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Bobby O  (US)

Outside the Inside  (2005,  61.25)  ***

Bobby O(rlando) is a highly successful producer from the disco/Hi-NRG era, which makes it all the more surprising that 2005's Outside the Inside is a pretty decent electro/rock hybrid, using many analogue synths (real or virtual). The album's chief fault is its length; an hour is rather over-egging the pudding, to be honest, but little, if any of the album actually offends, immediately putting it many notches above some of the crud I've played recently. Orlando plays 'Mellotron' himself, alongside various synths, although its overall smoothness makes me more than suspect sample use. He uses strings or choir on a good half of the album's tracks, to reasonably good effect, but unless this is the best set-up machine ever (or a MkVI?), they're samples. So; far better than expected, if not actually that exciting, with plenty of presumably fake Mellotron.

Ô Paon  (Québec)

Fleuve  (2015,  32.53)  ***

It seems that Ô Paon are synonymous with Geneviève Castrée, her 2015 release, Fleuve, being loosely based on her upbringing in Montreal, although non-French speakers will be none the wiser. Musically, I suppose this lies somewhere between post-rock and drone, Castrée's vocals mostly rising over one-chord monotones, giving a hypnotic effect from which many other purveyors of this style could probably learn. No, there are no obvious highlights; this is an album to be consumed in a single sitting. Castrée and Gus Franklin are credited with Mellotron, very specifically, track-by-track, which makes it easier for me to say, 'er, no'. I don't know what they consider a Mellotron to be, or to sound like, but we're not even hearing obvious samples here, frankly. The droning, multi-octaved kind-of strings on the credited tracks? Anyway, superior post-rock, no Mellotron.

OK Go  (US)

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky  (2010,  51.19)  *½

I've seen OK Go (awful name) described as 'alternative rock', which is enough to put me off straight away. However, I've been wrong before, so let's... AARGH! NO! 'Alternative rock' my arse! This is generic, modern indie crud, typified by the infuriating, pseudo-'African' guitar on Needing/Getting and the overall utterly piss-weak sound. The vaguely '60s-ish I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe is possibly the least annoying thing here, but that really is clutching at straws. I presume it's Andy Ross playing samplotron on a few tracks, with string stabs during opener WTF? and more major string parts throughout While You Were Asleep and closer In The Glass, with some nice pitchbends towards the end.

ONO  (US)

Diegesis  (2014,  42.27)  **½

Chicago's ONO have apparently been around since the early '80s, although they neither seem to warrant their own Wikipedia page nor have any obvious Web presence of their own. I don't know whether or not 2014's Diegesis (it means narrative, or plot) is typical of their oeuvre, but comparisons are... difficult. The Residents? The further reaches of art-rock? Someone shouting over synthesized noise? I know there's an audience for this stuff, but I'll come clean and say I have no idea where they're coming from or have any realistic way of judging whether or not this has any artistic merit whatsoever. Most interesting track? The percussion-heavy version of Hendrix' Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, the end of which I've seen described as sounding 'like a gospel choir emerging from a mud pit'. Someone (P. Michael?) supposedly plays Mellotron, but a solo spot towards the end of OXBLOOD, combining strings with flutes, sounds too smooth for its own good, although, of course, if anyone out there should know better... I can't honestly recommend this on musical grounds, but if you like to rock in an artful fashion, you may just have found your new favourite band.

The OO-Ray  (US)

From Street Level: Live at the Big Busk, 7-28-12  (2012,  41.11)  ***

The OO-Ray (real name unknown) is an experimental cellist from Portland, Oregon, whose From Street Level: Live at the Big Busk, 7-28-12 was, to quote from the sleevenotes: "...recorded at the intersection of SW Morrison and Broadway as part of the Big Busk, a street performers' festival in Downtown Portland, OR." I have to say, nothing here sounds as if it were recorded out of doors; perhaps the festival was held in an indoor or semi-covered space? Anyway, it's a series of drone pieces for cello and other instruments, more 'modern classical' than any form of rock you might care to name. Track 6 (Duet For Mellotron And Strings) features an infinitely-repeating flute part (player unknown) that sounds like an iPad app (or similar), good though the samples are. I would, I'll be honest, be stunned were I to discover that someone had hauled a real M400 onto a Portland steet corner to jam with a cellist, however experimental.

Oak  (Netherlands)

Building Steam  (2004,  45.42)  ***

Building Steam is a well-above-average post rock/pop album, although the relatively minor variations between tracks make it difficult to isolate any highlights. Someone plays vague samplotron flutes and that old cliché 'washes of strings' on Break For You, Six Lights, A TV For Your Love (dropping below the instrument's range) and closer Delight.

Pascal Obispo  (France)

Un Jour Comme Aujourd'hui  (1994,  54.49)  *½

Pascal Obispo is a hugely successful French singer-songwriter type, whose third album, 1994's Un Jour Comme Aujourd'hu, is a pretty wet affair, consisting mostly of ballads or soft dance numbers, with the occasional burst (I use the term loosely) of neutered rock'n'roll, the overall effect akin to being smothered by a marshmallow pillow. In French. Jean Mora plays samplotron on Chlore, with a pleasant enough melodic flute part, dropping below the Mellotron's range.

