Brooklyn's Naam play a kind of indie/psych crossover, with elements of noise thrown in for not-especially good measure on The Ballad of the Starchild. Its first three tracks are pretty ineffectual, although the eleven-minute The Starchild's a big improvement, a woozy, heavy psych epic that, to my ears, points the way they should go. Johnny Weingarten's 'Mellotron'? Inaudible.
A decent enough pop/punk album, at its best on opener Clear Eye Clouded Mind and Teenage Dreams. Lee Russell is credited with a raft of unlikely gear on the acoustic bonus tracks, including a Mellotron and a Chambelrin, but, to no-one's surprise, there's zilcho to be heard.
Leona Naess (actually Næss) is a truly multinational artist; Swedish mother, Norwegian father, born in the States, grew up in the UK, moved back to the States in adulthood... Her (admittedly enormously wealthy) dad even subsequently married Diana Ross, which, as claims to fame go, isn't a bad one. 2008's Thirteens is her fourth album, starting pretty well by modern singer-songwriter standards, although a purple patch halfway through knocks a half star from its rating. Better tracks? Gentle opener Ghosts In The Attic and the mildly jazzy The Lipstick Song, the only real stinker being one of two bonus efforts, Unnamed (Mellow Version). Samuel Dixon plays chordal samplotron strings on bonus track Danke Schoen.
The Astrid Tapes might be acceptable at half its length, but, with Harry Nagle's 0 m.p.h. singer-songwriter style, a little goes a long way. Better tracks include Missing You Everywhere and Cold In Your Country, but I'm afraid this crosses the line between 'haunted' and 'dreary'. Nagle plays distant, way-over-the-eight-second-limit samplotron choirs on Cold In Your Country.
Mid-'90s EM generally had a more (for then) contemporary feel than today's retro scene, so Skyrider mixes some electronica into the Berlin School, the end result being perfectly listenable, if a little unexciting. On the samplotron front, Nagle plays obviously sampled strings on Stormspell/On Mercury's Wings.
Naikaku are a Japanese heavy psych/prog outfit, seamlessly merging several (admittedly related) genres into a really quite appealing jammed-out stew, at least on their second album, 2006's Shell. Opener Crisis 051209 starts gently enough, before shifting into a vaguely '74 King Crimson feel, accentuated by some fairly out-there flute and trumpet work, while the album's other long(er) track, Shell itself, goes more for the slow-burn Crimson effect, amongst several shorter, but no less intense pieces. Guest Daishi Takagi plays keys, including samplotron, with very upfront strings all over the title track, the first chord holding for over thirty seconds, just in case you were doubting my sample-spotting capabilities, with more on the considerably briefer Tautrogy. I'm really not sure whether prolonged exposure to this album might make me like it more or less; it could go either way. As it is, initial acquaintance makes me keen to hear more, although they don't seem to have recorded anything since.
David Nail is a pretty mainstream country artist by modern standards, which puts him at the commercial end of Americana, to my ears. His third album, The Sound of a Million Dreams, has its moments, notably opener Grandpa's Farm, Half Mile Hill and the (relative) noise-fest that ends the record, but the bulk of it sails far too close to Nashville for my liking. Jeff Roach is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on She Rides Away and That's How I'll Remember You really aren't.
Although born in France, Yael Naïm moved to Israel as a child, later moving back to Paris, where her eponymous second album was written and recorded, sung variously in Hebrew, French and English. It should really be titled Yael Naïm & David Donatien, I suppose, as her percussionist and musical partner actually gets a co-credit on the sleeve. She had the very good fortune to have New Soul chosen by Apple to advertise one of its products, giving her massive exposure in the English-speaking market that she could never have managed without this boost. Yael Naïm has its less irritating moments, but they're few and far between, I'm afraid; no one track offends, but their cumulative effect is enough to make the listener begin to lose the will to live. Naïm plays samplotron on the album, with a nice little flute part on New Soul and what sounds like a variably-tuned recorder-type thing playing over flutes on Naïm's rather odd cover of the immensely talented Britny Spears' Toxic.
R(ay) Carlos Nakaí is a Native American flautist whose recording career began in his late thirties in the early '80s. His tenth album, 2001's Enter >> Tribal (a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Cliff Sarde), while contemporary, may well disappoint lovers of 'authentic' Native American music, its programmed beats and heavy synth use clearly designed to sell to the new age crowd, rather than folk or genuine world music fans. It's all pretty much of a muchness, to be honest, the presence or lack of vocals being the chief method of distinguishing one track from another. Not selling this very well, am I? Sarde supposedly plays Mellotron, but the melodic string part on the opening title track is fairly obviously sampled, ditto the flute (quite distinct from the real one) on May There Be Beauty. All in all, this isn't a lot better than the kind of guff sold in health food shops and the like; in fact, it probably is sold in such establishments, while half-arsed sample use on a couple of tracks do little to improve matters.
On Love Junkies, Naked Lunch utilise that infuriating blend of '60s and '90s influences that the Britpop scene tapped into a few years earlier, to the point that you wouldn't even know they weren't British. No, there are no best tracks. Stefan Deisenberger's credited with Mellotron; I'm having trouble with this one, but I don't think it's genuine, despite the occasional wobbles, notably at the end of opener Disco Sadness. Anyway, strings all over said track and Silvertown, with strings and flutes on Life In Vain.
Pete "Namlook" Kuhlmann has collaborated with many artists, not least the legendary Klaus Schulze, on a series entitled Dark Side of the Moog (ho ho); on 5, the Pink Floyd puns go further, with the eight-part Psychedelic Brunch being named for the Floyd's Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast from Atom Heart Mother. Unsurprisingly, the album (also featuring noted New York avant-gardist Bill Laswell) sounds less like Floyd than any number of Berlin School electronic artists, although there's considerable variation between tracks, working on the basis that you can tell the difference between any EM pieces at all (he said, cynically). I've had this down as a 'Mellotron album' for some time, and indeed, Part 4 is essentially a Mellotron strings solo, but it took moments to realise that its smoothness indicated samples; good ones, but samples nonetheless. I can't say I'm surprised; Schulze's last obvious use of his MkV was at the dawn of the '80s, despite its being pictured on the rear sleeve of 1985's Inter-Face, and he was always more of a synthesist than a 'keyboard player', anyway - don't forget his first album was the Tangs' Electronic Meditation, as drummer. Anyway, Part 8 features sampled choirs over a more rhythmic backing, but that's your lot on the fake Mellotron front.
Naomi are the German electro-pop duo of Bernd Lechler and Nico Tobias, whose third album, 2006's Aquarium, combines mainstream pop, hip-hop and R'n'B, with an unexpected hint of psych thrown in. Apparently, their first two albums relied more on instrumental work, but this time round it's songs all the way, for better or worse. To be honest, I've heard a lot worse in this vein, which is why it doesn't get a lower star rating, although it's hardly what I'd call essential listening. I've no idea who plays the samplotron - either member of the band or an outside musician? Anyway, we get faint strings and flutes on Gone, far more upfront flutes and choirs on Another Bite Of The Apple, volume-pedalled strings and flutes on Relax She Said and finally, more of those flutes on All I Need.
Named for a 17th Century calculating device, Napier's Bones are the duo of vocalist Nathan Jon Tillett and musician/composer Gordon Midgley, whose debut, 2014's The Wistman Tales, treads a fine line between heavy prog (not prog metal) and lusher, more '70s flavours. Top tracks include angular opener A.D. 1069 : The Harrying Of The North, the brief, atmospheric Room 237 and fourteen-minute closer Wistman's Wood, noticeably nearer the band's '70s roots than the rest of the album. Tillett's voice has a raspy, bluesy quality rare in prog outfits, while Midgley's arrangements generally complement his lyrics well, a quality often lacking in modern progressive releases, making for the kind of album that has the potential to appeal across a high percentage of the prog audience, all assuming they're made aware of its existence. Midgley uses the Redtron SE Mellotron plugin, slathering strings all over every track, with subtler choir and flute parts here and there. Effective? Decidedly, although a little restraint might have worked wonders on a couple of tracks. The duo lose no time whatsoever in following up, Tregeagle's Choice appearing within a year of their debut. Based on a Faustian Cornish legend, some listeners may be put off by the narration on several tracks, although it should probably be considered as essential to the story and far from intrusive. Musically, this is possibly less Genesis, more Barclay James Harvest, albeit with a far darker edge, many tracks based around acoustic guitar and pseudotron strings, with a distinct reduction in heaviosity levels when compared to The Wistman Tales. Top tracks? Difficult to say, especially on a concept work, but the title track and the creepy Tempus Fugit stand out. Samplotron? While Midgley's use is still quite overt, he's definitely toned it down this time round, to overall better effect.
