collaborative side-project, to greater or lesser effect. This one consists of My Morning Jacket's Jim James (calling himself Yim Yames here), M Ward and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, so it's hardly surprising a Mellotron puts in an appearance on a couple of tracks. To be perfectly honest, the album's a bit of a disappointment, consisting largely of country-tinged indie, selling its constituent members short. Better tracks include Slow Down Jo and Magic Marker, but it all just seems a bit... flat, somehow. James/Yames sticks samplotron strings all over opener Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.), although the string interjections on Losin' Yo' Head are almost inaudible, sadly. So; a brave attempt, works in places, doesn't work in more. In my opinion, of course.
Gustavo Montesano was the bassist and chief composer with one of Argentina's best progressive outfits, Crucis; Homenaje was his first of his two solo albums, the other being 1982's El Pasillo, released under the name Montesano. Progressive, but with mainstream influences in places, notably the more song-based material, Homenaje is a reasonably good album, though in no way up to his work in Crucis (see: Desde Que Te Pude Ver for details). Saying that, there are some lovely moments, particularly Homenaje Color Naranja, with its mid-period Genesis feel. Like so many other Argentinian albums, while 'Mellotron' is credited (on all but one track in this case), there's no actual audible evidence for this, although both string synth and real strings are to be heard in abundance, particularly the former. OK, there might be a smattering of Mellotron strings buried in the mix on opener Sinfonía Lunática, but probably not. I wouldn't let other albums get away with it, so the same goes for this.
Moon Safari (clearly named for the Air album) have one major, major problem: within seconds of putting on their debut, A Doorway to Summer (Robert Heinlein quote, fact fans), it becomes apparent that, rather than listening to lots of music, then filtering out what appeals to them and writing in that style, they only actually seem to listen to one band: Spock's Beard. OK, fair enough, we can't all be super-original, but Spock's already exist and having them seen them live literally the day before listening to this, I can attest to the fact that they're alive and well, not to mention probably not that appreciative of being near-plagiarised. Interestingly, the band have a major Flower Kings connection, through producer Tomas Bodin, but sound little like them.
Moon Safari actually do a very good Spock's Beard, although they actually accentuate their sole influence's unfortunate Broadway-esque side, leading to the exceptionally cheesy a capella massed harmony section in the lengthy We Spin The World; shame: the track had started off so promisingly... It's difficult to know what to say about this: the album's highly competent - their competence isn't in question - but it's so derivative that you find yourself pulling a face every time they rip off another bit of Day for Night or something. You get the feeling that they're so in love with the grandiosity of it all, right down to the vocalist's fake American accent, that they forgot to be, you know, tasteful... Then again, I suppose prog doesn't have the greatest reputation in the world for good taste, does it? It should, but all the non-aficionado remembers is ELP's crassness or Yes' propensity for lengthy solo spots and overblown double concept albums. Of course, Moon Safari (actually Simon Åkesson) use Mellotron samples in exactly the same way Spock's (usually) use the real thing, so we get various flute, string and (especially) choir parts in all the right places, only... exactly as Spock's Beard would've used them. This gets three stars for the band's technical ability and way with a tune: pity it's someone else's way.
2008 brings Blomljud, or possibly [Blomljud], a sprawling two-disc set, including a Flower Kings-style half hour effort in Other Half Of The Sky. The band's style has shifted in the interim, now sounding like, er, a cross between Spock's and The Flower Kings, which isn't an improvement, frankly, their MOR side coming out more strongly on several tracks, not least closer To Sail Beyond The Sunset (another Heinlein quote there). All in all, this is vastly overlong, making the single full-length disc merchants look a bit, well, restrained. Get an editor, chaps. Åkesson's samplotron use is essentially the same as last time round, although their previous Spock's style can now be seen as a Spock's/Flower Kings one. 2010's Lover's End sounds even more like Elton John gone prog, or an anguished Elegant Simplicity-style breakup album, the vocal harmonies even more 'musical theatre' than before. Worst track? Probably the cheeso New York City Summergirl, complete with New York, New York piano quote at the end, although closer Lover's End Pt.II cuts it close. Ugh. Y'know, if this lot decided to drop the whole 'prog' thing, they could probably make a decent living writing slushy, 'adult contemporary' balladry, certainly going by the vocal melody on The World's Best Dreamers: ultra-cheesy, yet horribly memorable. Celine Dion awaits... Less of Åkesson's samplotron than before; maybe it's a bit too... eclectic for the band's presumably hoped-for future audience.
2013's Himlabacken Vol.1, despite sounding like The Flower Kings more than ever, shows a band finally finding their feet and (at least a little of) their own style. Sadly, that style is (unsurprisingly) at the lightest end of the prog spectrum, although the spot-on Beach Boys harmonies they utilise extensively sweeten things somewhat, albeit in more ways than one. The nearest the album comes to highlights are Diamonds, where the band return to a relentlessly upbeat Spock's feel once more and closer Sugar Band, where they have a decent stab at a complex, multi-part piece, all in nine minutes. Lowlight? My Little Man is a jazzy, acoustic, heartfelt-yet-utterly-cheesy paean to the author's little boy, possibly actually docking the album half a star for its mere presence. Very little samplotron, with naught but strings on Mega Moon (briefly) and Barfly, the choirs seemingly consigned to the dustbin.
The Moon Seven Times, or Moon 7x (or even M7x) were an ambient '90s trio; not ambient as in 'dance ambient', but as in 'drifting, wishy-washy synths and half-arsed rhythms'. Oh dear, I seem to've laid my cards on the table already, haven't I? In fairness, their second album, 7=49, has its moments, but the bulk of it wafts past without making any sort of impression at all; maybe that's the point? I'm sure this is meant to appeal to Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance fans, but the band seem to've missed what made those bands so iconic. Atmosphere. Lynn Canfield's voice is pretty insipid and let's not even mention the vocal 'melodies'... God, the sleeve even looks like a 4AD release. The two instrumentalists, Brendan Gamble and Henry Frayne, both play samplotron on various tracks, with Gamble adding faint strings to Crybaby, Desert Vineyards, On A Limb and Curling Wall, although Frayne's contributions to Anyway and I'll Gather Flowers are both entirely inaudible.
Moongarden's amusingly misspelt second effort, Brainstorm of Emptyness, starts off quite well, with a few minutes of laid-back progressiveness, until the whole band kicks in around the four-minute mark. Oh shit, it's Marillion. Actually, more IQ than Marillion, but poor neo-prog whichever way you look at it. To add insult to injury, the album is quite interminable, and would've been overlong at 40 minutes. It's not all bad; when the rhythm section quietens down and the guitarist picks up an acoustic, it's actually quite nice, as on the first two parts of Sonya In Search Of The Moon, but as soon as that herky-jerky bass riff starts again, my brain shuts down in a vain attempt not to be reminded of the horrors of the '80s. Cristiano Roversi plays a good bit of fake 'Tron, (he's admitted it's samples), even though '95 is a bit early for such things (Vintage Keys module, methinks). Flutes some minutes into opener Sea Memories, with a major string part on Who's Wrong?, whiile the strings on Gun Child rip off Yes' Heart Of The Sunrise quite effectively, although the rest of the album's string work is pretty decent. The choirs don't sound right at all, to be honest, which is hardly surprising, although there's a nice part in Sonya In Search Of The Moon: Moonman Return.
I put the six-year gap between Brainstorm... and 2001's The Gates of Omega down to Roversi being busy with other projects, although I may well be wrong. I'd read that their albums improve as they go along: wrong. OK, I suppose it has its moments, but the hubris of such an average band releasing a hundred-minute, double-disc effort is considerable. To think that the mighty Änglagård titled their glorious debut for the Swedish form of that word... The bulk of this album is tediously bland neo-prog, with little harmonic invention and much emoting vocalising; in other words, all the things that make your average neo- effort so unpalatable to more discerning progressive fans. If you actually need an example, disc one's opener, Forever Chained, is absolutely typical, almost the only dissent coming in disc two's closer, Moonsong - The Conclusion, with a very Fripp-ish guitar solo, but it's far too little, far too late. Samplotron strings, choirs and flutes on a few tracks, not that I, or probably you, care.