Obrero  (Sweden)

Mortui Vivos Docent  (2011,  47.56)  ***

Obrero (Spanish for 'worker', apparently) are a Swedish stoner outfit and Phidion/Talion side-project (no, I don't know them either), which is another way of saying that they're effectively slavish Sabbath copyists, albeit with their own touches. Their debut, 2011's Mortui Vivos Docent, features vocalist Martin Missy's peculiarly literal lyrical bent, imaginary battles fought in excruciating detail across the record, rather like setting Lord of the Rings to music, line by line. Musically, the band actually nail that Sabbath groove in places, sounding far more fluid than many of their contemporaries, if no more original. Mathias Öjermark plays samplotron, with distant string parts on everything except The Fourth Earl, plus choirs towards the end of Exterminate and flutes on The Lost World. Those titles, guys...

Senator O'Brien  (US)

Primary  (2002,  40.25)  ***

It's difficult to say who Senator O'Brien actually is; his surname's genuine, but Senator? Who knows? Anyway, he describes Primary, stuffed with well-known-to-famous names, not least Mick Fleetwood, Tommy Mars, Waddy Wachtel and our old pal Patrick Warren, as 'R&B punk', which is actually fairly accurate. Best tracks? Probably Your Man Is Here and closer Somebody's Revolution. Now, at some time in the dim and distant past, I've clearly seen a reference to someone (almost certainly Warren) playing Chamberlin (although all I can find now is a generic 'keyboards' credit), but there's nothing to be heard in an uncluttered mix, so here this goes and here it stays, until/if someone can point me towards the tape-replay use.

Obscured By Clouds  (US)

Bleed  (1999,  42.22)  **

Can you guess Obscured By Clouds' chief influence? Thought not - too obscure (see what I did there?). Bleed actually consists of one original (bemusingly, in two versions), six Floyd covers (including Pigs On The Wing, Cirrus Minor and Julia Dream) and one each from Zeppelin (That's The Way) and The Doors (Crystal Ship). Sadly, their lumpen delivery, complete with inappropriate synth sounds, ropey playing (spot the bum note on Breathe) and characterless singing consigns the album to (wait for it) deserved obscurity. To add insult to injury, Ray Woods' 'Mellotron' on both versions of the title track turns out to be no more than fairly crummy samples. Despite the quality of (most of) the source material, I couldn't, in all conscience, recommend this pointless, amateurish mess to anybody.

Ocean Colour Scene  (UK)

Painting  (2013,  38.22)  ***

Ocean Colour Scene's Painting is a far stronger album than I'd expected, although its best tracks (Goodbye Old Town, Doodle Book, Weekend) tend to be clustered towards the beginning of the record, in true 'pop album' style. Steve Cradock's credited with Mellotron, but the string, cello and flute parts all over opener We Don't Look In The Mirror, flutes and strings on Weekend and I Don't Want To Leave England and brass and strings on Mistaken Identity aren't quite convincing me, despite past use.

Odissea  (Italy)

Odissea  (1973,  37.04)  ****

Odissea's sole release is an above-average slice of typical Italian prog, although at times it sounds just that little bit to close to Genesis for comfort. Strangely, I've seen Odissea described as 'average', but I've heard an awful lot more ordinary albums within the genre, although it has to be borne in mind that the quality of early-'70s Italian progressive was way above that of most countries. Ennio Cinguino's credited Mellotron simply isn't, although there's a good helping of string synth to be heard.

Erin O'Donnell  (US)

No Place So Far  (2001,  43.11)  *½

I'd already listened to the first two or three tracks of Erin O'Donnell's fourth album, No Place So Far, before I clocked that she's a CCM artist and I already hated what I heard. I'm saying this to deflect imaginary-but-potential criticism of the anti-Christian bias on this site; yes, this is god-bothering crud, but I hated it before I realised. Why is it that this stuff is mostly utterly, utterly awful? I know the message comes before the medium, but couldn't they make just a little effort on the medium side? Hang on, you're not allowed to say 'medium' to a Christian, are you? They might think you're talking about spiritualism and get all upset. Out of interest, did you know that references to reincarnation were allegedly removed from the Bible early on, along with a load of other inconvenient stuff?

This really is a very nasty album indeed. Slushy, schlocky, insipid, not to mention wholly unoriginal; Some Things Never Change nicks Boston's More Than A Feeling riff, in a really lightweight kind of way (don't start - Boston rock). Tape-replay credits are Blair Masters on Mellotron and Glenn Rosenstein on Mellotron and Chamberlin, with what sounds like Chamby strings on Only You, recognisable Mellotron flutes on the title track and fainter ones on For Me, although the source of the strings on closer There Is No Fear In Love is difficult to determine for certain. However, it all appears to be sampled, making the whole thing fairly irrelevant.

Aoife O'Donovan  (US)

Fossils  (2013,  39.39)  ***

Aoife O'Donovan is very much Irish-American, spending childhood summers in the Old Country, an influence that leaks through the otherwise fairly mainstream country of Fossils. A quietly beautiful record, it sidesteps the clichés and tweeness usually associated with the genre, making an album that could almost as easily be classified as 'folk' or 'singer-songwriter', highlights including Briar Rose, Thursday's Child and closer Oh, Mama. Rob Burger plays samplotron flutes on opener Lay My Burden Down (spot the low F) and O'Donovan adds occasional block flute chords to Thursday's Child.

