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21st Century Schizoid Band  (UK)

In the Wake of Schizoid Men  (2003,  122.54)  ****½
Live in Japan  (2003,  79.45)  ****
Live in Italy  (2003,  61.31)  ****
Pictures of a City: Live in New York  (2006,  112.30)  ****½

The 21st Century Schizoid band were a bunch of early ex-early King Crimson members who decided to revisit their past, killing two birds with one stone by bringing in Jakko Jakszyk on vocals and guitar. Their first lineup was completed by the Giles brothers, Michael (drums) and Peter (bass), with Ian McDonald and Mel Collins on saxes/flutes/keys, enabling them to accurately tackle some of the original band's two-sax parts on stage. They were a fabulous live band, although as with 'regular' tribute bands (these guys were an awkward 'neither flesh for fowl' halfway stage), I'm not fully convinced of the logic behind their decision to release a series of live albums. I suppose they document the band's career, but is anything here better than the originals? No, frankly, although a few tracks have rarely/never turned up on any of the slew of Crimso live efforts, including a couple of new pieces.

Their first release, 2002's Official Bootleg V.1 is, surprisingly, a studio album of several of Crimso's best-known early material, generic string samples to the fore on The Court Of The Crimson King, although it's a decent enough listen for those who already know the original inside-out. They followed up with 2003's double-disc In the Wake of Schizoid Men (ho ho), Michael Giles by now replaced by his original successor, Ian Wallace. It sports a full set recorded (mostly?) in Japan, covering not only most of the best material from the first four Crimso albums (wot, no Mars?), but a track from Jakko's The Bruised Romantic Glee Club (Catley's Ashes), a short flute trio piece (self-confessed 'flute owner' Jakko playing number three), a self-written opening piece (Schizoid Intro), a McDonald/Pete Sinfield thing (Let There Be Light) and Birdman from McDonald & Giles' eponymous, untoured 1970 album. The playing's as top-notch as you'd expect, McDonald particularly shining on 21st Century Schizoid Man, while Jakko carries the show, doing a good Fripp throughout. On the fakeotron front, we get strings on Schizoid Intro, strings and flutes on Cirkus (although the brass is generic) and strings on Catley's Ashes, Sailor's Tale, Epitaph and Starless, although I'm not convinced (again) that the strings on The Court Of The Crimson King are anything more than generic modern samples.

2003's Live in Japan and Live in Italy contain similar-yet-different tracklistings, seeing the band branching out from their 'Crimso only' beginnings. They both combine some of the best early Crimso (not least a ripping version of Sailor's Tale on the latter) with a handful of tracks from various members' other projects, including McDonald's Let There Be Light on the former and the studio band version of Jakko's Catley's Ashes on the latter. Both discs feature the expected samplotron parts on In The Court... and Epitaph, while the former unexpectedly adds 'Mellotron' strings to Birdman, an excerpt (originally Mellotron-free, of course) from the McDonald & Giles album, while the latter does the same to the aforementioned Catley's Ashes.

2006's two-disc Pictures of a City: Live in New York is an excellent record (in both senses of the word) of the band's final tour, including not only Jakko's superb between-song banter, but also otherwise unrecorded flute trio piece (Jakko: "I'm not so much a flute player, more of a flute... owner") Spend Us Three, leading into a beautiful Cadence And Cascade. We get the obvious old faves and a ripping Cirkus, while although the only onstage musician to have actually played on the original Starless (and then only as a guest) was Ian McDonald, they tackle it as an encore. It's hard to say for certain, but I might just recommend this as THE 21stCSB album to buy if you'd like to hear 'em at their peak.

Of course, Ian Wallace's tragic death in 2007 put an end to the band; presumably either Mike Giles was unwilling to do it again, or (more likely) the heart went out of it for the remaining members. Those of us who saw them have fond memories of seeing the bulk of those first two Crimso lineups play some of their best material, while Jakko's pillar box-red suit is utterly unforgettable. It's not the same on CD (not the suit, the music), while the best live versions of most of these tracks are actually by King Crimson, funnily enough, but all of the above are worth hearing for fanatics who just can't get enough.

3 Bucket Jones  (UK)

Take These Ghosts  (2016,  44.57)  ****

3 Bucket Jones are the trio of Gitika Partington, Garry Hughes and Andy McCrorie-Shand, once of Druid, more recently a composer for TV (Teletubbies, anyone?). Their second album, Take These Ghosts, has all the hallmarks of a modern singer-songwriter record, only by a band, with both male and female lead vocals. Confused? It took me until the end of the album to spot one of the trio's chief influences: Kate Bush. Gitika's voice sounds little like Kate's; it's more that the mix of instruments and the folky-yet-not stylings have something of La Bush about them. Highlights include the gentle opening title track, You Love Me More, with reverb-drenched piano that could've been lifted from any 4AD release you might care to name, You & Me Thing hints at a less deranged Tom Waits, while closer One Day Soon seems to condense all of the band's influences into a single track, uplifting yet simultaneously melancholy.

Andy admits to playing a Memotron (although the 'Mellotron' sounds too clean to be real, to be honest), major use including the strings all over the title track, You Love Me More and Gravity and the strings and flutes on One Day Soon, while the odd choir part crops up here and there, too. Criticisms? I can't say I'm a fan of the pseudo-ethnic sequenced parts to be found on a few tracks, but what do I know? A minor quibble. All in all, a fine record. Worth a punt.

3NF  (UK)

Antbooty 7"  (2004)  **

3NF (originally Three No Fillings, according to Discogs) may never have released anything other than 2004's Antbooty 7", backed with its Matt Elliott mix. The a-side spends a minute or more in the ambient zone, before the rhythm kicks in, after which it fits somewhere into that vast area known only to me as 'dance', although the flip is more ambient, which only improves it slightly, frankly. Said flip features woozy, vaguely Mellotron strings, but I don't think are ever going to fool anyone, to be honest. Cue: an outraged member of the band telling me they're real. Pt.96.

5a Estación  (Spain)

Flores de Alquiler  (2004,  46.39)  **
Sin Frenos  (2009,  46.49)  ***

La 5a Estación, or La Quinta Estación (the fifth season), are a Spanish pop/rock outfit who relocated to Mexico after the release of their first album, 2001's Primera Tome. Its follow-up, 2004's Flores de Alquiler, is a bland, safe, yet largely ignorable record that irritates nowhere near as much as many similar, although that really shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation. Armando Avila, who has worked with Mexican outfit RBD, adds alleged Mellotron flutes to Niña, with a minor, yet perfectly pleasant part, but, as with all his other production work, it's clearly sampled. 2009's Sin Frenos is, for some inexplicable reason, far better, possibly due to an upping of the 'rock' in its 'pop/rock'. Once again, an obvious samplotron flute part opening Es Cierto, but that's yer lot.

8x8  (US/Ukraine)

Anatomy of an Apricot  (2011,  45.40)  ***½

8x8 are the kind of band that could only realistically exist in these times of digital connectivity, as its members, New Yorker Lane Steinberg and Kiev native Alex Khodchenko have apparently "...never met, nor even spoken"! As you might expect, you can't see the joins on Anatomy of an Apricot, a rather splendid release, situated in the 'goldilocks zone' where powerpop meets psych, influences being all the usual suspects. Top tracks? Difficult to pick anything out as 'notably superior', but perhaps vaguely XTC-ish opener Fantastic Sun, Live In Dreamland and For Sure By Friday Night have the edge. Khodchenko and Gregory White are credited with Mellotron, but the strings on most tracks and flutes on Snowflake In The Rain and Everywhere And Forever are very obviously sampled.