Two years on and RoundMidnight is, at least, a sensible length, although that doesn't actually improve the album in any other meaningful way. The bulk of it is the usual neo- nonsense, while Learning To Live Under The Ground throws a new influence into the lukewarm melting-pot: prog-metal. Is this a welcome addition? Not especially, no, although it succeeds in making the track the album's least boring. Any other interesting points? the backwards piano used on one track is reasonably inventive, but that's probably your lot, the standard samplotron interjections being the same old same old. A five-year gap this time, with 2008's Songs From the Lighthouse being a minor improvement on its predecessors, about its most interesting track being the violin solo over piano and vibes of Flesh. More metallic prog influences, which at least help to banish the sub-Marillionisms of old. The following year's crummily-titled A Vulgar Display of Prog (v.funny, guys) is a genuine improvement, just pulling the band out of the **½ ghetto. The chief cause is seventeen-minute closer Compression, a genuinely dynamic effort featuring the 'outside influence' of several ghetto rap sections, presumably used to illustrate the storyline. Occasional heavy samplotron use on both releases, but you're hardly going to bother on its account, I'd imagine.
2014's Voyeur is quite clearly a concept effort, although I'm afraid I couldn't be bothered to try to work out what it's about. Musically, it's their by-now familiar blend of '80s neo- and '90s prog metal, with the odd curveball thrown in, not least the weird, banjo-fuelled Barbiturates Gentleman. Speaking of influences: The Queen Goes To Bed. Did I hear someone say 'late '70s Genesis'? Better material includes Vickey Mouse, the electronica of The Usurper and the punchy TV Queen, but the album's most interesting parts are largely confined to instrumental intros, before the usual neo- fare kicks in. Mucho samplotron, of course, mostly strings and choir, with a little bit of flute here and there. Whatever.
Moonstone Project are an Italian collective who bring in guests from elsewhere, chiefly the UK. Their second album, Rebel on the Run, is a funky hard rock effort that transcends genre clichés with its joie de vivre, particularly on Moonster Booster and From Another Time, although I think we could do without the hideous sampled piano and rather tired boogie-woogie of Hey Mama. Mainman Matt Filippini's 'Mellotron' consists of obviously sampled background strings on opener Sinner Sinner and upfront flutes on Closer Than You Think.
Abra Moore (named for the heroine of Steinbeck's East of Eden, apparently) is one of those confessional singer-songwriter types, whose third album (and first in some years), 2004's Everything Changed, is, well, everything you'd expect of the genre. It would seem that Ms Moore has been to hell and back since her previous release, but you'd have to listen to the lyrics more closely than I did to tell. Musically, it's the same old same old, mock-transcendent material (Big Sky, closer Shining Star) rubbing shoulders with ultra-personal piano-led ballads (Family Affair, Pull Away), Moore's pretty-yet-bland voice clearly running the show. Co-producer Mike Mogis plays samplotron, albeit barely, with naught but a few seconds of echoed strings on No Fear.
Ian Moore is a Texas-based guitarist/singer-songwriter who's played with Joe Ely, although his sixth solo studio album, 2004's Luminaria, has little of the blues about it. Almost a psychedelic country folk/rock record, tracks like the lengthyish Caroline, Abilene and Cinnamon combine Moore's influences until they actually sound like no-one else. Quite an achievement these days... Derek Morris has an overall credit for Mellotron, but without anything specific, I'm afraid I'm unable to hear it anywhere. So; one for Americana fans after something a little different, maybe, or psychsters wanting something a little less fractured. Not, however, an album for anyone wishing to hear a Mellotron.
Mandy Moore is yet another of those American singer/actresses that seem to be ten a penny at the moment, although, unlike most, she comes from a musical background, not an acting one. Coverage is officially her fourth album, although her second, I Wanna Be With You, is essentially a remix version of her debut, So Real. Interestingly, given that Moore was only nineteen when the album was released, it's a covers record and not just of the usual suspects. Try these for size: XTC (the wonderful Senses Working Overtime), The Waterboys (The Whole Of The Moon), Todd Rundgren (Can We Still Be Friends?)... On its release, reviews noted that it was her 'new, mature' face after her earlier teeny releases and even to a jaded old git like me, it has its moments, with sympathetic arrangements on several tracks and little that genuinely offends, although, sadly, quite a bit that bores. Matt Mahaffey plays alleged Chamberlin, with flutes on Can We Still Be Friends? and Joan Armatrading's Drop The Pilot, although I strongly suspect samples.
Steve Moore is half of the excellent Zombi, so it comes as absolutely no surprise to find that his fourth (?) solo release, 2010's Primitive Neural Pathways, is stuffed with analogue synthetics. To an extent, the whole album, particularly C Beams on side two, is a homage to Jean Michel Jarre, an electronic musician I consider to be unfairly stigmatised for being seen to commercialise the genre, while actually making groundbreaking music. Contentious? Moi? Perhaps that's no longer a contentious stance. I have no idea. Either way, Moore's expert handling of his synths and sequencers has produced a fine release, accessible, yet with enough content to encourage further exploration. As with Zombi, Moore can't resist using the odd Mellotron patch, although the distant choirs on opener Orogenous Zones and C Beams could just as easily have been replaced by synths and might have sounded better for it. Anyway, although this only seems to be available on vinyl and, er, cassette (hipsters, eh?), it's well worth a listen if you can get hold of a copy on a format you can actually play.
Allison Moorer (younger sister of Shelby Lynne and married to Steve Earle) is a full-on country singer, complete with that ludicrous pronunciation they insist on using, even when they don't actually speak like it (although, as an Alabaman, I'm sure she does). Actually, her second album, 2000's The Hardest Part, is far from offensive, rocking it up (relatively) in places, not least on Think It Over and the string-laden No Next Time, although I can't see it being something to which I'll return in a hurry. Jay Bennett (ex-Wilco) plays samplotron, with a nice flute part (alongside real strings) on Send Down An Angel, described extremely optimistically on several websites as 'the Strawberry Fields-esque...' Yeah, right.
Seattle's Moraine are, in many ways, a typical MoonJune label band: progressive, jazzy, eclectic. Their third album, 2014's Groundswell, is all the above; an instrumental tour-de-force of what is probably best-described as avant-prog, arranged passages rubbing shoulders with improvisations, American musical forms clashing agreeably with ones from Europe and various areas of the developing world. Highlights? Maybe Fountain Of Euthanasia (ha ha) and particularly powerful closer The Okanogan Lobe. Guitarist Dennis Rea is credited with Mellotron, but, unless my ears deceive me, you have to sit through 52 minutes of music before it finally appears, a huge, crashing string chord being literally the last sound on the album. And it's sampled. It's such a minor player in Moraine's grand scheme of things, however, that I'm not even sure why they bothered recording and crediting it. A fine album of its type, then, if not exactly one for singer-songwriter fans.
Beautiful Mistake covers most of the Americana spectrum, being at its best on its rockier tracks (in my humble opinion, of course), including opener I Am The Weakest, the raucous Drivin And Cryin, Learn How To Pray and Wanna Be In Love, while 'top instrumental moment' goes to the gorgeous Hammond work on Looking For Something Beautiful. Sadly, Ron Flynt's major 'Mellotron' flute part on They're Gone sounds sampled to my ears.
For the first two minutes of Sweet England, it seems we're going to get another trad. Brit-folk album. Then the sequencer kicks in. Does Jim Moray's folktronica hybrid work? In places, yes, although the contemporary influences can be overbearing on some tracks. It's not all trad, either, Moray's own mournful closer Longing For Lucy being an album highlight. Samplotron? Inaudible.
Although Guatamalan, Maria Gabriela Moreno moved to L.A. at some point, releasing her first solo album, Still the Unknown, independently in 2008 (reissued with a slightly different running order and sleeve in 2011). It's a jazz/blues-influenced singer-songwriter effort, vastly superior to the assembly-line guff released by so many wispy American girls, seemingly aimed directly at crummy mainstream TV shows that use their drivel in the background, more interesting material including bluesy opener Little Sorrow, the jazzy piano-and-vocal Amapola and the (slightly) rocky Greenhorne Man. Mark Goldenberg plays alleged Chamberlin and Mellotron, with strings (and flutes?) on Song Of You, strings on the title track and strings and definite flutes on closer No Estoy Tan Mal. M4000D?