Odyssice  (Netherlands)

Impression  (2000,  70.11)  **½

Odyssice formed as far back as the late '80s, their first 'proper' release being 1996's mini-CD, Moon Drive, subsequently reissued, expanded, as Moon Drive Plus. Their first full-lengther, Impression, appeared in 2000, showcasing their instrumental neo-prog sound. While it's not a bad album, exactly, it lacks any even remote vestiges of originality (the title track is pure Floyd) and is wildly overlong; my eyes started bleeding around the fifty-minute mark, with twenty minutes to go... Bastiaan Peters' guitar work is fine, in that 'soaring' kind of way, but it's not enough to make this album at all interesting, while the rest of the instrumental work is competent but unexciting. Are they trying to be Finch? They fail. A shorter version of this album (you could start by cutting out the horrible ten-minute Asia soundalike closer A Prophet's Dream) might have garnered a slightly higher star rating, but this reviewer's patience was sorely stretched long before then. Keys man Jeroen van der Wiel uses pretty obvious Mellotron samples on a couple of tracks, with distant choirs on Legend and strings on Anuradhapura. I'm not sure I can think of anything more useful to say about this, really; an average (if thankfully vocal-free) neo-prog album with light Mellotron sample use. Enthralling.

of Montreal  (US)

The Sunlandic Twins  (2005,  41.18)  ***½
Skeletal Lamping  (2008,  57.58)  ***

of Montreal (note lower case 'of') are yet another of those 'Elephant' bands from Athens, Georgia; various reasons are given for the name, all of them probably untrue. Their founder and one consistent member is Kevin Barnes, whose style fits loosely with the Elephant 6 format, such as it is; modern psychedelic pop/rock with influences from any- and everywhere, true to the spirit of the original psych explorers. Barnes' fragile vocals are a feature of the band, as are their occasional forays into tweeness, without which they'd doubtless be 'just another band from GA' (sorry).

The Sunlandic Twins is their seventh album and has a slight Scandinavian bent, due to its partial recording in Norway (see: Oslo In The Summertime). Like their other works, many of the lyrics err on the melancholy side, set to bright'n'breezy tunes, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Highlights include Requiem For O.M.M.2 (love the early Floyd intro, chaps), Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games (a mutated version of which was used in a US commercial, to fans' consternation) and October Is Eternal, though truth be told, there are no bad tracks here. Psych-spotters should note the use of fast 'Syd' echo on several tracks. No-one's credited with Mellotron, despite full-on string parts on Knight Rider and I Was A Landscape In Your Dream, plus choir swells and more strings on October Is Eternal, but their overly-consistent attack and evenness give the game away on the sample front.

2008's Skeletal Lamping is a considerably odder record than The Sunlandic Twins, many of its tracks channelling '70s soul and funk, amongst other influences, although it's still a psych album at heart. How much you'll like it depends on your tolerance for clean, rhythmic guitar work and almost Philly-esque vocal harmonies, but there's still plenty of Floyd-ish meddling for the faithful. The Mellotron samples eventually kick in, with strings towards the end of St. Exquisite's Confessions and a brief burst in the middle of the lengthyish Plastis Wafer.

Ogre  (US)

Seven Hells  (2006,  56.24)  ***

I don't think it would be unfair to say that Ogre's music is, er, 'informed' by that of Black Sabbath, to the point where, vocals aside, it's a virtual copy. Their second album, 2006's Seven Hells, is decent enough, as long as you don't find its overbearing Sabbath-ness a problem. Can you plagiarise a sound? Its best track is probably thirteen-minute closer Flesh Feast, if only because it does what every other track on the album does, but for twice as long. Ross Markonish plays distant samplotron choirs on Flesh Feast.

Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez  (US)

The Deep End  (2009,  56.10)  **½

The Deep End sits somewhere in between Americana, soul and blues, only occasionally ramping up the energy levels. I'm probably missing the point. Producer Andy York (Ian Hunter, who guests here) is credited with Chamberlin. Er, the low strings on Cry Baby Cry? The cello on The Gone Of You? Non.

Oiseaux-Tempête  (France)

ÜTOPIYA?  (2015,  76.52)  ***

I suppose Oiseaux-Tempête's 2015 release ÜTOPIYA? is post-rock of a sort, described by the band's Frédéric D. Oberland as, "...the second chapter of a trilogy around Mediterranean Sea and myths. The travels move this time to Istanbul and Sicily". It certainly has something of the Near East about several of its (mostly instrumental) tracks, although the temptation to let rip overcomes them every now and again, notably on Someone Must Shout That We Will Build the Pyramids. A good chunk of its length is taken up by the twenty-two minute live track, Palindrome Series, that closes the record. It's a claustrophobic, swirling noise-fest, played by musicians who understand the ebb and flow of improvised music, which makes a nice change from the attempts of many of their contemporaries. Oberland's credited with Mellotron, but I think not... Quite a bit of chordal flute work, with occasional strings, but I'd put money on it having nothing to do with a real machine. Whatever they're using blends into the palette in a pleasing enough way, but I wouldn't try to claim it was a Mellotron.

Okkervil River  (US)

The Stage Names  (2007,  41.46)  ***
The Stand ins  (2008,  40.12)  ***

Okkervil River's The Stage Names is a typically 'themed' release, possibly musically less exciting but better lyrically than its predecessors. Opener Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe is good, but sounds like a Waterboys outtake, while Unless It Kicks has an almost Stones vibe about it, an influence that seems to be cropping up with greater frequency in Okkervil's work. Incidentally, John Allyn Smith Sails is probably better known to you as Sloop John B; an American folk song, the Beach Boys appropriated it back in '66. Samplotron from Jonathan Meiburg and Scott Brackett, although I've no idea why it took two of them to play the almost-inaudible strings on Unless It's Kicks, only becoming apparent right at the end of the song.