Continuing their policy of 'wasting no time whatsoever', the duo's third release in as many years, 2016's Hell & High Water, takes another stylistic turn into a more contemporary progressive sound, not unlike aspects of, say, Big Big Train or even Manning. Despite ostensibly containing seven tracks, the album is split into two 'side-long', multi-part pieces, The Transfiguration and Semerwater: The Fall, both of which, in time-honoured progressive style, shift through many different feels, from (relatively) mainstream modern prog opener An Air Of Mystery, through the Crimsonesque No Return?, to the punchy near-prog metal of Rain Down and acoustic singalong closer A Wake In Yoredale. Highlights? Probably the atmospheric Broadcasting Live and the epic No Room At The Inn, although nothing here disappoints. Once again, a more subtle approach to the samplotron pays off, its first use being a string part several minutes into the second track, Broadcasting Live, with more string and choir use in No Return? and flutes in Mallerstang Morning, with more string and choir parts across the rest of the album.
Do these two never stop? Unfortunately, 2017's Alpha-Omega Man sounds, at least to my ears, a little rushed: I can hear tuning issues with the multi-overdubbed guitar parts and some of the synth work, while the material seems to've had less care taken over its composition than before. Above all, though, producing interesting music seems to take second place here to The Concept; a significant chunk of the vocal work consists of narration, while the singing is largely subservient to the story (spot the conceptual link through to Tregeagle's Choice), while too much of the music itself is ambient sound, sometimes overlaid with narration. Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of decent bits, but I'm not sure we get enough, this time round, to satisfy the progressive rock fan seeking out new artists. Relatively little samplotron this time round, although there's a major strings part in Psycho Driving and several background string and choir sections. Now, here's the clincher: the band are giving their work away on Bandcamp. Free. Gratis. There doesn't even appear to be a method for donating. Since I can't imagine how they'll ever play live without recruiting a complete lineup, I can only assume that they'd rather people heard their music than they're remunerated for it; a meritorious approach which will hopefully make their name known and pay off for them in the long run.
Napoleón Solo (named for an At the Drive-In track, in turn named for the Man From U.N.C.L.E. character) are a Spanish-language kind-of alt.rock outfit, whose Napoleón Solo en la Ópera is a classic 'local's record', replicating an internationally-popular sound for their local market. Any highlights? I wouldn't go that far, but the Queen-alike En El Fondo De Los Sueños, right down to the May-esque guitar solo, isn't so bad, ditto Al Final. Miguel Diaz is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on Perdiendo El Tiempo, Siempre Me Lo Recordarás (particularly obviously) and Al Final are clearly sampled, as are the flutes and choirs elsewhere.
The Narcotic Slave Orchestra play a form of psychedelic indie on the hugely lengthy, two-disc Love, Art, Intoxication/Musick for Flies, much of it a little like a modern version of '70s 'middling rock', for want of a better term; you know, rock that doesn't really rock and, as such, has dated poorly. Will this date poorly? I'm not sure it hasn't already done so. Any highpoints? Each disc finishes with a twenty-plus-minute psych epic, without which this set would be noticeably shorter and probably even duller, while 'best track' award goes to 6ix (Lissi In The Sink With Diarrhoea), which sounds like King Crimson playing Fracture after partaking of some particularly potent weed. Dan Halden's 'Mellotron' consists of nothing more than samplotron strings on 11even, Higher Educkation, Waiting At The Spacebus Station, Heart Of A Monkey, Season Of Flies and Strange Musick.
Narum are a family-based group, whose Samma Hen du Fær is a Norwegian-language Americana album, perfectly harmless, if a tad unexciting. Lars Christian Narum (see, I told you they were a family group) is credited with Mellotron. Er, the strings on closer Sjå Ut? Really?
Israel Nash Gripka's fourth studio album, 2015's Israel Nash's Silver Season, starts off in 'low-key country-rock album' mode, until, a few tracks in, you realise that Nash is quite possibly the natural successor to Neil Young, despite heavy competition. You wouldn't think it from opener Willow, but from Parlour Song through to the end of the album, you could almost be listening to one of Neil's legendary 'lost albums' from the mid-'70s, although Nash is never going to match Mr. Young for fragility, while his songwriting has some way to go before becoming any serious competition. No-one's credited with Mellotron, which makes sense. Willow starts with a lovely, low-end flute part, but... it's too low. Lowest note is F#, and the Mellotron only goes down to G. Yeah, it could've been tuned down, but a close listen to the solo part that opens and closes the track says... samples. We also get strings on the epic LA Lately and Lavendula, plus distant ones on Mariner's Ode, for what it's worth. So; a very good album, streets ahead of the drivel I usually have to suffer while writing this site. Recommended.
Nautilus are that rarest of things, a decent modern British progressive band, who don't sound like the bastard sons of a satanic Marillion/Pendragon pairing twenty(-something) years on. I'm not going to pretend the Kent-based quartet are up there with the best Swedish and Italian bands of the last couple of decades (sorry, chaps), but both their albums to date are very listenable affairs indeed. The first of these, What Colours the Sky in Your World?, was released by the band in 2004, then picked up by Brit-prog label Cyclops and reissued two years later. It's all-instrumental (hurrah!), slotting into a vaguely Crimson/UK vein, top tracks including opener Doors To The Dark Room and Halloween Factory. Keys man Paul Blewitt (hi, Paul), adds samplotron strings (notably to closer Release) and choir here and there, rarely that overtly, more in a 'just another sound' kind of way, which is probably the best approach when using samples. Take heed, M-Tron over-users...
Cyclops' Malcolm Parker advised the band to add vocals to 2008's Fathom, as this apparently bumps up sales (why?); not feeling up to tackling the job themselves, someone brought forth '70s pop bloke, bit-part actor and friend of/collaborator with Freddie Mercury, Peter Straker to do the job. Well, he can sing, but whether he was actually the right man for the job is a matter for conjecture; his voice is rather too close to Broadway for my liking, stirring unwelcome memories of Rick Wakeman's taste in singers. I'm not sure if it's the unwelcome vocal intrusions, but the material seems less punchy this time round, with the honourable exception of (instrumental) closer Cadaver, which isn't to say the rest of it's bad, just possibly not as good as previously. More Blewitt samplotron, notably the strident strings on Heart Of Darkness and the background choirs on a few tracks.
Although Jacqui Naylor fits loosely into the jazz field, her chief musical contribution to date seems to be her invention of 'acoustic smashing': fitting the lyrics of one song to the music of another. I'm sure this has been done before, if only for comic effect, but Naylor clearly takes the technique very seriously, at least going by her 'holiday' (i.e. Christmas) album, 2007's Smashed for the Holidays (ho ho). On the smashing front, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is set to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama and an unidentified boogie, Silver Bells is a mutated take on The Police's stalker's charter, Every Breath You Take and we get no fewer than three Zeppelin tracks: D'yer Maker (Santa Baby), Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You (What Child Is This) and When The Levee Breaks (We Three Kings). Not every track fits that description; her jazzy take on The Kinks' Father Christmas is played relatively straight, but it's a rarity here. Art Khu plays a samplotron cello part on Silver Bells.
Ednita Nazario, a child star in the early '60s, is still performing and recording today, having notched up over fifty years in 'the biz', but have you heard of her? Nope, nor me; such is the fate of Latin American artists, although their own market is large enough that I'm sure few of them are too fussed. 2007's Real is something like her nineteenth studio album (it's hard to say for sure), a fairly typical Latin pop/rock effort, sadly more pop than rock, although Después De Ti cranks it up ever so slightly. Armando Avila (Avila Boys, many others) supposedly plays Mellotron, although, as with all his other album credits, it's hard to tell exactly where, especially given the preponderance of real strings here. The background strings on No? Who knows? Or, frankly, cares? You're not going to bother with this, anyway.