Norwegian sextet Morild's second album, Aves, is one of those records I want to like more than I actually do. On paper, its combination of influences should be a sure-fire winner: Camel, their lesser-known countrymen Kerrs Pink and, in places, the mighty Änglagård, particularly with regard to Mari Haug Lund's flute work and their use of folky motifs. However... The album is far too long for its content, with minute after minute of slowly shifting, minor-key organ chords, overlaid with rather ordinary flute melodies or characterless vocals, especially on the two (!) twenty minute-plus tracks. Another major problem is the banality of the chord sequences, with few key changes or anything to make the seasoned listener prick up their ears. And I haven't even touched on the terrible, buzzy guitar sound... Keys man Odd-Roar Bakken largely steers clear of Mellotron sounds, only using strings on two tracks, with a part a few minutes into Labour Day and more of the same near the beginning of lengthy closer Waiting For The Ferry. The sample giveaway appears during the latter, with a note held for a good eight seconds (OK, OK, I know that's the limit for Mellotron tapes, thank you), with no wobble or slur, sounding like it could carry on for as long as you like. I'm really sorry to be so negative; Morild may well have at least one great album lurking within their collective breasts, but in order to manifest it, they're going to have to learn to edit ruthlessly and write some killer melodies. Experiment with key changes, guys; your music will come alive.
I believe Mörk Gryning ('dark dawn') are black metal, as against any other sub-sub-sub metallic genre; to my ears, they're merely 'extreme metal', a sobriquet that mercifully covers many of said sub-(etc.) genres, saving me a lot of tedious categorisation of music that rarely holds my interest for long. This lot have a 'cookie monster' vocalist and a drummer who utilises blastbeats whenever possible, making any serious point they may wish to make entirely redundant, as for all their thud and blunder, most of the time they sound a bit silly. This isn't to say that their fourth album, 2003's Pieces of Primal Expressionism, is complete drivel; the playing's absolutely spot-on, as you'd expect from the genre and some of the quieter parts are very listenable. If only they didn't consistently succumb to the urge to ruin it all with incoherent grunting and hyperactive rhythms that aren't even particularly fast. Saying that, Our Urn (stop laughing at the back) is a pretty decent metal number with some inventive guitar work, while An Old Man's Lament is actually quite prog before they go and spoil it all again, although it does revert to the opening section later on.
Johan Larsson, a.k.a. Aeon, is credited with Mellotron, along with synth and guitar, with full-on strings on The Cradle Of Civilization, while An Old Man's Lament opens with an excellent string part, repeated when it all quietens down again, all sampled, sadly. All in all, an album of the kind to frighten your neighbours and/or close relatives, unless they're perfectly used to you playing stuff like this while wearing corpsepaint, too much leather and a bullet belt or, indeed, wear them themselves. I refuse to cast aspersions on your neighbours and/or close relatives.
The Brooklyn-based Mornings Benders are a fairly typical US indie outfit, going by their second full-lengther, 2010's Big Echo, which is a nice way of saying that it's a pretty dull affair, largely bereft of melodies that fall outside the modern conception of 'commercial'. If you excised most of the vocal parts from the album and looped a few of the better instrumental sections, it might be more listenable, but as it is... Christopher Chu is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, with strings under the programmed ones on opener Excuses, faint strings on closer Sleeping In and nothing obvious on All Day Daylight, but what little can be heard sounds fairly fake to my ears, so this goes here until/if I should discover otherwise. So; another drippy indie album. Why? Why?
2008's Memory Muscle is 'Britpop survivors' Bluetones' vocalist Mark Morriss' first (and to date, only) solo album, giving him a break from their indie thing and allowing him to do something outside the confines of a band setting. Most of its material is slow-paced, almost funereal, and while two or three chirpier numbers give the album a sense of balance, the slow ones tend to work better, notably acoustic opener How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back, the organ-heavy So It Goes and his version of Lee Hazlewood's My Autumn's Done Come. Gordon Mills adds a little samplotron flute melody to How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back.
Flo Morrissey is a young British singer-songwriter, whose debut, 2015's Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful, is pleasant enough, its best material (Betrayed, I Only Like His Hat, Not Him, the closing title track) having a certain fragile beauty. Unfortunately, even under forty minutes of it is a bit much for the listener looking for a little variety, as you won't find that much of it here. Producer Noah Georgeson is credited with Mellotron, but I hope the strings on Pages Of Gold aren't supposed to be one, while the background flutes on Sleeplessly Dreaming are most unlikely to be more than samples. Pleasant, yet also a little dull.
Spock's Beard's guitarist, Alan Morse, always seems overshadowed by his prolific, extroverted brother Neal (below), although he's a very talented chap in his own right. 2007's fully-instrumental Four O'Clock & Hysteria is his sole solo release to date, displaying a previously-hidden love of (and talent for) fusion, for better or worse. Although the bulk of the album concentrates on jazz-rock in many of its countless attributes, Morse does veer off-piste here and there; The Rite Of Left's a much rockier proposition than most of the material here, while Major Buzz is slightly closer to standard Spock's, if you ignore the fusion violin/guitar duel... Bro' Neal plays keys on the album, making it quite certain that the 'Mellotron' choirs on The Rite Of Left are sampled, not that there's much doubt in the matter anyway. Overall, this is less an album for Spock's fans and more one for fusioneers, with top-notch playing all round, although too much of the material is rather by-numbers, losing the album a good half star.
Neal Morse kicked off his solo career while still seemingly happily the leader of Spock's Beard, with his eponymous debut in 1999. Those expecting a Spock's carbon copy have come to the wrong place; sensibly, Morse took the opportunity to record material that may not have worked so well for the band, although the heartfelt/cheesy (delete according to taste) ballad Emma and the closing four-part epic, A Whole Nother Trip, could have fitted quite easily onto, say, V. Much of the remainder veers far too close to AOR for this listener's comfort, though Morse could (rightly) be accused of sailing far too close to the wind on this issue right through his career. The 'Mellotron' on the album is highly suspect, not least as Morse doesn't own one, and apart from the drums, the whole thing was recorded 'at my house', so I've finally taken the decision to move it here. Anyway, faint strings on Lost Cause, Landslide and Nowhere Fast, although nothing in its obvious home, A Whole Nother Trip. Morse followed it with It's Not Too Late two years later, which is apparently very mainstream pop/rock; no idea if there's any 'Mellotron', though.
Morse's second solo effort, '99's It's Not Too Late, is very self-consciously 'not prog', allowing him to release his inner, er, Billy Joel, unfortunately. At an hour, it's a good fifteen minutes too long, its song-based format responding badly to thirteen frequently overlong tracks, many of which could have chopped a minute or more of pointless piano jamming and chummy studio chat from their length. The 'downhome' lyrics are another sticking point, reaching their apotheosis on the preachy Broken Homes and I Am Your Father, both of which are enough to make you want to leave your spouse on the spot, just to spite him. Fakeotron on three tracks, with strings on Leah, the cheeso I Am Your Father and closer The Wind And The Rain, but I can't imagine they'll make any difference to your purchasing decision.
Oh Christ... Exactly. Morse made his dramatic exit from Spock's in 2002, after 'hearing the word', i.e. becoming a full-on God-botherer. Now, I'm all for religious freedom (including, of course, the freedom to have none at all), but when a public figure suddenly starts ranting about having seen the light, then seemingly throws up their career, you have to wonder if what's happening isn't nearer to nervous breakdown than Damascene conversion (see: Rick Wakeman...). Looking back, I suppose we should've been expecting this; I haven't heard his Christmas CD, Merry Christmas From the Morse Family (thank you very much), but I'm told it's absolutely excruciating. Musically, Testimony isn't that bad, although not a patch on the best 'Beard stuff (than again, nor are later 'Beard albums); its most irritating quality is the sickly lyrical content, with reams of 'I love God so much' stuff that can turn the stomach of the non-believer. I mean, Oh Lord My God? WHY does all 'Christian music' have such a restrictive lyrical palette? I suppose it's what defines it as 'Christian'... Whatever happened to singing about life, love, an' all that? Maybe they'd argue that since God apparently encompasses all of those things, that's exactly what they are doing. Sorry, but gimme real-life stuff or, in fact, anything but this. Ironically, Oh Lord My God is the point at which the largely anodyne second disc picks up, but there you go... I've seen online reviews (from non-Christians) that rate this as one of the best albums of 2003, Morse's best work ever, etc., but I'm afraid I really can't see it. I mean, it's quite good in places, but harmonically, Morse is a one-trick pony, and he pulls out his usual chordal stuff yet again; I suppose at least you know it's him.