The following year's The Stand ins is the second part of The Stage Names, originally conceived as a double; the two sleeves form a larger picture when placed one above the other. Sadly, the same problem applies to this album as to its 'first part', in that it's, well, less interesting than their earlier work. Some individuality seems to have been lost and the songs are less quirky, but maybe that's just my personal prejudices coming into play. Saying that, Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed On The Roof Of The Chelsea Hotel, 1979, is inspired by failed US glamster Jobriath (BWC being his real name), who died in 1983, decades before any possibility of musical rehabilitation. Three samplotron players this time, Brackett, Justin Sherburn and Brian Beattie, with fakey-sounding strings on Starry Stairs, Blue Tulip and Calling And Not Calling My Ex.

Ryo Okumoto  (Japan)

Coming Through  (2002,  56.47)  ***

Ryo Okumoto is, of course, best known these days for his membership of Spock's Beard, whom he joined in time to play material from their debut, The Light, on stage, before becoming a full-blown member. What is probably less well known is that he's been playing since the late '70s (he was born in 1959), even contributing Mellotron to Kitaro's In Person Digital live album, from 1980. He moved to L.A. in the early '80s, and now has a CV as long as your arm, playing sessions with the likes of Phil Collins and Roberta Flack.

Coming Through isn't his first solo album, although it's the first since he became known to the prog world at large, and it's no particular surprise that it sounds a lot like, er, a solo album from a member of Spock's Beard. Opener Godzilla Vs. King Ghidarah (killer title) starts well before descending into Jazz Hell, while the next few tracks all fall into the general 'flashy hard rock' category, with touches of the 'Beard here and there. The title track is a full-on cheeso ballad, unsurprisingly co-written with ex-'Bearder Neal Morse, although so is the album's best track, the lengthy Spock's-alike Close Enough, while closer The Imperial is a solo keyboard piece that finishes things off nicely. Inconsistency seems to be the name of the game here, I'm afraid, which is why the album doesn't get a higher rating, despite the high quality of a couple of tracks.

After perusing the second disc's 'making of' documentary, and various pics, both in the booklet and on Ryo's website, I think it's safe to say that all the 'Mellotron' on the album is sampled, though I'd like to be proven wrong. As far as the album's pseudo-'Tron work goes, there's faint choirs near the beginning of Free Fall, held too long for the real thing, a nice flute part and some strings on the title track and more of everything on Close Enough and The Imperial. So why didn't Ryo hire in a real machine? Who knows? Budget? Inconvenience? Couldn't be arsed? I believe he's subsequently bought an M400, and has definitely used it (or one, anyway) on Spock's recent, Morseless albums.

Old 97's  (US)

Too Far to Care  (1997,  46.24)  ***
Blame it on Gravity  (2008,  46.17)  ***

The grammatically-challenged Old 97's formed in 1993, releasing something like seven studio records to date. Fronted by the charismatic Rhett Miller, they're one of the better alt.country bands around, although without the psychedelic edge of, say, The Jayhawks, they're unlikely ever to appeal to a wider audience. 1997's Too Far to Care is their third effort and, while a respectable enough album, it fails to ignite in the way you hope it might, possibly being just a touch too trad for its own good. Wally Gagel plays background samplotron strings on Salome. By 2008, the band could be described as one of the few survivors of the '90s alt.country scare, still plugging away, still making decent, if mildly uninspired records like Blame it on Gravity. That's probably slightly unfair; tracks like rocking opener The Fool, Ride and coruscating closer The One are as good as anything in the genre (well, nearly), but too many songs here coast along in neutral. Mainman Murry Hammond supposedly plays Mellotron, but the distant strings on This Beautiful Thing and slightly more upfront ones on Color Of A Lonely Heart Is Blue ain't foolin' anyone, boys.

Michael Olivieri  (US)

Goodbye Rain  (2009,  38.20)  **½

Leatherworlf's Michael Olivieri (guess what style his band plays?) released Goodbye Rain in 2009, a melodic rock/Americana album of no great originality. Best track? His mildly inventive reworking of the various parts of Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall as a single piece. He's credited with Mellotron: surely not the vague, muted flutey thing on Apologies? For fuck's sake.

Chris Olley  (UK)

A Streetcar Named Disaster  (2009,  47.54)  ***

Chris Olley has worked with Julian Cope and it shows in his songwriting on 2009's A Streetcar Named Disaster (ha ha), a similar blend of sophisticated lyrics and deliberately simplistic, almost rhythmless tunesmithery. Is it any good? Probably depends on how you feel about Cope's oeuvre, I suppose, although Olley lacks Saint Julian's manic tendencies, pretty much every track here heavily influenced by the quieter (if still intense) end of Cope's work. Olley plays credited M-Tron on a large chunk of the album, with, variously, church organ, flutes, strings and cellos on most tracks (including most of the bonus disc), plus probably some other sounds I've missed. This, ladies'n'gentlemen, is why extensive sample sets can be a problem: what sound do you use? Any? All? Sometimes, limitations can be good. Chris Olley will appeal to a certain type of old-school indie fan, I suspect, but don't come here looking for musical complexity, sampled Mellotron or no sampled Mellotron.