All in the Golden Afternoon... sits somewhere in between the gentler end of progressive rock, ambient and, perhaps surprisingly, trance, those distinctive choppy synth chords finding their way into several of the album's tracks. The end result features moments of quiet beauty, but I'm afraid all too much of it wanders along ineffectually, while the vocal samples/spoken-word sections on most tracks merely serve to distract. Samplotron strings, flutes and occasional choirs everywhere you look.
Nearly (or, irritatingly, nearlY) are ex-Nine Inch Nails drummer Jerome Dillon's occasional band, who've released just the one album so far, 2005's Reminder. A pretty downbeat record, it contains pointers towards NiN's sound, not least the gothic soundscapes of Blackwing and Up In The Trees, although Claudia Sarne's vocals on most tracks (Dillon also sings on four) separate this from your typical NiN copyist outfit. On the tape-replay front, Dillon adds background Mellotron strings to Straight To Nowhere, Step Into The Light and Tributary, plus Chamberlin strings to Prins Hendrik, Sarne adds very background Mellotron strings to Mary Vincent, while Jeff Ciampa plays Chamby strings on Up In The Trees, although none of it sounds genuine to my ears.
Nebelnest, or NeBeLNeST, as they prefer to spell it, are a current heavily Crimson-influenced band from France, adapting that esteemed outfit's take on improvisational prog to their own material, creating something both familiar and new in the process. First track, Improv: Pooks Part 1 starts with what sounds like Mellotron flute, until you realise the sound goes way over the 8-second limit. There's more of the same later in the album, and some very authentic 'Tron choirs, although keys man Olivier Tejedor has recently confirmed that they're all samples. Real 'Tron or not, this is a damn' good album, particularly if you're into the slightly further reaches of prog, without actually going for the full Univers Zero/Henry Cow. Their second effort, 2002's excellent Nova Express, uses real 'Tron alongside samples, and is, if anything, an improvement on their debut.
Necromonkey's first live album, Live at Pianos, NYC, documents their 2014 New York appearance, featuring three new pieces out of the six on offer. Top tracks? Almost impossible to quantify, frankly; everything here displays a level of inventiveness that should make 99% of modern prog outfits blush, influences beaming in from not just the more musicianly end of the progressive spectrum, but from electronica, jazz, the avant-garde... Kinky Panda and A Glimpse Of Possible Endings are personal favourites, but this is one of those rare 'every track a winner records'. Incidentally, for proof of just how rude audiences can be, background chat is clearly audible over several quieter passages, before the band kick in again. Club crowds, eh? David Lundberg plays samplotron here and there, mostly brass, plus strings on The Storm and little bursts of strings and choir on A Glimpse Of Possible Endings, but it's hardly a reason to buy this album. The actual music, however, is; any of Necromonkey's albums is a probably a good starting point, but this may just be the best of all. Highly recommended.
The Hymn Sessions. Hmmm. Whad'ya reckon this might be like? Might it be like hideous CCM? It might indeed. Opener Christos Anesti aims for pseudo-transcendency, like an unholy (see what I did there?) cross (and there?) between U2 and generic pop/rock, the rest of the album shifting through several different, yet equally odious styles throughout its mercifully not-overlong duration. Needham even gets some Christian rap dude with a speech impediment in on Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Believe me, as experiments go, this one's a 'fail'. The final track is called It Is Finished. Thank fuck for that. Ryan Eldridge's 'Mellotron'? The exceedingly distant, quite certainly sampled strings on How Great Thou Art.
Nefarious Jack & the Naysayers' eponymous EP/mini-album/whatever is a rather dreary indie/folk kind of thing, at its least dull on And So It Goes. Jack Younger plays wobbly, but sampled Mellotron strings on the closing title track.
Los Negativos (PLEASE don't ask me to translate that) are a modern Spanish psych outfit, active since the mid-'80s, clearly as obsessed with all things '60s as their better-known compatriots worldwide. 2009's Dandies Entre Basura is at least their fifth album, although there could be many more, a decent enough effort, although its appeal seems to pall as it progresses. One of its highpoints is Capitán Escarlata is a Spanish-language tribute to one of Gerry 'Thunderbirds' Anderson's greatest creations, complete with samples from the original series, but tracks like closers La Buhardilla Del Lirón and Sacerdotisa De La Carne Eléctrica (does that really mean 'The Church of the Electric Meat?) drag somewhat, losing the album half a star. Carlos de Ordax plays samplotron on the title track, with a string part running right through the song.
Link Quartet's Paolo "Apollo" Negri is one of Italy's top jazz and funk (note: not jazz/funk) organists, a veritable Hammond god for our times, in fact. I believe 2007's sprawling double-disc A Bigger Tomorrow is his solo debut, an album for which the term 'groovy' could've been invented, stuffed with (mostly) instrumental Hammond workouts, straight out of the 1966 songbook. The trouble is, even disc one on its own is far too long, never mind the second disc of outtakes, remixes and alternate versions; maybe it's good to have on in the background at your '60s-themed party? In the instrumental credits, Negri's quite specific about what he uses with regard to models, so we get a 'Hammond A102 organ & pedalboard' and a 'Hohner Pianet T electric piano + MXR Phase 90', but merely a 'Mellotron', which tells me a lot about its authenticity. Saying that, the brief, solo strings part that closes the album at the end of Filtersweeping, Mommy Is Weeping (not reiterated on disc two's 'Moogified version') sounds relatively real, although I'm quite certain it isn't. So; given that A Bigger Tomorrow is released by US label Hammondbeat, that should tell you everything you need to know about it. Like Hammond-led funk? You're onto a winner.
Nektar (UK) see:
I've seen Sarah Bethe Nelson's music described as somewhere between 'ornate '60s pop and austere '90s slowcore'; it certainly recalls elements of, say Low, alongside a kind of pre-psychedelia, mid-'60s feel. Highlights? Since almost every track creeps along at a somewhat funereal pace, the surprisingly rhythmic title track makes for light relief, ditto the point halfway through the six-minute Every Other Sunday where it suddenly (though by no means instantaneously) doubles in tempo, while, of the slower material, Black Telephone and Paying stand out, both musically and lyrically. Rusty Miller and producer Kelley Stoltz are both credited with Mellotron, but surely not the stringy sounds on the title track or Uneasy? Are they having a laugh? A decent enough album, then, but not only no real Mellotron, but not even something that sounds like one.
Tim Nelson's CD Baby page describes Animalvegetablemineral as 'a unique blend of instrumental progressive, lo-fi, post-rock and world-influenced genres', which sounds about right. But is it any good? In places, is the answer, specifically, solo acoustic guitar pieces Magically Delicious, Ether and Mamoul, while Stars Are Funny's solo Mellotron flutes are very listenable, too. Nelson allegedly plays 'copious amounts of mellotron' (note small 'm'), but the strings and flutes on Just So Long As I'm the Dictator, flutes on Stars Are Funny and strings on Swedish Fish sound sampled to my ears.
1999's Sky Archeology is either Finnish electronicists Nemesis' second (according to their website) or third (according to other sources) album. It's an EM release that, while paying rather more than lip service to the Berlin School, as you'd expect, also throws in some more contemporary moves, not least the House influence in Tango Fornax 9991, which may or may not be welcome, but certainly makes a change. One of the two musicians on board plays Mellotron samples on several tracks, more notable use including the phased strings on The Cygnus Loop, flutes on Tango Fornax 9991, upfront strings on Monocheros and choirs on closer Anaxagoras. More EM with sampled Mellotron? Music for the faithful, not the newbie.
Nemo are a current French progressive band who've somehow flown under my radar, which is a shame, as they're really rather good, certainly going by their fourth album, 2006's Si Partie I (II appeared the following year). The band's sound is an amalgam of current and past styles in the genre, metal guitar interludes followed by electric piano workouts or lengthy vocal passages, despite which it all hangs together quite nicely, thank you very much. The three shorter tracks in the middle are bookended by the two epics, the second of which, the five-part Apprentis Sorciers, is the album's crowning glory, throwing just about every trick in the book into the pot, while remaining cohesive. There isn't a lot of 'Mellotron' to be heard here, with naught but a string part on opener Douce Mort, clearly sampled, but it's hardly the album's defining feature, anyway. I haven't heard anything else by Nemo, but if Si Partie I's anything to go by, I look forward to expanding my knowledge of their catalogue. No Mellotron, very little fakeotron, but a great deal of excellent music. Recommended.