There's a real string section all over the album, but in many places, that 'Tron sound comes leaking through the mix, although I know Morse uses samples at home (see the diary page on his website). Restrained string use on most of the highlighted tracks above, although it sounds like flutes on Sleeping Jesus and Wasted Life, and choir on several, including California Nights and Moving In My Heart, although the gospel choir (as in The Water from The Light) obfuscate the issue. It's more than possible that I've got it entirely wrong above, and it's on more, or fewer tracks than I've listed; real strings, synths and massed harmony vocals don't help, but there you go. So; your potential enjoyment of Testimony rather depends on whether or not you a) are a Christian, b) aren't bothered by the lyrical content if you aren't, or c) can simply ignore it. I can usually get round dodgy lyrical content by simply not listening, but it's so overt here that it's impossible to ignore. It would seem that the medium really is the message in this case, and this is, as the title says, Morse's Christian testimony to the world. There are artists who manage to put their spiritual message across without beating you over the head with it (the wonderful King's X spring to mind), but Morse doesn't appear to be one of them, so although the music isn't bad, I have to say, approach with extreme caution.
The basis of Morse's concept for 2004's One appears to be what botherers refer to as a 'crisis of faith', which he overcame, of course, otherwise we might have been presented with an album with less puke-inducing lyrics. HOWEVER... I have to say that I found this a far easier listen than its predecessor, despite Morse's ongoing total obsession with an imaginary deity; maybe the lyrics are actually less all-consumingly barking? Not sure, but while the musical palette remains the same, I wasn't offended as I was with Testimony. Musically, Author Of Confusion resembles the heavier stuff Spock's do occasionally, before lurching into one of Morse's patented multi-vocal parts, although most of the tracks do that standard Morse thing - you know, just like later Spock's. Towards the end of the album, he uses a small string section in preference to the 'Tron', with a brass section on closer Reunion, but otherwise, it's business as usual, with sampled 'Tron choir and strings dipping in and out during the lengthy The Creation, what I take to be flutes on The Man's Gone, watery strings on Author Of Confusion and repeats of these throughout. The booklet pics show both a smaller Hammond and a MiniMoog, but no Mellotron, so I think I'm fairly safe in assuming sample use.
? has to have one of the most confusing titles I've seen in a while - you try searching for it on Google... It doesn't differ markedly from its predecessors, although it could be argued that it's slightly more musically diverse, notably Solid As The Sun, with its brass and programmed beats. Lyrically, there are absolutely no surprises at all, with Morse obviously having completely regained his faith in something that doesn't exist, writing about it with nauseating intensity. Jolly good... Why bleat on to us about it, though? Maybe some of us would like to hear your music without being preached to about this post-nervous breakdown drivel? Also, do you think, Mr. Morse, you could stop regurgitating your early albums? In a ten year-plus career, the essential difference between the thirteen (count 'em) albums of original material you've produced is largely only apparent to those immersed in the progressive genre, and even then, the similarities are far more obvious than the differences. At least this album comes in at under an hour, rather than filling the disc to capacity, as you do so often... Anyway, the usual 'Mellotron' strings/choirs/flutes combo on most tracks, sounding more and more like good, high-end samples to my ears.
2007's Sola Scriptura repeats the by-now standard Morse trick of combining some seriously good material (notably opening epic The Door) with some right old schlock (Heaven In My Heart), although the expected God-bothering lyrics are ubiquitous, of course. As also expected, the album's far too long; the deletion of the aforementioned Heaven In My Heart and an editing of the three multi-part tracks would've improved things no end. Reasonable samplotron use, the strings sometimes alongside real ones. The same year brought a double live offering, ? Live, mostly featuring material from ? and One, Morse fielding a crack team, although the ubiquitous female backing vocals wear thin after a while. Of course, the album's religious content makes it rather hard work for the unfaithful - the preaching in Entrance is particularly hard to bear - but many of the instrumental passages (almost) make up for it. The overall effect, though, is of a lengthy show with a high God quotient, knocking a good half star from its rating. Samplotron throughout, mostly strings and choirs.
I'm afraid to say that with 2008's Lifeline, I think I've reached the end of my solo Morse tether. Another overlong album that sounds like a parody of Spock's Beard. Another identikit set of schlocky Godbothering lyrics: 'Jesus is my lifeline' my arse. Another album that occasionally does exactly what you want it to do, then blows it in spectacular fashion. Aaarghh. The by-now obligatory limited edition bonus disc pairs covers (a blinding take on The Osmonds' killer Crazy Horses, decent versions of The Box Tops' The Letter and Brinsley Schwarz/Elvis Costello's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding) with a couple of outtakes and messarounds, making it actually far more listenable than the regular album, even the original material. Maybe Morse should've released it instead. Plenty of samplotron, sounding really obvious in places, just to dispel any residual doubts I may have over putting these here.
For some reason, Morse felt the need to record a sequel to Testimony, 2011's Testimony 2, where he explains, in no uncertain terms, how his daughter's life-threatening illness essentially caused him to suffer a breakdown and leave Spock's Beard, getting off the road for the sake of his family. So that's what happened... To say the man wears his heart on his sleeve would be an understatement; I can't imagine many modern artists, particularly in the prog field, writing lyrics as nakedly honest as these. Musically, it's the usual, unsurprisingly, although Morse gets to quote various early Spock's tracks to greater or lesser degrees: opener Mercy Street is a thinly-veiled rewrite of Beware of Darkness's The Doorway, with quotes from the same album's Time Has Come and The Light's The Water cropping up, too. Despite the standard overtly-Christian lyrics (frankly, I find the assertion that God 'healed' his daughter faintly bizarre), this is one of Morse's better recent efforts. Plenty of fairly obvious samplotron, too.
2012's Momentum is definitely one of Morse's better recent releases, or is it simply that I haven't exposed myself to his work for several years? I have to report that he hasn't moved on harmonically from his early Spock's days, although when Thoughts (Part 5) samples the synth FX from the original piece, it's clearly homage, rather than ripoff. To my surprise, while the 33-minute World Without End (complete with horrible Christian lyrics) is thoroughly overblown, it kind-of works, although its last ten minutes seem to be taken up by an exceedingly extended ending. Plenty of samplotron strings and choirs, alongside real strings in places. Incidentally, 2014's horrendously cheesy Songs From November is mercifully samplotron-free, so I don't have to spend several paragraphs telling you how utterly awful it is. It is shite, though.
So; buying these albums means you have a cast-iron constitution, or are a Christian. Or both. Spock's Beard fans should probably get the better ones, but only if they can ignore the lyrics - I'm serious. Musically, it's pretty much the same old same old, but there's an awful lot worse than Neal Morse doing Neal Morse again.
Although they've been around in one form or another since 2000, 2014's Vola is Mosaico's first album, a solid Italian progressive effort that does all the right things in all the right places. Does that sound a little dismissive? I don't mean it to, but several of the album's (relatively short) tracks fail to ignite in the way their best forebears could at the drop of a hat. Saying that, the folkier, accordion-driven Il Critico, Il Profano, L'Artista and Questa Santa Umanità stand out by doing something different, while the band's progressive credentials are assured via the full-on '70s Italianisms of Il Nuovo Potere, although jazzy, sax-driven closer Sopravvivere sounds like it belongs on another album. But then, since when did bands have to concentrate on one narrow genre, eh? Since the '90s, is the answer; '70s bands cheerfully switched between styles on a whim, so ignore the above remark. Keys man Nicola Cambri supposedly plays 'Mellotron', but the background strings on Il Critico, Il Profano, L'Artista and even more background choirs (briefly) heard on Materia E Vita are fairly obviously sampled. In fact, they're used so sparingly that I'm not even sure why the band bothered with them; so they could put a 'Mellotron' credit? Stranger things have happened... Their minimal use is irrelevant, frankly; buy this because it's a new Italian band having a decent stab at resurrecting their country's past musical glories.