Allan Olsen  (Denmark)

Gæst  (2004,  44.01)  **½

Allan Olsen's Danish-language singer-songwriter material on Gæst is acceptable enough, if repetitive after the first few tracks. Language lessons needed, I think. Gæst Vincent (subject of the album?) supposedly plays Mellotron on En Plads I Byen, but the flutes on the track fail to convince.

Mark Olson  (US)

Salvation Blues  (2007,  36.55)  ***

Mark Olson was a founding member of The Jayhawks, leaving in 1995 to become full-time carer for his wife, Victoria Williams, an MS sufferer. He made several albums her as The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, in a much more traditional country vein, an approach he's carried over to his first proper solo album, 2007, Salvation Blues. There's no point trying to call this 'alt.country' or similar; the only thing that stops it being mainstream country is a traditional, non-schmaltzy Nashville approach, which is what makes it listenable, rather than dreck. I'm not saying "I love this album"; I don't, but it does what it does well, making me unwilling to give it a hard time for doing something I don't particularly like. Zac Rae is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with what sounds like Chamby strings on National Express, Keith and Sandy Denny, plus what I take to be Mellotron cellos and possibly flutes on the latter, all sounding sampled.

Ome  (US)

Tired Birds  (2010,  29.55)  **½

The Original Mark Edwards, or (ome), is a Minneapolis-based electronica artist, whose third album, 2010's Tired Birds, is a strange, brief snapshot of the inside of Edwards' head. It veers between the folk/electronica of opener Mourning Doves through Soul On Fire's choral pop to Off The Rails' balladry, the other five tracks slotting uneasily into another five genres. Diverse? Unquestionably. Cohesive? Questionable. Edwards plays Mellotron samples on a cluster of tracks in the middle of the album, with flutes and cellos on New Jamb, strings on Prophet Songs, choirs on Off The Rails and flutes on Hungry Bears. Am I sure they're samples? Pretty much, yeah; listen to those choirs... Parts of this album sound they're being experimental merely for the sake of it; what's the point of the digital glitches in Mourning Doves? Oh well, I'm sure it makes sense to Edwards and his fanbase.

Omega Syndicate  (UK)

Analogue Waves  (2004,  75.35)  ***½
Phonosphere  (2005,  68.42)  ***½
Sequences, Chords & Leeds  (2005,  71.44)  ***½
Apocalypse  (2006,  68.39)  ***
Horsemen on the Horizon: Live @ Awakenings, 8th July 2006  (2006,  78.50)  ***½
Same Synths... Different Day!  (2006,  73.50)  ***
Baptism of Wire  (2007,  65.50)  ***½
X  (2011,  76.05)  ***½
The Holy & the Ivories  (2011,  70.25)  ***

Omega Syndicate are the British EM duo of Dave Gurr and Xan Alexander (plus collaborators), as prolific as every other outfit in the genre, largely down to seemingly recording and releasing every note they play. You try doing that in a 'regular' band...

2004's Analogue Waves succeeds in sounding at least slightly different to the morass of so-so EM out there, the ethos of the polysynth-heavy, major-key title track being more '80s than '70s. Other notable features include a lovely bum chord halfway through 12:21 pm and a lengthy, ripping synth solo in Dark Skies. The samplotron finally appears ten or so minutes into 12:21 pm, with some phased strings, little burst of choirs and string popping up towards the end of the piece and in Dark Skies. The following year's Phonosphere (recorded at two different concerts in '04) is dominated by the hypnotic, seven-part title track, although opener Our Communication Satellite Has Disappeared is possibly the best thing here. Not that much samplotron, either, aside from strings on the opener and outrageously-sustained choirs here and there during Phonosphere itself. One of the first of the band's limited CD-R releases, Sequences, Chords & Leeds (ho HO!) is another decent effort, only slightly marred by an unfortunate propensity for using that awful DX7 'chime' patch on a couple of tracks (why? Irony?). No samplotron on opener Undercurrent, but we get lush strings all over Sequencing On A Grand Scale, although Mello-Dramatic is, rather surprisingly, less samplotron-heavy than expected, with string and rather crummy flute parts wandering in and out of the mix.

To be brutally honest, I don't think their tenth (?) album, 2006's Apocalypse, is actually, er, that good. Sorry, guys, but there's something about it that keeps making me reach for the 'next' button (although I've managed to restrain myself so far). What is it? The vaguely techno-esque rhythms that occasionally make themselves apparent? The lack of any obvious talent in the melody department? The unpleasant modern synth sounds? The undeniable fact that I'm basically all EM'd out? Dunno, but it really didn't grab me at all, unlike some of the electronic albums I've heard recently. 'Mellotronically' speaking, it's all the usual suspects, with string and choir samples inserted here and there, plus a major flute part opening Pixie's Playground, but it really isn't anything you haven't heard before.

2006's Horsemen on the Horizon (subtitled Live @ Awakenings, 8th July 2006), recorded with a four-piece version of the group is remarkably guitar-heavy, particularly opener Kriegspiel, while Equilibrium Of Injustice features an overt, deliberately synthetic drum machine part, amongst the album's other 'non-standard' features. Not that much samplotron, all things considered, with choirs on Kriegspiel and Yersinia's Release and a great deal of flute on Harbinger. Frankly, I'm not at all convinced by the same year's Same Synths... Different Day!, which gathers together all the things I like least about modern EM, although I refuse to take it personally. Examples? The cheesy polysynth/sequencer combo on While My Filter Gently Sweeps (ho ho), the section in Synthetic Sphinx with clashing chords/melody/sequencer lines, which would've been solved by dropping the chordal part and, worst of all, rattly, manic closer No Reservations, almost bipolar disorder set to music. Not that much samplotron, with occasional string notes on Gremlins In The Desk and choirs on While My Filter Gently Sweeps, most of the album sticking to its title. The following year's Baptism of Wire is a major improvement, however, opener Control Freak featuring a lengthy synth solo, as does Haunted, with all the harsh, irritating rhythmic stuff banished to somewhere or other. Plenty of samplotron, of course, notably on Control Freak.