I'm sure Nerve's blasts of pop/punk on Psycho Poetry are highly invigorating, should you be into such a thing. Buzzcocks? Yes. Hüsker Dü? Yes. Nerve? No. Geoff Allan plays background samplotron strings on Losing Streak.
Georgian Barbara Nesbitt's debut album, 2007's A Million Stories, while ostensibly Americana, also incorporates elements of jazz (Horrible Moon), pop (Summertime - not that one) and rock, amongst other styles. Top tracks? The slow-burning opening title track and Fly are both pretty good, but pride of place is taken by closer Broken Girl, a very English-sounding folky number featuring some lovely open-tuned guitar work. Ben Moore is credited with Mellotron, but the only possible use is the vibes on Horrible Moon, which sound far too clean (at least to my ears) to be genuine. Despite a bit of a lull in the middle of a slightly overlong album, which could've been remedied by excising a handful of weaker tracks, this is a worthy first effort, although its 'Mellotron' use seems to be anything but.
Up Late With People is largely an indie-end-of-powerpop, album, although Ness pull a rabbit out of a hat (and an extra half star) with the stomping Imaginary Life and the bizarre, twelve-minute, powerpop-goes-prog of the title track. Phil Young plays fakeo Mellotron flutes on Let's Vaporize and distant strings on Cosmoa.
Neverending White Lights are the Canadian one-man band of Daniel Victor and whoever he brings in as collaborators. Their/his debut, Act 1: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies, uses different vocalists on every track, several of which are written by the relevant vocaliser. I suppose it's essentially the pop end of post-rock (there is one?) and about as dreary as they come, full of croaky vocals, heavily reverbed piano and lashings of artificial strings, all taken at a funereal pace. To add to the pretentious atmosphere of the whole sorry shebang, tracks 1-5 fall under the general heading The Hour Arrives, 6-12 are My Angel, My Queen, My Death, My Treasure and 13-16, A Pale Nation Sleeps in Misery. Drivel. Absolute drivel. Victor is credited with Mellotron, but if the vaguely 'Tron-like strings and flutes on a handful of tracks are a real Mellotron, I'm an accordionist. OK, maybe they are, but if so, why have they been recorded to sound like crummy samples? Anyway, you have absolutely no reason to buy this album, so do yourself a favour and don't.
The New Amsterdams began as the Get Up Kids' Matt Pryor's side-project, going on to take on a life of its own. 2003's Worse for the Wear is their third album, combining Americana and modern indie into an only intermittently appealing stew, better tracks including brief opening instrumental Vignette, From California and haunted closer Slight Return. The slower stuff, basically. Pryor plays samplotron, with a string part hiding away in the mix on the harmonium-fuelled Vignette and more of the same on the title track.
When you think of early '90s Swedish prog, does the name New Clear Daze spring to mind? No, nor me. Their wildly overlong Selling Diamonds on the Edge of Time has its moments, but they're few and far between, often only a burst of something mildly interesting amongst acres of sub-Floyd wibble. To make matters worse, they devolve into horrible neo-prog moves every now and again, notably on Beyond All Boundaries, while the English-language lyrics leave a great deal to be desired, even if they display a sense of humour at times. This is yet another entry in the 'there used to be an online reference to Mellotron use, honest!' stakes. Suffice to say, Mats Nygren uses nothing of the sort.
If Benjamin Herman's New Cool Collective's Chin Chin has a real fault, it's in the length department (fnar fnar); this kind of instrumental, brass-driven jazz is, at its worst, very listenable, but an hour of it is probably twenty minutes too much. And, as with Herman's solo albums, Willem Friede's Mellotron is nowhere to be seen.
The New Earth Group play a kind of propulsive, instrumental, brass-driven jazz/prog on their eponymous debut, at its best on twelve-minute opener De Notenkraker Boom Suite and Part D of the five-part Electric Mario, In Search Of The 72 Names Of God. Jeroen S. Rozendaal plays samplotron strings on closer Part E, Electric Mario's Exodus.
I've seen New London Fire compared to Depeche Mode, which really isn't the way to Planet Mellotron's heart, frankly. I Sing the Body Holographic, despite its Ray Bradbury-paraphrasing title, is a cruddy indie/electropop crossover, replete with that horrible, light-as-air vocal style that was everywhere in the 2000s. There are no best tracks. Jason Debiak plays a clicky, yet sampled-sounding 'Mellotron' flute part on Tonight.
The New Order story is far too familiar to bear any serious repetition; suffice to say, they are essentially the regrouped Joy Division after that band's dissolution following the suicide of vocalist Ian Curtis. New Order have kept a foot in both the indie and dance camps, frequently mixing the two, or producing innovative dance-based material such as 1983's excellent Blue Monday (and no, the choirs on that track are absolutely not Mellotron). It all seems rather unlikely that they'd use a Mellotron on the acid house-influenced Technique, but halfway through track three, Run, a familiar-sounding string sound appears, although the more you hear of it, the less Mellotronlike it sounds. 1989 is extremely early in the day for anyone to use samples, so the likely scenarios are:
1) It's a generic late-'80s grungy string sample that sounds slightly like Mellotron strings 'cos they're, duh, grungy string samples.
2) It's an early Mellotron sample.
3) It's a Mellotron.
Upon a re-listen, I'd say option 1) is the most likely, so here it goes and here it stays. Anyway, is it a good album? Actually, yes; although I'm not exactly a fan of their thang, this is a pleasant listen with some reasonably groundbreaking material. And a remake of Blue Monday.
Grace - the EP is a hideous piece of Christian schlock, at its worst on opener This Is Grace, although it's a close call. Cason Cooley allegedly plays Mellotron, but the vague flutes and strings on One Love aren't cutting the mustard.
John Newman has sold over a million records in the UK, which might explain why I've never heard of him before (?!). He has the most infuriating voice, as if he had a built-in graphic EQ, leaving only a narrow, midrange band of frequencies. Sung through his nose. Someone should let him know he has a diaphragm. Suffice to say, his songs, production and anything else I might think of are hideous. Newman's Mellotron credit on All I Need Is You? Inaudible.
The New Raemon play a kind of psychedelic folk, for want of a better phrase, making a reasonably decent job of it on their second album, 2009's La Dimensión Desconocida. The songwriting's the kind that makes you suspect it might grow on you given time, highlights including opener La Siesta (start with a strong one, chaps), the gentle El Fin Del Imperio and Dramón Rodríguez, although I'm not sure what to make of the Bob Dylan harmonica on closer La Recta Final. Ricky Falkner plays samplotron, with strings on Variables, Por Tradición and Sucedáneos and strings and church organ on Dramón Rodríguez.
Within seconds of putting on Next to None's debut, 2015's A Light in the Dark, it's obvious that the drummer has a major say in the band, as he's about twice as high in the mix as he should be. And he is...? Max Portnoy, son of Mike (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, other bores). And I'm sure they got their deal with InsideOut entirely on merit. So... What do they sound like? Guess. Clue. It isn't The Pastels. Or James Taylor. Give in? OK, it's Dream-Theater-as-death-metal, complete with 'we can't sing so we'll just yell' vocals, with obvious Autotune use during the occasional sung bits. Better moments? For some reason, Control seems to focus their abilities, while A Lonely Walk and Legacy provide a little light relief, but no, not really. Dad's buddy Neal Morse plays 'Mellotron' on A Lonely Walk, but given that he hasn't (to my knowledge) played a real one since... When? The late '90s? It doesn't seem (or indeed, sound) likely that he's suddenly got hold of a real one here. I know the band are all still in their teens, but so were Diamond Head when they started and they didn't sound like this. Complete rubbish.
Nexus are one of those progressive bands whose work sits somewhere in between '80s neo- and '90s 'modern' prog (you know, Spock's Beard). Perpetuum Karma is a decent enough album, but needs, ooh, about half an hour slashed from its length. I nominate the neo-prog bits. Seasoned South American 'Mellotron' watchers will be utterly unsurprised to hear that Lalo Huber's clear credit consists of no more than vaguely Mellotronic strings here and there, notably on closer En Ese Viento.