Folky husband/wife duo Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou emerged from the ashes of indie hopefuls Indigo Moss, releasing their second album, Quality, First, Last & Forever!, in 2011. Although the excellent Cheap Wine has a distinctly Appalachian edge to it, it's merely a blip on the album's overwhelming Englishness, typified by the likes of A Hill Far, Far Away and Feel At Ease. Richard Causon is credited with Mellotron, but given that the album was 'recorded
in a derelict 14th century pub', the not-that-real-sounding flutes on All Been For Nothing seem more than likely to've been sourced from a sample set, despite the band's generally high levels of authenticity. Overall, a lovely album, more Fairport than modern indie, thankfully, but don't expect any real Mellotron.
Shockingly, the original version of The Motels (The Warfield Foxes) coalesced as early as 1971, with Martha Davis on vocals, although it took a name-change, a split and a reformation (including drummer Brian Glascock, elder brother of now late Carmen/Jethro Tull bassist John) for them to break through in 1979. After splitting in 1987, Davis put a new lineup together a decade later, releasing So the Story Goes in 2005, following up with the Australian-only Clean Modern & Reasonable two years later. Containing mostly acoustic versions of old Motels hits, non-hits and Davis solo material, it's surprising just how few tracks I recognise, as in 'none'; have they been changed out of all recognition, were they never any kind of name in the UK, or am I just being dense? I'm afraid to say, none of it actually grabbed my attention, either; maybe you had to be a fan first time round. Davis, Nick Johns and Matthew Morgan are all credited with Mellotron, with flutes on Take The L and strings on Superstar, although it's quite clearly sampled. Frankly, unless you're already a fan, I wouldn't bother anyway.
Moth Vellum were a one-off Californian progressive outfit whose sole, eponymous album appeared in 2007. I'm not going to make any claims of originality for Moth Vellum; it's very much in thrall to its influences, but at least it doesn't come across as some post-neo-prog horror or yet another 'modern prog' effort, all riffing guitars and overly dramatic vocals. What we get here is almost a straight cross between mid-'70s Genesis and Yes, the latter especially in the vocal department. The album suffers from the usual problems on the originality front; its contents are well-written symphonic prog, but the band offer nothing new to the genre, merely regurgitating the usual time-worn clichés, admittedly in a reasonably pleasing fashion. Another standard Planet Mellotron complaint regarding recent progressive output is albums' excessive length. At nearly an hour, this is no exception and, just for once, could be easily (semi-) remedied by losing five-minute closer Against The Suns (Reprise), which adds nothing to the whole. Tom Lynham's 'Mellotron' is quite clearly sampled, with strings all over opener Let The Race Begin and strings and occasional flutes on most other tracks. Re-reading what I've just written, I seem to have been a little harsh; prog fans stand a good chance of loving this to bits, especially if they give it more airtime than is possible 'round these parts. Decent enough sympho, then, but no obvious unique stylistic quirks to make it stand out from the crowd.
Talk talk, talk, talk talk... Er, Talk Talk? In the four years since their first album, Mothlite have only become more like Talk Talk, only without any of the good bits, merely retaining their debut's failed attempts to fuse post-rock and pop. Are there any best tracks? Not really, only better bits, such as the sequenced synth that opens Dark Age, quickly subverted into the backing track to yet another dreary dirge, which pretty much sums up the rest of the album. Daniel O'Sullivan plays Mellotron samples on a handful of tracks, with warbly flutes on Seeing In The Dark, murky string stabs on The Blood and background strings on Zebras, but I'm not sure why he even bothered using them, as they add little to the overall soundscape. If you liked The Flax of Reverie, you probably won't like this and if you didn't, there really is no hope.
Motis were originally a one-man band, consisting of Emmanuel 'Motis' Tissot on all instruments, before expanding to a trio in 2004. Unlike so many other Continental prog outfits of the last couple of decades, we're not looking at tired, rehashed neo-prog drivel here, but inventive progressive rock that references both the genre's forbears, including the ubiquitous Ange and the more worthwhile Gallic acts of recent years, not least Halloween and Minimum Vital. Another obvious comparison are unsung French medieval folk-rock heroes Malicorne, whose catalogue's general unavailability is an ongoing travesty. According to their website, Motis released two studio and three live albums under their own steam before hooking up with Musea for 2004's Prince des Hauteurs, loosely comparable to the first Willowglass album, although, unlike them, Motis were no longer a solo project by this point. Its content strays interestingly and welcomingly from prog orthodoxy in places, not least Le Rire Et L'Épée's chanson moments and the 'none more Celtic' bagpipes on closer Cornemuse. Sampled Mellotron throughout, with choirs on Chanson à Boire and Sorcellerie, strings on the title track, Le Rire Et L'Épée and Les Damnés, with more of the same on a few other tracks. Little of the use is anything other than standard background chordal work, but it all adds to the overall effect. What a shame it isn't real...
They followed up in 2007 with L'Homme-Loup, featuring a slightly more 'rock' sound in places, possibly due to better integration of the new members. It's hard to say if this is a 'better' work than its predecessor; despite having much in common with it, it's a different album, and doesn't bear direct comparison. Again, some welcome 'non-standard' parts, not least the raucous, jazzy trumpet solo on Madrigal. 'Mellotron' on most tracks again, with choirs on Isengrin, strings and choirs on P'tit Louis, then, unusually, rather murky mixed brass on L'Ermite, with more strings, flutes (notably on the title track) and choirs throughout. I don't know what the first two Motis albums sound like; folkier, I suspect. These two records are really very good, even if you're not quite so into the folk end of things, as there's plenty of crossover with more 'mainstream' prog (is that an oxymoron these days?). Plenty of sampled 'Tron, not all 'standard' use, either, which makes a nice change. Recommended. Incidentally, although various older bits of kit are credited, I'd take all of them with a pinch of salt; all the live albums credit 'Taurus', yet all that's visible in the live pics on their site is a set of Roland MIDI pedals. So much for that, then.
Motorpsycho (Norway) see:
It seems Moullinex (didn't they make kitchen gadgets?) is a 'he', not a 'they', so I can refer to 'his' second album, 2015's Elsewhere. How to describe? One part synthpop, one part disco, one part indie, perhaps. Tempted? Thought not. Actually, he does it pretty well, to be fair, better tracks including Elsewhere itself and the sequencer-driven Lies Pt. II, although, for those not into his shtick, it all begins to drag after a few tracks. Luis Clara Gomes is credited with Mellotron, but in Portugal? Today? Anyway, flutes on Trip Advisor and Take A Chance, most likely sampled, although that would seem to be it. Not bad at what it does, then, but nothing you need to worry about too much.
Richard Moult is apparently a poet and artist as well as musician; unsurprisingly, upon hearing his work, he has a Current 93/neofolk connection. I believe 2011's Celestial King for a Year is his second full-length album, consisting of three lengthy tracks of droning strings and ethereal vocals, the 'side-long' Part III being the most dissonant of the three. Moult is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be surprised if the distant, reverbed-to-death choirs on Part III were played on a real machine. Then again... To be honest, it's difficult to know what else to say about this; it's full of string drones, it's ethereal... I've said all that already, haven't I? Anyway, one for the Coil fan in your life.
Mountain Witch is an EP of instrumental doom, bookended by two tracks of ambience, effectively. There's little to choose between the three 'main' tracks; think: Sabbath on downers minus Ozzy, while Prologue (Intro) and End (Outro) do their jobs efficiently. Rene Roggmann's 'Mellotron' consists of various choir, cello and flute samples on the two bookend pieces.
The stupendously-named Mouth (has no-one actually used that name before?) are a heavy psych outfit of the 'we love to jam' variety. I think Vortex is their second proper (as against demo) album, a filthy, distorted, rather wonderful mess of driving psych/blues, although the opening title track lacks something in the way of originality, coming across as a kind of Uriah Heep homage, complete with pseudo-July Morning riff and pseudo-Mick Box soloing. Yes, that clunky. Samplotron from Chris Koller, with background choirs on Vortex itself, strings on Mountain and Soon After and other elements buried in the mix.
As far as I can ascertain, 2014's Fickle Island is Angela Moyra's debut album, a slight, albeit breezy singer-songwriter effort, presumably designed to appeal to the producers of various currently popular American TV shows. She tempers her insipid songwriting and delivery with elements of ragtime (specifically) and jazz (generally), but several tracks 'featuring' her ukulele are several tracks too many. Although Reyn Ouwehand has several entries on this site, I really don't think that the polyphonic flute parts on Emma's Island, Fickle and Draw A Picture have anything to do with a genuine Mellotron. Too slick, frankly. A bit like the album, really. Not recommended.