2011 's enigmatically-titled X (is it their tenth album? Surely they've done more?) carries on the good work, with several hypnotic, repeating samplotron string riffs across the disc, not least on opener Chimera. Plenty of samplotron elsewhere, although its frequent use as nothing more than a background pad gets irritating after a while. That winter's The Holy & the Ivories (enough terrible puns already!) is about as far from being a 'festive' release as you could get (OK, you could probably get further), which is doubtless the idea. Very Christmassy, chaps. I couldn't really get into this one, frankly; while genuinely exploratory, I'm not sure Chronosphere 03 is entirely to my taste on the rhythm front, but what do I know? Samplotron on some tracks, not on others, which is about the most relevant thing I can think of to say regarding their sample use.

I've just had a fab idea that non-Mellotron-owning EM bands could take up. Don't use samples. The sounds have become completely devalued in the genre due to overexposure, so do something different: have a look at whatever synths you own and just use their own sounds. If, of course, they have any.

Ominous Seapods  (US)

The Super Man Curse  (2000,  49.12)  ***

Have you heard of The Ominous Seapods? Nor me. Turns out they're a second-division jamband who apparently concentrate more on the 'guitar dance' end of things, as against the 'sub-Dead' end, I suppose. I think 2000's The Super Man Curse is their fourth studio release, sounding like a cross between the Allman Brothers and the already-established Phish to my ears, better tracks including Money To Burn and the closing title track, which both jam out nicely, fittingly. The overall impression is of a relatively 'retro' band doing their best to straddle the great divide between 'traditional' and 'modern' and partially succeeding. Glenn Rosenstein plays samplotron, with distant strings and flutes on Bong Hits & Porn and strings on Thought About It.

Josh One  (US)

Narrow Path  (2004,  43.16)  **

Josh "One" Noteboom is a DJ/'producer' type (not a 'producer' as the rest of us understand it), who rose to prominence after remixing something that then sold shedloads. In a genre that doesn't really work on the old 'album/tour' model, it isn't surprising that it's taken him until 2004 to release a long-player, Narrow Path, the contents of which I've seen variously described as nu-jazz, downtempo and hip-hop, although it might help simply to think of them as different forms of 'dance'. It certainly helped me. Patrick Bailey is credited with Mellotron on two tracks, although the thin, wispy string notes on Less Traveled and chord work on the closing title track refuse to interact when played as intervals, sounding most unreal, frankly. Anyway, if you're a 'typical' PM reader, you really aren't going to go for this anyway.

One Small Step for Landmines  (US)

One Small Step for Landmines  (2007,  38.05)  **½

Popmatters tell me that One Small Step for Landmines are emo. So that's what it sounds like! Energetic indie with no descernable songs, for the uninitiated. Jason Freese is credited with Mellotron, but Don't Go To Hell's flutes and strings... aren't.

One Starving Day  (Italy)

Atlas Coelestis  (2009,  55.24)  **½

One Starving Day coalesced in the late '90s, slowly changing their own sound over the succeeding decade, ending up at 2009's Atlas Coelestis' cross between very slow metal and post-rock (is this post-metal?). While the album has its moments, far too much of it consists of formless avant-metal and pseudo-experimentation, with little real content. Or am I just showing my age? Probably. Pippo Foresti supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes that open An Evil Light (repeating throughout) sound too smooth for their own good to my ears. To be honest, I'd have trouble recommending this were it definitely real; I'm sure it's good at what it does, but it's dull.

One Ton  (Québec)

Abnormal Pleasures  (2002,  73.53)  **

One Ton were a Québecois trio whose sole album, 2002's wildly overlong Abnormal Pleasures, is so chock-full of ideas that they ended up merely confusing the general public, despite having a minor hit with Supersexworld. Hip-hop, indie, Latin, jazz, reggae... It's all here, often all within the same track, which, while musically meritorious, doesn't always make for the easiest listening, although they probably thought they were being commercial. Incidentally, Perfect Being is nearly four minutes of silence, so maybe 'commercial' isn't quite the right word to use. Emile Goyette and Eric Filto play 'Mellotron' on Let The Music Play, with interlocking flute parts that might fool the ear, were it not for the obviously fake strings later in the track, the flutes cropping up again, uncredited, on Paper Thin. It's no great surprise that they never made another album; this didn't sell well enough for Canadian Warners to pick up their option, although I'm sure they could've made records for an indie for as long as they liked.

Only Children  (US)

Change of Living  (2004,  37.54)  ***½

Only Children comprise several ex-members of Kansas local heroes The Anniversary, who clearly felt the need to (re) connect with their roots. Their debut, 2007's Change of Living, is an excellent Americana effort, highlights including the title track, featuring some excellent Skynyrd-esque guitar work, Girl With The Golden Hair and 'epic country' closer The Circle Will Not Be Broken, but genre fans will find little to disappoint them here. Producer Marc Benning adds a minor samplotron flute part to Through The Night.