Billy Nicholls is one of rock's eternal sidemen, active since the '60s, appearing with and/or writing for the likes of The Who, Leo Sayer, The Nice and a host of others. Still Entwined is an album of mature singer-songwriter material, its more upbeat tracks slipping into breezy pop/rock, at its best on Keep On Dancing, Catherine and six-minute closer Memory Lane. Someone plays a rather squeaky samplotron flute line on There & Back Again and occasional strings elsewhere.
Joe Nichols is a young traditionalist, a country singer in an age of Americana. Or is that just my perception? Non-Americans tend to forget just how ubiquitous the style is there, with whole swathes of the country in its thrall. "What kind of music do you usually have here?" " Oh, we got both kinds - country and western..." After his eponymous 1996 debut, it took Nichols six years to follow it up with Man With a Memory and, it has to be said; this is a country album. Not Americana: country. As a result, your chances of liking any of it are directly related to your tolerance for the style. Good Americana albums have increased mine, but it's still pretty hard to take when he sings about 'Sweet Betty Lou' in the title track. Not Americana: country. Tim Lauer is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but the only place it even might be is on That Would Be Her, with a muted cello part that's quite certainly sampled, anyway. Five years and four albums on (including a Christmas effort), Nichols releases Real Things, far from dissimilar to Man With a Memory, wilfully mixing halfway decent songs (he sends himself and his chosen genre up beautifully in Let's Get Drunk And Fight) with typical, clichéd country. Brent Rowan on samplotron this time, although the only obvious part is the flutes on My Whiskey Years.
Night Watch (Italy) see:
Nightmare of You are a pretty typical indie outfit, at the higher-energy end of the spectrum, making them marginally more appealing than the dreary variety, which shouldn't actually be read as a recommendation. Their debut, 2005's Nightmare of You is, like a lot of indie stuff, probably more lyrically than musically orientated, leaving those of us looking for a great tune out in the cold. Best tracks? Didn't really hear any. Sorry. Jason Lader guests on 'Mellotron', amongst other things, with background string parts on opener The Days Go By Oh So Slow, I Want To Be Buried In Your Backyard and possibly In the Bathroom Is Where I Want You (what is it with these titles, guys?). However... it sounds as fake as hell, although (as always) I could be wrong. It's a deeply unexciting album, anyway, so if I were you, I wouldn't even bother trying to find out. At least it's short.
NightShift might be French and 2007's Full Moon might've been recorded in the late 2000s, but it's completely indistinguishable from a late '70s, Rhodes-driven West Coast effort like (let's say) Player; if this is irony, I feel a sudden (not to mention uncharacteristic) burst of sincerity coming on. I'm sure there's a market for this stuff, but I doubt whether I'm alone in thinking that it was bad enough at the time, so why subject us to it all over again? A couple of tracks slightly buck the trend, notably the rocking (albeit in a Foreigner stylee) title track and the radio broadcast-quoting intro to Dialog From The Sun To The Moon, but they're hardly enough to rescue this insipid album. The band essentially being a duo, presumably either Gael Benyamin or Jerome Beuret plays the Mellotron samples on a few tracks, with background strings on You're Free, upfront ones, plus flutes, on Hey Little Boy and more strings on Right Before The Dawn. Recommend? Don't be silly.
Despite being Italian, The Nihil Project play an unusual blend of English folk and modern electronica on Plough Plays, working better on some tracks than others. Highlights? Opener Unquiet Grave (Twa Corbies), Days Of Yore and Tissington Hall Well, maybe. Sean Breadin plays samplotron flutes on Unquiet Grave and Weaving Wheat.
Kazumi Nikaido's 2006 release, Nikaido Kazumi no Arubamu (Kazumi Nikaido's Album) is a strange cross between jazz and laid-back pop, most tracks being one style or the other, rather than a combination. It's a decent enough record of its type, possibly capable of appealing to Western fans of dream-pop bands, although I'm not sure what they'll make of its jazzier elements. I realise that the gentler tracks are trying to create an atmosphere, but half of the album's contents are over five minutes, several tracks topping six, which is possibly too much of a good thing. Somebody calling himself Illicit Tsuboi plays a faint samplotron flute part on Kyou O Tou Part 2.
Nil are one of what seems like a handful of genuinely progressive modern prog bands, making angular yet melodic music that probably sells very little. Their third album, Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinaï, features real Mellotron, although there almost certainly isn't any on their follow-up, Novo Sub Sole, which is absolutely no reason not to buy this excellent album. Eclectic, inventive and (relatively) original, it's less impenetrable than its predecessor, partly due to splitting its hours'-worth of music over six tracks, as against two, allowing for a wider range of styles, without throwing them all in together in an untidy heap. The Mellotron samples barely count as such, only occasionally sounding like a 'Tron as against some generic choir and string sounds. The choirs are used particularly heavily, although the nearest the album gets to anything like a Mellotron are a brief string part in 198 and the choirs in Abandon, but the fake 'Tron is not why you should buy this album. Very good indeed, and more than worthy of your time.
Very acceptable South American jazz, with subtle Latin undercurrents. Miguel "Chino" Figueroa's 'Mellotron' must be the string synth on Somos Nada.
For someone you've probably never heard of, Robert Anthony "Willie Nile" Noonan is older than you'd expect, born in 1948. He released his first album at the age of 32, although legal problems have interrupted his career enough that his fifth, Streets of New York, appeared 26 years after his debut. It's an excellent Americana/Dylan/Springsteenish record, albeit without the latter's grandstanding, full of songs where, although they're chiefly about the lyrics, he refuses to ignore the music, unlike many second- and third-rate singer-songwriters, many reviewed on this site. Honestly, there's not a bad track on it; I particularly like Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), but anyone who appreciates meaningful songs, well presented, shouldn't have too much trouble connecting with this. Andy York plays samplotron, with background strings on Faded Flower Of Broadway and a more upfront part on On Some Rainy Day. An incidental humorous quote from legendary NJ native Little Steven: "Willie's so good I can't believe he's not from New Jersey".
John Nilsen plays a kind of Americana/singer-songwriter crossover style on John Nilsen & Swimfish, with a soupçon of powerpop thrown in for good measure, while Wild Rose, from seven years later, is a gentler proposition. Bob Stark is credited with Mellotron on both albums, but the background flute notes on Ride Together on the former and the flutes on If You Tell Me So from the latter sound like the same sample set to my ears.
Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile falls into the 'if I don't personally like it, how do I review it?' area. It's a huge sprawling double CD's worth of material, sounding, well, rather like NIN really, with no obvious stand-outs. Trent Reznor plays samplotron on a couple of tracks; The Wretched has some almost inaudible strings, while the title track has a quick blast of flutes, stretching below the instrument's range. 2005's With Teeth seems marginally less electronic than its predecessors, with more of a 'band sound' about it, although it's still recognisably a NIN record. Best track? Could just be Beside You In Time, although that probably isn't the fan's choice. One samplotron track from Mr. Reznor, with just-about audible strings at the end of You Know What You Are?
Greece's amusingly-named No Brain Cell released their eponymous album in 2013, although it seems to be regarded as a bit of an 'introductory' record, not to be seen as their actual debut (unless I'm mistaken?). It's a slight mish-mash of styles, from opener Open Field (Part 1)'s dark acoustic vibe, to Endless Game's vaguely Crimsonesque feel, Illusions' prog metal and the fractured funk of closer The Start Of Something Beautiful, one of two Porcupine Tree covers. Samplotron choir on several tracks, but you'll never mistake it for the real thing. Inconsistent, but a good start.
This leaves the following year's Monuments as their real kicking-off point, an unusually intriguing combo of symphonic and metallic prog, with a touch of psychedelia thrown in for good measure, in a Porcupine Tree-ish kind of way. Highlights include opener Prologue (Monuments Pt.1), the gentle Take Me Far Away and Hero Condition, particularly its reiterating harmony guitar line and jazzy (pseudo-?) Rhodes solo. Thomas Petrou's samplotron's all over the album, with choirs all over opener Prologue and Man Of Silence, amongst others and strings in a few places, not least on Take Me Far Away. If I have any criticisms, in places, NBC sound a little too like Porcupine Tree for their own good, while the album's rather (though not fatally) overlong and could've done with a bit of an edit to tighten it up.