It seems that Jason Mraz has only released self-financed live recordings prior to his major label debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come. Well, I hope they're better than this; bland, 'modern', 'alternative'... Boring covers it, I think. I'm told the lyrics are the most important thing about Mraz' music; I bloody hope so, 'cos the music's dull as ditchwater. He covers a variety of styles, frequently singing those 'half melodies' that seem to be so popular at the moment; you know, a tune that isn't really a tune at all (see: Oasis) and his voice irritates after a few numbers, too. Possibly the most infuriating thing about Waiting for My Rocket to Come is that a few song intros promise something interesting (notably The Boy's Gone), then fail to deliver. Surprisingly, about the best thing here is a rather drippy ballad, Absolutely Zero, but I wouldn't take that as a recommendation, if I were you. Samplotron on one track, with rather tremulous cellos on Who Needs Shelter, from Michael Andrews. Sadly, Mraz' only other samplotron album isn't the one moment of genuine wit in his career, viz titling his second album Mr. A-Z, but his fifth, Yes! (surely No!?) It's every bit as insipid as his first, which is quite an achievement, in its own way. Is there a 'best track'? Perhaps closer Shine, with its (very) slightly trippy feel, sitar and all, which isn't to say that it's actually any good. Mellotron? Mike Mogis, who has some presence on this site, is credited, but I'd love to know where it's supposed to be. I mean, there's literally nothing that even sounds slightly like one, so I shall assume samples, used inaudibly. Jason Mraz: making music for people with no imagination or personality since 2002.
Muff Potter (named for a character in Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer) sit somewhere in between alt.rock and punk, a little like a German Hüsker Dü, maybe. Heute Wird Gewonnen, Bitte was their fourth album, mostly cracking along at breakneck speed, although it occasionally drops below 900 k.p.h., notably on Die Etwas Öde Ballade Der Tristessa M. and Die Hymne. Sebastian Hack's 'Mellotron' amounts to no more than distant samplotron strings on Das Ernte 23 Dankfest and Am 5. Oktober, Wie Jedes Jahr.
The Sweetheart Break-in is an album of sparse, piano-and-vocal pieces, Megan Mullally's rather torchy voice suiting her chosen material perfectly. Unfortunately, the end result is as dull as ditchwater unless you're really into this stuff, I suspect. I really don't know why Greg Kuehn is credited with Mellotron.
Here's another of Nick Hewitt's fantastically vitriolic CCM reviews. Bring it on, Nick!
Before I get stuck into the meat of the review, I should explain the format of this collection, which is tinged with a bit of sadness. On the 10th of September 1997, Rich Mullins went into an abandoned church, armed with his guitar and a battery operated cassette recorder and played 9 songs for a project titled '10 Songs for Jesus'. Nine days later, he died in a car crash. Two months later, the ragamuffin band re-recorded these 9 songs, added a tenth and put them on a CD, which they called the Jesus record. (Note - the capitalization, or rather the lack of it, was their idea, not mine!) They also 'cleaned up' Mr. Mullins' original cassette recording and added it as a separate CD, calling it the Jesus Demos. I don't think Mr. Mullins was a member of a ragamuffin band, but I suspect he was close friends of theirs, at least.
It has to be said that the Jesus record is the epitome of the Christian philosophy, when it comes to music, that "...it is the message that is important". Well, if that's the case, why bother with the music? On the basis of this distortion of the range of frequencies audible to the human ear, the music is utterly irrelevant. The lyrical content of this lot can easily be deduced, so that's half the review done (thank God - pun intended!) The actual music is the most uninspired, bland, innocuous dreck ranging from light country through MOR to the syruppiest glop you have ever heard. It is difficult to imagine precisely whom these people are trying to appeal to, as absolutely no thought or effort is required by the listener at all. If you have something to say, then print it on re-cycled soft toilet paper and give it away. In my opinion, Rich Mullins' original renditions (the Jesus demos) should have been left alone, as the ragamuffin band contributed nothing of any musical value at all. This CD provides the best possible reason to avoid CCM. For Mellotronic reasons (or the lack of them, as it later transpired) I listened to other Rich Mullins AND ragamuffin band product, and they have done a helluva lot better than this, both before and after the Jesus record. Mr. Mullins' contribution can, in effect, be ignored, because 1) it was intended to include his contribution as demos, and 2) being dead, he didn't have much say over the quality control.
Oh yes, the Mellotron. Sorry - I was recovering from the gastric distress that this CD has induced. 'Tron appears on one track only, Nothing Is Beyond You, which is provided by guest musician Tim Lauer. It's difficult to spot as it's swamped to some degree by real strings, but it is definitely there. A quick burst of flutes followed by a bit of 'Tron strings followed by another shot of flutes [all sampled. Ed.]. Nothing up-front, which is not really unexpected. For the purposes of promotion, some record companies add a little something with the record/CD, like a poster. This should have come with at least 4 ounces of Semtex. Avoid.
Shawn Mullins is an American singer-songwriter, active from the early '90s onwards. Going by his performance on 2000's Beneath the Velvet Sun, his half-spoken vocal style reminds one of a more tuneful Dylan, although a major-label production does him no favours, with irritating loops (what, no jigs or reels?) smothering what should be a natural sound. The best track (to my ears, anyway) is the folky Yellow Dog Song, all acoustic guitar and mandolin, with not a sample in sight, the other more acoustic-based material having too much 'production' to work well. Doubt if Sony agree, mind you; contemporary productions sell records! Just ask Dido. At first glance, the track-by-track credits make this look like a veritable cornucopia of tape-replay, with Mellotron or Chamberlin on six tracks, variously from Mullins himself, Anthony J. Resta and Kim Bullard, although the reality is somewhat different. There's completely inaudible Mellotron on Everywhere I Go, while the Chamberlin on Amy's Eyes is similarly discorporeal, unless it's the source of that weird sustained string sound that crops up every now and again. The only other relevant track that has anything even slightly audible is the distant Chamby strings (as against the real ones on several tracks) on Santa Fe, all sampled, anyway.
Ethnomusicologist Nick Mulvey was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize with the Portico Quartet, although he left the band for a solo career in 2011. 2014's First Mind is, er, the first fruit of said career, a solid singer-songwriter effort, refreshing in its relative lack of twee, insipid material (see: almost everyone else in the genre), although its highlights tend to be more on the lyric front than the musical (honourable exception: closer The World To Me). Those being? A namecheck for London's Shacklewell Lane in Meet Me There, Nitrous, maybe Ailsa Craig. Mulvey gets a Mellotron credit on Fever To The Form, but if those few seconds of high strings are supposed to be a real machine, then I don't know much about Mellotrons, frankly. Not bad, then, but probably not something you're going to want to seek out too urgently.
Going by 2001's Haunted Gardenias, Darin Murphy (younger brother of the better-known Trish, below) sits firmly in powerpop territory, albeit not at the 'slavish recreation of the B bands' end of the genre. Top tracks? Raucous opener Metro B, Masterpiece and Flat, maybe. Philip Edwards' supposed Mellotron strings on Masterpiece and Turning Into You and flutes on Boxing Day (I Belong With You) and Blackberry Plain, however, are fairly blatant samples.
Elliott Murphy is one of those artists who've been around seemingly forever but who have passed completely under my radar, although he released his first album as far back as 1973. Living in Paris for the last twenty years, Murphy's a bit of a renaissance man, having written for the music press, even spitting out several novels and short stories. I'd imagine 2002's Soul Surfing is fairly typical of his oeuvre, being a collection of songs sung in his conversational style, like a lightweight Irish-American Dylan, maybe, or Mark Knopfler if he was actually a Yank. It's the kind of record that would appeal to a great many people if they actually got the chance to hear it, although anyone looking for musical innovation should probably go elsewhere. Kenny Margolis plays alleged Chamberlin strings (alongside real cello) on Tell Me and near-inaudible samplotron strings on Nothing Can Take The Place Of You. Murphy followed up with 2003's ambitious double-disc Strings of the Storm, probably stretching his talent a little thin, but if the songs are pouring out, what's a man to do? Like so many similar artists, bleating on about the music's repetitiveness is rather missing the point, as it's chiefly a vehicle for the lyrics, the best of which are to be heard on The Poet And The Priest, although he's no slouch on the wordage front across the board. Margolis just on samplotron this time round, with flutes on Look Around You.