Opeth  (Sweden)  see:

Opeth

Orchestra Noir  (UK)

What if...  (2010,  45.36)  ***

Orchestra Noir are a British post-rock/dark folk ensemble, essentially a Sol Invictus offshoot, no doubt appealing to fans of that outfit. 2010's What if... seems to be their debut full-lengther, a superficially gentle, yet ominous album, considerable use being made, fittingly, of orchestral instruments, not least violin, viola, oboe and cor anglais, the woodwinds used to particularly good effect on closer Spitfire. Richard Moult is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be pretty surprised if the overly-smooth choirs on Nightjar have anything to do with a real machine. So; vaguely folk, vaguely classical, even slightly prog in places, but no actual Mellotron.

Martin Orford  (UK)

The Old Road  (2008,  58.01)  ****

In 2007, after nearly thirty years in one form or another, Martin Orford left the band he'd co-founded, IQ. He'd started work on his second solo album, The Old Road, two years earlier, (his first is 2000's Classical Music & Popular Songs) so you couldn't really call it a 'post-split' album, and he seems to be on good terms with his ex-colleagues anyway, so no conspiracy theories, thanks. Martin's gone through his address book and got all of his mates on here, so although the album's slightly inconsistent in places, the resulting variety is quite welcome. Various members of IQ, Spock's Beard, Jadis and Gryphon all chip in, as does John Wetton and several others, although the whole thing's tied together by Martin's distinctive writing style. Grand Designs opens with a huge instrumental burst that is IQ to a T, albeit with Martin's vocals, followed by the instrumental Power And Speed, something he could only rarely get away with in IQ. Although a couple of tracks veer slightly too close to the 'commercial' (I use the term loosely) side of his writing, there isn't, in truth, a bad track here. Martin's sleevenotes say:

"This is not a progressive rock album... this CD is not about pushing back the boundaries of music... it's unashamedly retro and proud of it... This is all about doing things the old way."

...Which is about as unequivocal a declaration as you're likely to find anywhere. In fact, not since the second Gentle Giant album have I read such an uncompromising sleevenote. Ironically, theirs said the exact opposite, but that was another age... Martin uses sampled Mellotron on a handful of tracks, à la his last IQ album, Dark Matter, with strings and choir here and there, never overused, never out of place. Real (credited) Moog Taurus here and there, too, often alongside the samplotron. A combination that never fails... So; if you're an IQ fan and want more, or if you're an old-school progger (pre-'80s, that is) and you're prepared to wade through the tracks you won't be so keen on (Out In The Darkness, Endgame), you really can't go too far wrong here. Martin was talking recently about 'giving up music', although that seems to have fallen by the wayside. all I can say is, don't you dare, Mr. Orford - more of this stuff, please. "I don't have a website and I don't particularly want one. MySpace: Certainly not. I just don't get it". Way to go, Martin.

Oranger  (US)

Doorway to Norway  (1999,  37.27)  ****
The Quietvibrationland  (2000,  39.41)  ***
Shutdown the Sun  (2003,  37.48)  ***

Going by Doorway to Norway, Oranger are an excellent modern powerpop outfit at the rockier end of the scale; think Redd Kross and you won't be too far off the mark. Their songwriting rivals many of their far more famous contemporaries; OK, let's be honest: their songwriting beats most of them into the ground. Donald, You're Freaking Out not only has a chorus to die for, but also has the best fuzz guitar sound I've heard all year, while simply the title of Mike Love, Not War earns them a star on its own. OK, that's enough wildly enthusiastic praise; what about the samplotron, I hear you ask? Well, it's only on two tracks, with an almost solo strings spot in the middle of Mike Love..., while more strings open This Snake Will Kill You and I think that's Mellotron flute doubling the Farfisa (?) towards the end of the song.

Before I obtained a copy of 2000's The Quietvibrationland (or The Quiet Vibration Land), I'd pondered over its title more than once until, one day, I listened to The Who's Tommy (as you do). There it was. Amazing Journey: "Deaf, dumb and blind boy/He's in a quiet vibration land". Very good, chaps, pretty much up there with The Anderson Council for full-on rock history referencing. So; does it sound like The Who? Not really, no, Texas Snow aside, it actually sounds an awful lot like The Beatles in their 'pre-psych' era, knowingly-titled McCartney-esque opener Sorry Paul setting the scene. Does it do it well? Hmmm. If I'm going to be honest (I always try), I've heard better Beatles pastiches, although it has its better moments, not least Lay Down Your Head, Child, Texas Snow, Stoney Curtis In Reverse and some of the several brief, instrumental 'linking' tracks that make the tracklisting look like the album should be longer than it is. Mike Drake adds a smidgeon of samplotron to the album, with a brief brass part at the end of Falling Stars and a weird (backwards?) string part in Green Gold Rolling Skull. Shutdown the Sun carries on in a similar vein, at its best on Going Under, Tree Bent Gun's psychedelia and the trippy Othersider. Patrick Main plays not-very-Mellotronic strings on Static On The High Desert.

Ornah-Mental  (Germany)

Heliopolis  (2009,  66.45)  **½

Heliopolis is actually a live album, although you wouldn't know it by listening. Ornah-Mental sound a bit like a Teutonic Ozric Tentacles, I suppose, all swishy synths, dub bass and psychedelic exploration; pleasant enough for a couple of tracks, but a bit of a grind at over an hour. Leander Reininghaus' 'Mellotron' on closer Sternentor (a studio track?) amounts to no more than samplotron strings.