I've seen No Doubt described as 'punk/ska', which poses the question, "Where's the punk?" OK, there's some reasonably energetic rock thrown into the mix, but punk? I think not. Mind you, if the ludicrous Green Day are 'punk', so are No Doubt. Anyway, there's enough ska and reggae to support that bit of their description, complete with two-piece horn section. Turns out their singer is the hugely-overrated Gwen Stefani, known mainly to myself for her horrible 2005 reworking/mauling of Topol's If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof; irredeemable. She puts in a reasonable performance on 1995's Tragic Kingdom, while showing little sign that she'd become a (concurrent with No Doubt, apparently) solo success. Amusingly, the title track is a reference to Disneyland, with lyrical references to various urban myths surrounding the theme park. Samplotron flutes on The Climb, played by unknown (Eric Stefani? Matthew Wilder?).
2000's Return of Saturn is probably best described as a No Doubt album that does what No Doubt albums do, which pretty much absolves me from having to make any real judgement on it. No, I didn't like it very much. Gabrial McNair plays samplotron on the album's second single, Simple Kind Of Life, with faint choirs and a handful of flute notes towards the end of the track. 2003 brought a four-CD box set of No Doubt stuff entitled Boom Box, later split into its individual components. Disc 3 was reissued the following year as Everything in Time (B-Sides, Rarities, Remixes), largely consisting of b-sides and outtakes from Return of Saturn, with some other stuff chucked in. It's apparently pretty good as such collections go - I'll openly admit I can't tell; about the only track that grabbed me at all was their cover of Bad Brains' Sailin' On. Cellophane Boy, a b-side, contains a smattering of samplotron flutes, possibly from McNair.
No-Man (originally No Man is an Island (Except the Isle of Man)) are the duo of Tim Bowness and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, who have shifted genres several times since their formation, as long ago as 1986. Their fourth non-compilation, 2001's Returning Jesus, is difficult to describe, although pointers include the 4AD label, electronica, ambient, Scott Walker and, er, prog, for what it's worth. I'll be completely upfront here and say that, while I know they're highly rated amongst certain sectors of the prog community and muso types generally, the album leaves me completely cold, although I'm fully prepared to believe that it's perfectly good. By and large, it's hard to tell exactly where the samplotron comes in, as it's mixed into an ambient stew with other string sounds, although the string part on Lighthouse is fairly obvious. Two albums on, 2008's Schoolyard Ghosts is, in many ways more of the same, although Pigeon Drummer stands out for its creative use of distortion, while Truenorth's twelve minutes are 'No-Man go long-form'. Much more obvious sampled Mellotron this time round, with strings and choirs on most tracks, although they're all pretty obviously sampled. Do you buy any No-Man albums? Depends on your tolerance for proggy ambience conjoined with Bowness' crooner-inspired tones, I suppose. Good at what they do.
What Does Good Luck Bring? sits at the indie end of powerpop, at its least dull on More, More. This appears to be yet another 'used to be an online reference to Mellotron use, now isn't' album, chiefly because it, er, doesn't contain any Mellotron, or even anything that sounds slightly like one.
Now-defunct Perth-based metal outfit Noctis aren't dissimilar to, say, Opeth in their 'progressive extreme metal', for want of a better phrase. The vastly overlong Silent Atonement is good at what it does, it just does it too much. Daniel Mazzarol's 'Mellotron', unsurprisngly, isn't.
Noekk, named for one of Mitteleuropa's many goblins, ghosts and ghoulies, are a duo consisting of Markus "Funghus Baldachin" Stock (vocals/guitar/keyboards) and Thomas "F.F. Yuggoth" Helm (guitar/bass/drums), both ex- of Euro-metallers Empyrium, themselves Mellotron sample users. Their new project is a different kettle of fish altogether, having more in common with '90s dark Scandinavian progressive rock than anything else (hurrah!), with little or no metal riffing in evidence. The Water Sprite is their debut and reminds me, more than anything, of the heavily underrated Landberk, particularly on T.B.'s Notion, although most of the tracks have the gothic feel that band engendered so well. Just to accentuate the gothic vibe surrounding the album, as if it were needed, they cover Dead Can Dance's How Fortunate The Man With None, from '93's Into the Labyrinth; now there's a band who could've used a Mellotron...
Baldachin plays Mellotron samples, along with various other (sampled?) vintage 'boards. The choirs on the opening title track sound a bit waterlogged, but the flutes sound great when used, and the strings do a pretty good job, but I'm quite certain these sounds have never seen a strip of tape in their life. The fake 'Tron work is actually quite magnificent, with strings cropping up on every track, and a beautiful flute intro on The Fiery Flower, with strings fading in behind the melody, amongst other highlights. All in all, we're talking a bit of a top sampled 'Tron album here; shame it ain't real. The following year's The Grimalkin is, essentially, more of the same, albeit containing only three long tracks, with the attendant problem that an album almost identical to its predecessor is never going to have quite the same impact. Don't get me wrong; it's a good album, but just a little too like The Water Sprite for its own good. Plenty of fakeotron again, mostly strings, with the odd choir chord or flute line thrown in for good measure.
The duo's third album, 2008's The Minstrel's Curse, is a more metallic effort, with (slightly) shorter track lengths, although it retains elements of its predecessors' prog soundscapes. As a result, this listener finds it slightly less appealing, although the quieter parts work better to my ears. I'm not quite sure what's going on at the end of the album, either; last track The Rumour And The Giantess gets quieter and quieter until it disappears altogether, followed by a several-minute gap, before a strident spoken-word part finishes things off. Less fakeotron than before, although all tracks feature at least a little.
Rasmus Nøhr's I Stedet for en Tatovering is a deeply unexciting Danish-language pop/rock effort, teeth-grindingly dull at first, picking up (albeit slightly) later on, with the likes of the jazzy Louis Trompet and the rocky(-ish) Slik. Jeppe Tuxen's Mellotron? Sampled background strings on Lille Spejl.
Going by their last release, 2003's Noise Ratchet EP/mini-album (following two full-length albums), the band of the same name sat firmly in the 'alt.punk' ghetto, most of the disc consisting of punchy, emo-ish material, although closer Desire goes for more of a post-rock thing, sadly. Ben Moore plays samplotron strings on Desire, which do absolutely nothing to improve a pretty awful song.
Nood were essentially the duo of Per Platou and Ulf Knudsen, sonic experimenters par excellence, going by their second (and last) album, the UFO- (and female sexual organ?) referencing Shaped Like a Taco. Listened to in one sitting, it's all a bit much, to be honest, mad, Rhodes-driven opener Urban Latvian Stomp having little in common with the Indian Subcontinent Clavinet funk of Bang Ras, the manic drum'n'bass/sports commentary mash-up of Anderson, Brazil, or the r'n'b of Bumblebee, not to mention the rest of the album. Someone called Rhysea is credited with Mellotron on The Chair, but I'll be stunned if the smooth, reverbed flute on the track is anything other than sampled. Overall, then, one for fans of deranged sample manipulation, genre mash-ups and general lunacy, but the brief 'Mellotron' part is neither here nor there.
Noordkaap were a Belgian Flemish-language pop/rock outfit whose career spanned, yet did not exceed the '90s. 1996's Programma 96 was their fifth album, including a soundtrack, a largely harmless, mainstream effort, slightly like, say, a better Oasis with a proper singer. Better tracks include the rocking Het Oudste Jongetje Van De Wereld and the sparse Meisje Jouw Show, but while nothing here really excites, nor does it fully offend. Wim de Wilde plays Mellotron string samples on Satelliet Suzy, to reasonable effect, although all other possible sightings seem to be generic samples. Can I recommend this? Not really, unless you're a Flemish speaker with rather mainstream tastes, as it does little that can't be heard in the English-speaking world.
I get the feeling that Norwegians Nordagust might find themselves described as 'prog', when what the observer actually meant was 'goth'. 2010's In the Mist of Morning has its moments, although few of them are connected to the overblown vocals, while chopping at least fifteen minutes from its length would've improved the album no end. Well, a little. Imagine a heavyish band with a keyboard player who've never had any experience of writing anything with any complexity whatsoever (shouldn't be difficult) trying to do so. That's what In the Mist of Morning sounds like. We get samplotron strings and choirs all over every track, to the point where you wish they'd shut up. And stop using the samplotron. I actually wanted to like this, but was stymied at some point during the six minutes of the opening title track. I can't even think of anything encouraging to say to the band, not that they'd take any notice, anyway.