As has been pointed out by various online reviewers, 2005's Murphy Gets Muddy (with Olivier Durand) is a thoroughly bemusing release. Given that Murphy's been living in Paris for the last couple of decades, working with local musicians makes sense, but an esteemed songwriter recording blues standards? Pourquoi? The band seem to have little idea of how to play this music, Murphy's voice isn't suited to it, it's utterly clichéd and has been done better around a million times already. It's not all bad, by any means, largely due to the handful of originals (notably lengthy closer The Beginning And The End), but too many bland, overlong renditions of overly familiar material do not a great listening experience make. Above all else, this album commits the cardinal sin of being boring. Margolis adds samplotron flute chords to Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues. The following year's Coming Home Again (also co-credited to Durand) sees Murphy back on track, that track being the same one carved out many years earlier by Bob Dylan; even his backing musicians are trying to sound like The Band. OK, it's essentially all about the lyrics, but the material is, once again, overlong and repetitive, making listening to the album something of a chore. Margolis is supposedly on Mellotron once more, although the sustained string notes on As Good As and A Touch Of Kindness, not to mention the strings on closer Home Again really don't ring true. 2013's It Takes a Worried Man sees Murphy back on top form, highlights including Little Big Man (chiefly for its lyrics), Murphyland, the Pink Floyd at full throttle of I Am Empty and He's Gone, although it starts to unravel over the last few tracks. Margolis and Gaspard Murphy are both credited with Mellotron, but amongst the un-Mellotronic string and choir parts, the nearest they get to 'authentic' is the flutes on Then You Start Crying.
Trish Murphy's Rubies on the Lawn is a rootsy, Americana-ish album, at its best on opener Outsider, Runaway Train and atypical orchestral closer Vanilla Sun (Reprise). Jim Ebert supposedly plays Mellotron, but the vague, background flutes on her version of (These) Boots (Are Made For Walkin') sound sampled.
Pete Murray was apparently intending to make a career in sports medicine, before being diverted by music (happens to the best of us, mate). Unless most of us, however, Murray's albums sell in the hundreds of thousands, probably because they're full of bland, mainstream singer-songwriter fare and are well-promoted by his record company. Cynical? Moi? Anyway, 2008's Summer at Eureka, his fourth release, is a pretty dull affair, although pop/rock opener Chance To Say Goodbye, with its Neil Young-esque guitar solo, is the least bad thing here. Murray's then-keyboard player, Ben McCarthy, plays uncredited 'Mellotron' strings on opener Chance To Say Goodbye, credited strings and flutes on Saving Grace and a pair of string lines on Silver Cloud, all sampled.
Ants & Angels is, by and large, a powerpop album, although Peter Murray dips into the Americana well occasionally, notably on closer Heavy Sleeper. Top tracks? Opener Gen X DJ On E, Skydiver Friends, Never Easy, Ears Make Wax... All-round excellence, really. Samplotron? Obvious flutes on Angels, less obvious strings elsewhere.
Spanish duo Mus sing in the Asturian dialect, although the average listener probably isn't going to notice. Online hagiographies use phrases like '...evoke images of pure beauty', 'innovators in the creation of sounds and atmospheres' and 'opt for gleaming hypnotic guitars', although they sound, to my ears, like a fairly typical 'quietcore' indie outfit. 2007's La Vida is far from 'awful', but equally far from 'great', although I'm sure indie buffs will wet their pants over Mónica Vacas' breathy vocals. Fran Gayo plays samplotron, with a major flute part on Cantares De Ciegu, running right through the track and flute solos on Una Ventana Col Iluz, Una Sábana Al Vientu and Perdieron La Tierra.
Before you all write in to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about (usually true, in fairness), this particular Muse are nothing to do with Matt Bellamy's mob from the UK (see below), themselves confusingly also Mellotron users. In fact, I picked Arcana up expecting it to be one of their early albums, only to serendipitously discover that it was a completely different band from a different country who just happened to use a Mellotron, too. Weird. Ironically, the two acts don't sound that dissimilar, both trading in a kind of overwrought stadium pop/rock, with vocalist Paul Isaac over-emoting to an irritating degree. I blame U2. Anyway, the music's probably OK at what it does, but what it does gets on my nerves, having seemingly zero originality and little compositional depth, though in a straight fist-fight with most mainstream pop, this wins hands down. Bassist Ari Eisenstein also plays keys on the album, though, to be honest, they're pretty much inaudible throughout; the only (sampled) Mellotron I can even remotely hear is about two flute chords on closer Two Clouds Away.
The amusingly-overblown Muse formed while still at school, releasing their first EP in 1998 and their debut album, Showbiz, the following year. Comparisons with Queen aren't invalid, although they seem to have missed that band's sense of humour, though not their pomposity. The album has a few decent songs, not least EP lead track Muscle Museum, but despite its vast sales figures (so?), we're not talking 'classic' here. Vocalist/guitarist/apparently untrained pianist Matt Bellamy plays credited Mellotron on three tracks, but there's not an awful lot to be heard. The chief use is the background strings on Muscle Museum, with what I presume are Mellotron cellos on Unintended and Hate This & I'll Love You, but it's all sampled, I reckon.
Muse followed up with 2001's Origin of Symmetry (an obscure mathematical theory, I believe), not dissimilar to its predecessor in its utterly overblown pomposity, although, somehow, there's something about their ridiculousness that I can't help... admiring? Not sure, but songs like opener New Born, Citizen Erased and Darkshines have a certain something about them, even if the album overall suffers from a fatiguing density of production and Bellamy's appalling voice. On the samplotron front, Bellamy plays a brief string swell on New Born, background strings on the chorus (such as it is) of Space Dementia and what sound like distant strings on Micro Cuts. The band's Muscle Museum EP's been quoted as a Mellotron release, too, but probably for its title track, available on Showbiz anyway, as none of the other various EP and b-side tracks from the era feature any.
Portland's Musée Mécanique (named in honour of a San Franciscan museum) are generally referred to as 'indie folk'; in other words, musicians who would like to play folk, but are too steeped in indie ineptitude to do so properly. They debuted with 2008's Hold This Ghost, an album that almost manages to do something interesting, but falls at the last hurdle, better tracks including The Things That I Know and Under Glass, worser ones being Fits And Starts, a rather pointless country ballad that goes nowhere and the tiresome, over-arranged Nothing Glorious, for what it's worth. The album opens with samplotron flutes and strings over an acoustic backing, with many more sounds involved, not least female choirs and vibes, to the point where they lose any of the 'specialness' they should be able to invoke. Musée Mécanique try hard, but will have to kick out many musical misnomers they clearly hold dear if they're to improve.
Kacey Musgraves is a young country singer-songwriter who's upset a few people in the ultra-conservative world of C&W by refusing to toe the line. Good. I won't pretend that anything on her fifth album, 2015's Pageant Material, does anything radically musically, but lyrics such as Dime Store Cowgirl and the caustic Good Ol' Boys Club should shove a stick into a Grand Ol' anthill, with any luck. Ian Fitchuk is credited with Mellotron. Where? If you're going to go to the trouble of sourcing a real machine these days, you'd have thought you'd make it audible, so I strongly suspect that samples were used and left buried in the mix somewhere. A reasonable country album then, but no obvious Mellotron, sampled or otherwise.
Mushroom (US) see:
Rome's Mushroom's Patience are (or were), effectively, Raffaele "Dither Craf" Cerroni's alter-ego, releasing music since the early '80s. It seems that 2014's Jellyfish is his/their last studio release, for reasons unknown; I presume its combination of synthpop, electronica, avant-jazz and all-out experimentation is typical of the project's oeuvre. Better tracks? To be frank (hi, Frank), the bulk of the hour-plus album left me cold, the sole exception being closer Solar Rain's organ-and-birdsong combo, which has something of The Floyd's A Saucerful Of Secrets about it. 'Craf' is credited with Mellotron, but the 'infinite sustain' choirs on Patricia are blatantly sampled, as are the cello/double bass on the title track, which drop well below the Mellotron's lowest note. I'm sure this is good at what it does, but I'm afraid I find myself unable to recommend it to my regular readers.