Markus Nordenstreng's Songs From Red Hill shifts between lightweight Americana, lite jazz and gospel-lite, the common denominator being 'light'. This is an utter dullard of an album, with no obvious redeeming features. Nordenstreng supposedly plays Mellotron, although online references appear to've... disappeared. No surprise, as he doesn't.
Odd Nordstoga broke through commercially in his early thirties after the release of his second solo album, 2004's Luring. Best described as Norwegian pop/folk, it's a cheery record, full of accordions, massed male voices, banjos and fiddles, which is actually rather better than it sounds. Top tracks? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the balladic Orda Du Gav Meg and Borga I Ur work well. Cropredy Festival Friday afternoon fare, if that means anything to you. Kåre Chr(istoffer) Vestrheim plays samplotron, with a brief descending string line on Farvel Til Deg, a string part doubling the real violin and cello on Borga I Ur, chordal strings on Kom and a brief, uncredited string part on closer Sjøfararsong.
Norfolk & Western (doubtless named for the old railroad company) play an intriguing old-tyme Americana/indie crossover, where the dusty American West is sporadically sharply juxtaposed with modern guitar rock, which actually works better than you might expect. All this from a band who apparently incorporate a genuine century-old Victrola Gramophone into their act...
Their third album, 2003's Dusk in Cold Parlours (like the UK spelling, guys), seems to be fairly typical of their sound, highlights including opener A Marriage Proposal, with its tremoloed guitar, the laid-back Impossible, Oslo and A Hymnal. Tony Moreno and Adam Selzer play samplotron flutes on Impossible and the linguistically-tangled No Else Where He Can Go, with overt flute parts opening Oslo and Disappear. 2006's short A Gilded Age is a good record, without being outstanding, helped along by barely topping the half-hour, not giving it time to pall in any way. Best tracks? Probably the title track (banjo rock, anyone?) and the melancholy There Are No Places Left For Us, though nothing here offends. Rachel Blumberg plays samplotron, with flutes on Porch Destruction and Minor Daughter, with an additional brief wobbly string part on the latter. The same year's full-length The Unsung Colony is roughly comparable to its predecessor, stylewise, better tracks including How To Reel In and the lengthy Arrangements Made. Several of its tracks are uncharacteristically noisy, notably The New Rise Of Labor and Banish All Rock, although the overall vibe is still 'subdued'. The album has no Mellotron credited, strangely, but samples are clearly audible on the finished product, with a major flute presence on The Longest Stare from Dave Depper.
2010's Dinero Severo sees the band stretching out a bit (channelling Neil Young on The Long Goodbye) and generally combining their influences more effectively than before, at least to my ears. My personal preferences lie towards the rocky Turkish Wine, the talking blues Whippoorwill Song and the rockabilly of Sue And The Short Order Cook From Chesterfield, SC, but there isn't actually a duff track on the record. Blumberg, Selzer and Depper all play samplotron, with strings on Turkish Wine, Every Morning, Future Mother and Angel Feet, cellos and strings on The Long Goodbye and flutes on Sue And The Short Order Cook From Chesterfield, SC and Approval From Anyone, pitchbent on the former.
Erik Norlander (US) see:
Why does Bebo Norman (where the hell do these people get their names?) remind me of buboes, the chief symptom of bubonic plague? I can't imagine. He's a pretty typical modern Christian artist, or 'Xian' as I sometimes see it written to my great amusement, as it looks like the kind of name given to the aliens in a particularly dodgy SF effort, probably written by L. Ron Hubbard or someone. Did I say L. Ron Hubbard in a CCM review? Oops... He rose to prominence with noted CCM act Caedmon's Call (Derek Webb is another ex-member), who also used a smattering of samplotron on 1999's 40 Acres.
Myself When I am Real is his fourth and apparently most successful solo album to date. Why? Why is it his most successful? Why did anyone buy it at all? It's horrible, in that utterly insipid way that seemingly only committed Christians (maybe they should be) can manage, although, to give him some vague credit, at least he doesn't whine on about his god incessantly, or at least, not as overtly as many of his god-bothering peers. It's still pretty awful, with the handful of less terrible tracks (Where The Trees Stand Still, My Love) being almost-palatable were it not for his over-emoting vocals, which grate within seconds of first hearing them. Carl Hergesell plays samplotron on one track, Just To Look At You; the unconvincing flutes are probably generic samples, but you can hear Mellotronic cello at the end of the track, as everything else dies away. As, indeed, you would wish the album to.
Norman followed up with 2004's Try and while I know it's a falling-off-a-log-easy target, wouldn't it be nice if he had? (Tried, that is, not fallen off a log. Well, maybe that, too). Instead, we get more utterly formulaic CCM, excepting his continuing (and thankful) refusal to make every track a 'worship song', for which I thank the god (small 'g') he believes in and I don't. Somehow, though, it's a gnat's less infuriating than its predecessor, giving it an extra half star. Like he cares. Samplotron from Matt Bronleewe this time, with a major string part on Soldier, although nothing obvious on Drifting, despite rumours.
The North Mississippi Allstars are fronted by legendary (and now late) producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star)'s sons Luther and Cody, whose remit appears to be 'sound as much like a '70s band as possible'. Do I have a problem with this? No I don't. However, their third album, 2003's Polaris, is good, yet not great; the songs aren't bad, but there's a faint air of second-handness about it all, I'm afraid. Better tracks include Otay and Kids These Daze, but their southern soul influences spoil many a halfway decent track (personal opinion, obviously). And, er, what's with the bloke rapping on Be So Glad? Doesn't work at all, guys. Throwing a quick version of The Allmans' Jessica in at the end of the album is reasonably witty, though. Dad plays samplotron strings and flutes on All Along and while it could be elsewhere, that appears to be it for definite.
Hearts & Souls sits at the less offensive end of the CCM spectrum, rarely completely horrible and occasionally half-decent, as on the hymnlike Sustainer and No Words. Donny Sarian's credited with Mellotron on two tracks, but the rubbish, barely-even-Mellotronic strings on The Rocks And Trees and similar flutes on The Hands I Hold are a joke.
NoSound apparently began as Giancarlo Erra's one-man project in 2002; crucially, Erra was also a member of a Porcupine Tree tribute band (I wasn't aware that such a thing actually existed). After expanding the lineup, the band released Sol29 in 2005, and it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that it sounds a lot like Steven Wilson's crew, although they're not a clone. Their presence on many prog sites is slightly odd, in my humble etc.etc., given that they're more post-rock than anything; then again, isn't their particular strain of prog heavily reliant on that genre? Sadly, the album is rather overlong and dreary, with little change in pace to keep the listener interested (a trick the Porcupine lads have used from the off), although one or two tracks in isolation aren't too bad. Erra allegedly plays Mellotron on the album, although, in fairness, there's nothing credited, as the choir and strings all over Overloaded and the brief choir visitation on Hope For The Future are almost certainly sampled. So; one for Pineapple Thief fans, maybe, although symphonic progsters should definitely look elsewhere. Incidentally, the band released a DVD, The World is Outside, the following year, apparently consisting of audio and video material from the recording of Sol29. Maybe it tells us for sure what makes those Mellotron sounds? Maybe not.
The Notwist are a German English-language indie band, who sound like... pretty much any other English-language indie band, frankly. OK, they have a specifically German electronica aspect to their sound, but not enough to actually place them geographically, which I'm sure is the point. Although a handful of tracks have interesting elements (One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand, the banjo on Trashing Days), most of them drone on for a while before finishing, which isn't really a very encouraging thing to say about anything much, is it? The exceedingly Germanically-named Roberto di Gioia plays samplotron, with strings on Pilot, while Pick Up The Phone opens with a solo flute part, carrying on through the track.
Salim Nourallah's Beautiful Noise is a decent enough indie/singer-songwriter effort, avoiding most of the modern clichés, at its best on Montreal, The Other Side and Slowly Gently Softly. Nourallah and Rip Rowan are credited with Mellotron, giving me a minor conundrum: most of it sounds sampled, but occasionally (notably the strings on Never Say Never), it sounds quite authentic. The album's real string section adds to the confusion; what are we hearing? I'm sticking with samples, at least for the moment. Snowing in My Heart is a similar effort, although its downside is a preponderance of rather mournful ballads, particularly closer The Terror, which ends the album in an unnecessarily downbeat mode. Nonetheless, better tracks include The Wicked Are Winning, It's Okay To Be Sad and the '60s-ish Erased, hauling the album up to a respectable three star rating. Samplotron from Nourallah, Rowan and Chris Holt, with flutes and upfront strings on opener Hang On and The Wicked Are Winning, flutes on So Down, flutes and 'sample use giveaway' MkII 'moving strings' on This Soft Existence, flutes on It's Okay To Be Sad and I Miss You, oboe (?), brass and flutes on It's Lonely When You're All Alone, flutes and strings on the title track and strings on closer The Terror.
The difference a few years can make... 2012's Hit Parade is a vast improvement, sitting somewhere between powerpop and singer-songwriter territory, with a total dearth of indieness, thankfully. Best tracks? I don't believe there's a single duffer on the record, but its highlights are probably Never Felt Better, Goddamn Life, Travolta and The Quitter, which is to ignore material of the quality of Everybody Knows and Miette. Nourallah, Rowan and Richard Martin on samplotron, with chordal strings on Channel 5 and a high string part on the title track. I don't know if it's just me, but 2015's Skeleton Closet sounds like something of a backwards step. Saying that, songs such as Permanent Holiday, Tokens Of Your Cruelty and the white reggae of Two Years keep the standard up, but too much of the album slips back into the rather clunky kind of early 2000s indie that I thought he'd put behind him. Just Nourallah on samplotron this time round, with something (high-end cellos?) in the background on Dead Man's Stare and This Town and a major string part on To The Desert.
Heather "Nova" Frith was born in Bermuda and grew up all over the place, before settling in the States, so calling her 'Bermudan' is probably a bit of a misnomer, if technically correct. 1998's Siren is her fourth album, fitting firmly into the 'poppy female singer-songwriter' niche, making it all but unlistenable to those of us who prefer a little substance in our music; this is about as drippy as it gets, fake emotion spilling out of the speakers and staining your carpet. I'm sure it's all about the words, as usual, but so what? So what if she sings about love in all its guises? So what? So what? Sowhatsowhatsowhat, you boring little... And regarding track five, Valley Of Sound, you don't think she's heard these guys, do you? She's only a step or two away from them... Guy Fletcher (Robbie Williams)'s samplotron finally kicks in on Widescreen, with a vaguely 'Strawberry Fields' flute part.
Nova Social sent me their rather good The Jefferson Fracture a good few years back, an album that falls into the 'intelligent pop' vein of Jellyfish et al., although they add enough of a contemporary touch to not be considered copyists in any way. The band use a variety of instrumental colouring, both old and new, so The Mechanic, for example, features MiniMoog next to a drum machine and a sampler, whereas Caravan Of Kindness is all-traditional, complete with string quartet. There isn't actually an awful lot of the credited Mellotron on the album, the only really audible moment being a few bars of strings in the middle of Sailor, while the flutes on I Got Lucky are way down in the mix. However... I don't believe the band ever told me where they'd sourced a machine, probably because I don't think they did.
After superior Dutch neo-proggers Cliffhanger broke up in 2001, keyboard player Dick Heijboer started Novox (or NoVoX, irritatingly), calling upon all the musicians he knew best for the project, making it essentially an instrumental (Novox, geddit? Eh?) Cliffhanger reformation. Their sole, eponymous album is a far more eclectic beast than anything by Cliffhanger, throwing heavy, slightly jazzy symphonic prog (Be My Guest, Look Up To The Sun, much of the remainder), hugely distorted bass-led madness (Valentine Fuzztrations) and even an impressive piano piece (Then There Was One) into the mix in a way that the original band would never have dared. Heijboer plays plenty of (fairly obviously) sampled Mellotron, with strings all over Looking Up To The Sun, choir on Never Mind and more of the same on a good half of the album, plus flutes here and there. This is certainly one of the better Dutch progressive releases I've heard lately, although the band's neo- past leaks through in places, so; cautiously recommended.
Nuno Bettencourt was, of course, guitar prodigy with possibly the most inappropriately-named band ever, Extreme, who epitomised the commercial hard rock of the late-'80s/early-'90s, while never sinking quite as low as the likes of Bon Jovi. I can never think of Extreme without a) triggering my gag reflex at the memory of their atrocious hits and b) smirking at the memory of a couple of blokes I knew at the time, in those pre-Internet dodgy download days, who were bullshitting frantically in the pub about how good the band's new 'concept' album (1992's III Sides to Every Story) was, when it hadn't even been released yet. Priceless.
Schizophonic is the by-now surnameless Nuno's only solo album to date, this time quite well-named, as it skips between late-'90s hard rock (Gravity, Karmalaa), acoustic balladry (Pursuit Of Happiness, Confrontation), near-punk (the vicious 2 Weeks In Dizkneelande) and the expected pseudo-commercial stuff (most of the rest). Quality-wise, it all sounds terribly ordinary to my ears, but then, as you may've guessed, I was never an Extreme fan, and this album works in the same general area, unsurprisingly. If I was forced (possibly at gunpoint) to listen to one of its tracks again, I'd probably go for 2 Weeks In Dizkneelande, as it at least injects a little energy into the proceedings. 'Mellotron' from Bettencourt himself, with string and flute parts on I Wonder, although I've been completely assured that they're fake.
I don't know what his public profile's like in other parts of the world, but if you live in the UK, it's impossible to be unaware of Italian/Scot Paolo Nutini's questionable charms, although at least his presence is largely confined to large advertising billboards, informing you in breathless tones of his latest release. When I put on his second album, 2009's Sunny Side Up, I was expecting your typical slushy singer-songwriter nonsense, so was surprised to be confronted with a varied effort, taking its influences from soul, reggae, folk, blues and other forms. Unfortunately, I can't say that Nutini does any of them any particular justice, his 'soulful' (read: ravaged at 22) voice irritates rather than entertains; the country/blues of Simple Things, sounding as if it's being sung by a guy in his sixties, which some may like. Can't say I do. Producer Ethan Johns plays samplotron, with what I presume is a high flute part on Candy.
Katharina Nuttall is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, whose debut album, 2007's This is How I Feel, is a mostly gentle, yet oddly dark piano-driven album, although handful of tracks up the ante a little, not least opener Staring At the Sun and Place Of Hope. Best track? Probably her superb, balladic cover of New Order's classic Blue Monday, although her own material is generally pretty decent. (Jakob) Love (Ryman) Olzon is credited with Mellotron on Blue Monday, but the cello, string and choir parts on the song sound next to nothing like one to me. Nuttall's follow-up, 2008's Cherry Flavour Substitute (nice to see the British spelling used for once) is rockier all round, her delivery even gothier than before. Highlight? Her take on The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog is possibly even sleazier than the original; no mean feat, I can tell you. Nuttall and Lars Jonasson Rinman are both credited with Mellotron this time round, but the strings on opener Sorrow Is The Colour, Hold Me, Shimmering Light and Shine are pretty obviously sampled.
The original Nuvole di Paglia were an early '70s Italian heavy/progressive outfit, who, sadly, were unable to get a record contract and split in 1975. A posthumous live album, Live '73, was released by Mellow in 1992, but apparently has pretty poor sound quality. Vocalist Franco Serena reformed the band in the early '90s, with one other original member, releasing a newly-recorded album of their old music, And Then..., in 1994. Most of the album sounds like slightly Uriah Heep-influenced hard rock, apparently their chief style at the time, with the odd flash of progressiveness here and there, with six English-language tracks and four Italian. To be perfectly honest, nothing here really stands out from the pack, as like so many Heep-influenced Continental bands (and there were a LOT), none of them are as good as their chief influence, who had rather too many senior moments themselves for such a young band. Serena's English also leaves something to be desired; sorry, but calling a song Flashing With Love is just asking for trouble, isn't it? In fairness, Sei Stata Tu and Ombre Svolazzanti aren't bad, with a bit of a proggy bent, but it's all a bit second-rate, really. 'Mellotron' on one track (player unknown), although it sounds enough like (quite early) samples to end up here, with overdubbed flutes and strings on Love Me So In The Rain, so this is staying here until/if I find out otherwise.