Musica Reservata were a Japanese progressive act whose Paranoiac Ocean might be their only release; information on the band is hard-won. It combines avant- and symphonic stylings with Crimsonesque Mellotron work, female vocals and hard rock guitar, making for a minor stylistic mish-mash, albeit one with several strong points. However, at over an hour, this is decidedly too long, its final track, Kumikyoku Mosō No Umi, being (gulp) nearly forty minutes long, said track featuring many eminently editable minutes of (as it's known in the trade) 'messing about'. Overall, however, this is so much better than the vast majority of recent-ish prog that it feels churlish to criticise. Masao Inoue's 'Mellotron' isn't, with distant choirs and upfront sampled strings on opener Kuchu No Teien, strings on Innerpop and really quite ropey choir and string samples on Kumikyoku Mosō No Umi.
My Brightest Diamond is effectively Shara Worden's solo project, whose third album, 2011's All Things Will Unwind, showcases her unusual juxtapositioning of influences, which range from film soundtracks through chamber music and vaudeville to indie/folk. To be perfectly honest, I can't say the results work for this listener; the clarinets, piccolo and celeste sit uneasily with the Sufjan Stevens-esque material, probably working best on the gentle She Does Not Brave The War, while too many tracks give the impression of a minor sonic mash-up, unsuitable instruments plonked next to each other. Perhaps that's the point. Zac Rae supposedly plays Mellotron, but it's completely inaudible, ditto the Orchestron and the highly distinctive Roland RS-09, amongst others, real strings and woodwinds appearing to cover all bases.
My Brother the Wind are a Swedish improvisational quartet, their best-known member being Anekdoten's Nicklas Barker, whose albums apparently chart in their home country, bizarrely. Their second release, 2011's I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity, covers several psychedelic bases across its fifty-minute length, from the careening madness of thirteen-minute opener Fire! Fire!! through the 12-string drone of Pagan Moonbeam, the Anekdoten-esque (deep breath) The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart, the raga-rock of Torbjörn Abelli, the unsurprisingly Crimsonesque Under Crimson Skies and the mildly lysergic closing title track. But is it any good? Yes, very, came the reply; four individuals who instinctively understand what psychedelic actually means and who can translate it to cold tape, or a reasonable simulation thereof. Barker plays what sounds like his Memotron (or M4000D?), with a decidedly space-rockish string part on Fire! Fire!!, angular strings on The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart and drifting flutes on Under Crimson Skies, all to decent effect. His (presumably) samplotron work isn't the chief reason you should invest in this little delight, though; leave that to the music.
Their next studio recording, 2014's Once There Was a Time When Time & Space Were One, continues in the same vein, albeit with possibly a little less variety than before. Top tracks? Both parts of the highly improvisational Song Of Innocence and the lengthy Garden Of Delights, but there really isn't anything here to upset the determined psychonaut. Barker's samplotron on a couple of tracks, with pitchbent 'infinite sustain' choirs and a handful of high string notes on Garden Of Delights and chordal flutes and strings on Epilogue.
On All the Pieces, My Friend Stephanie play a stylistic mash-up I don't think I've previously encountered: Christian powerpop. The end result is musically successful when the band kick out the jams, less so on the gloopy ballads, as you might expect. Lyrically, of course, is another matter... How much you might like really rather good material such as opener Journey, How Are You and See You Again may well depend on your tolerance for The Message. Two credited Mellotron tracks, although Bill Campbell's flutes on You Are God (told you about those lyrics...) and Scott Bachmann's strings on Time Heals ain't foolin' no-one.
My Little Lover are a Japanese pop group, now comprising just vocalist Akiko "Akko" Kobayashi, since her split from her husband, Takeshi (thank you, Wikipedia). 2006's Akko is their eighth album, I believe, a mainstream-without-being-too-awful release, with synthpop influences on several tracks, in true YMO style. Better tracks include the opener (translates to Chance), the sparse Mayoi Neko and the rock-ish track nine, but there are quite a few horrors present, not least track ten (Inspiration), with its faux-American '70s funk moves and the autotuned vocals on the closing cheeso ballad Itoshii Mainichi. Producer Brad Jones (amusingly credited as 'Producer Brad Jones') plays supposed Chamberlin on track five (which apparently translates as Show Time), with a string part running through the track, seemingly sampled.
Appropriately enough, as I listen to My Morning Jacket's third album, It Still Moves, I'm reading an interview with Neil Young, one of the artists with whom they are constantly compared, not least due to mainman Jim James' voice, although he lacks Neil's fragility, for better or worse. This is music that belongs in the '70s, channelling the songwriting values of the time, which means NO INDIE WHINING! It's so nice to hear a new band (from anywhere) who don't have some dreadful whingeing bore on vocals and don't feel the need to chuck in a bunch of 'contemporary' production tricks (remember the story about the Doors and the wah-wah pedal?). I've seen them described as Americana and while there's some truth in that, this lot have a lot more rock'n'roll in their collective souls than that description would indicate.
Not that My Morning Jacket are perfect; the album is overlong, with almost every track outstaying its welcome, even if only slightly. I mean, after seven minutes or so, I Will Sing You Songs shifts pointlessly into a gentle reggae groove for another two minutes, rather trying the listener's patience, although after the coruscating Run Thru, you'll forgive them almost anything. Subsequently departed keyboard player Danny Cash presumably plays what I very strongly suspect are sampled Mellotron strings on I Will Sing You Songs and Just One Thing, although the strings running right through Steam Engine just don't even have that Mellotron ring about them.
Two years on, MMJ released their follow-up, probably the shortest album title on this site, Z. That'll be 'Zee', of course, not 'Zed'. I wonder how many Brits reading this remember Billy Gibbons' bunch being referred to as 'Zed Zed Top' on UK radio when they first made it over the pond? Anyway, while not a bad album (and a damn' sight shorter than its predecessor), it's also rather less exciting, although it certainly has its moments. 'Mellotron' on one track, presumably from new Keys man Bo Koster, with strings and flutes on Off The Record.
My Silent Bravery, a.k.a. Matthew Wade, make some of the limpest indie-schmindie singer-songwriter guff I've heard in a while on their/his second album, 2011's Can't Quit. He seems to be so bereft of ideas, that on an under-forty-minute album, he records different versions of two tracks, the acoustic versions of Burnt Out and the title track adding little to the originals. Least bad track? Closer Today Is Tomorrow's Yesterday, with its mild country bent, but that isn't saying a lot. Jeff Calder is credited with Mellotron, but are the flutes on To Give supposed to be genuine? For that matter, are they even Mellotron samples? Believe me, you don't need to hear this for any reason, let alone some supposed Mellotron use.
You thought that was bad? Listen to THIS, matey! 2013's Diamond From Coal is quite unbelievably horrible, dreck like the enraging Amazing or P.O.V. sending my blood pressure through the roof, while I can't, er, believe no-one spotted the grotesque Beatles rip on Believe. Vague samplotron strings on a couple of tracks, every bit as unconvincing as before. Truly hateful. This is so shit that you can imagine a video for pretty much anything here of Wade dancing, his arms half upraised, clicking his fingers. That shit. I wonder if you'd end up with a gemstone if you compressed Matthew Wade for millions of years in strata consisting of landfill copies of his own albums? I doubt it. Another substance entirely, I'd wager.
The irritatingly-named Myracle Brah (joke names, eh?) are Baltimore-based Andy Bopp's powerpop project, whose fourth album, 2002's Bleeder, is passable enough, although not even close to the quality of the genre's prime practitioners (not to mention the band's own eponymous release from 2000), not helped by Bopp's rather strained vocals throughout. Better tracks include Independence Day and Nation's Out, although Too Many People has more than a hint of Helter Skelter about it and the overall vibe is, oddly, one of defeatism. Paul Krysiak is credited with Mellotron, but if the strings on opener Song 37 are supposed to have anything to do with a tape-replay-based keyboard... The flutes on Wasted are slightly better, but only because they're easier to sample, while the strings on the same track and Broken are terrible. Sorry to be so down on this, but powerpop albums really should be either uplifting or melancholy; this is neither, succeeding merely in triggering this listener's finger-drumming and watch-checking urges.