Orne  (Finland)

The Tree of Life  (2011,  49.48)  ***½

Orne are generally described as 'prog', but 2011's The Tree of Life actually sits more in that brief, turn-of-the-'60s psych/prog area than any later variant on the style. Unsurprisingly, it's been released by Italy's Black Widow label, named for the band of the same name and era. It's a perfectly nice album, but somewhat lacking in invention, trying to be all things to all, er, psych/prog fans, complete with thankfully unaccented, doomy invocations, the occasional Sabbath-esque riff and shedloads of grungy Hammond. Best track(s)? Hard to say, but The Temple Of The Worm might just win out on sheer length grounds, coming in at just over twelve minutes. Although the word 'Mellotron' crops up in promotional literature, the band's online studio blog gives the game away instantly, featuring a picture of their Memotron; I can't exactly say I'm surprised - I'd already sussed sample use (he said, smugly). It only obviously appears on three tracks, with a long choir note opening the album, flutes on The Return Of The Sorcerer and strings and choirs on I Was Made Upon Waters, assuming the machine's vast Mellotron sample library doesn't provide any other sounds on the album. Overall, then, fairly typically Black Widow, so if you're au fait with their catalogue, you'll know what to expect.

Ornithos  (Italy)

La Trasfigurazione  (2012,  61.26)  ***½

La Trasfigurazione is a hugely ambitious, hour-long album in the grand Italian progressive style. Concept? Quite likely, though without a working knowledge of the language, it's hard to say. The band shift through a variety of styles, including Hammond-driven jammed-out psych, metal, folk, symphonic progressive and even jazz on closer This Is What We've Got/The Flute Song. Will I find the time to get to know this album better? Probably not, which is a shame. Mellotron string, choir and flute samples all over the place from drummer Diego Petrini, frequently good enough to fool the ear.

Pat Ortman  (US)

Pat Ortman  (2001,  26.51)  **½

What can I tell you about Pat Ortman? Er, next to nothing, frankly; I'm not even sure he's American, although it seems likely. He made two albums in the early 2000s, his eponymous debut in 2001 and The Wow Signal two years later, but seems to have subsequently disappeared. The mercifully brief Pat Ortman, I'm afraid to say, is a rather bland, safe release, online reviewers comparing him to Coldplay, amongst others, which just about says it all. If I were feeling charitable, I'd say, "Typical US singer-songwriter album of the period, hoping to get his music used on a popular TV show." Ortman plays Mellotronic flutes on It's Just You, but I have to call their veracity into question; it seems fairly unlikely that the unknown Ortman had access to a real Mellotron, unless he shelled out for a hire machine, which seems unlikely. Do you bother? You do not.

Osada Vida  (Poland)

Three Seats Behind a Triangle  (2006,  63.19)  **½
The Body Parts Party  (2008,  56.57)  **½
Uninvited Dreams  (2009,  65.00)  ***
Particles  (2013,  47.10)  **½

Although Osada Vida's official biography states that the one (musical) limit they accepted was, "...No limit at all", the end result, at least on their third album, 2006's Three Seats Behind a Triangle, is bog-standard, downtuned progressive metal. As with most such efforts, there are many interesting moments, but the whole lacks originality to the point that boredom sets in after a while, particularly given the album's hour-plus length. Although credited with Mellotron, the brief burst of that familiar string sound Rafal "R6" Paluszek adds to the first part of Pictures From Inside, Colours & Notes, is fairly obviously sampled.

2008's The Body Parts Party starts off more promisingly than its predecessor, but soon slips into that familiar prog-metal groove, only slightly leavened by some reasonably authentic monosynth parts from Paluszek. Next to no samplotron this time round, with naught but a few seconds of choir on 'digipak bonus track' (why?) Remember Your Name. The following year's Uninvited Dreams, however, is something of an improvement, being generally more inventive and experimental (I use the term loosely), even shifting into psychedelic territory on closer Neverending Dream. More samplotron this time round, with a major, obviously sampled string part on the opening title track and more of the same on My Nightmare is Scared of Me, with other little bursts here and there.

2013's Particles takes a bit of a more 'commercial' direction, more obvious examples being Different Worlds and Until You're Gone, although I'm not sure just how 'commercial' (slightly) more accessible material (largely defined here by 'poppier' vocal lines) might be in this oeuvre. Snippets of samplotron across the album, notably the flutes on opener Hard-Boiled Wonderland, a brief solo part on Fear and choirs on Shut, David's Wasp and Different Worlds. Do you bother with any of these? Prog metallers will love this stuff, but I suspect the rest of you/us won't have to feign indifference.

Osanna  (Italy)  see:

Osanna

Osiris Club  (UK)

Blazing World  (2014,  38.37)  ****

The Osiris Club grew out of the same (small) pool of musicians as my own Zoltan, the two bands sharing a drummer, Andrew Prestidge (hi, Andy). Their debut, 2014's Blazing World (in honour of Margaret Cavandish's groundbreaking 17th Century proto-SF work) combines Prestidge and co-founder, guitarist Chris Fullard's various influences, the end result coming across as a kind of grunge/prog crossover, with elements of Cardiacs thrown in here and there. Does it work? By and large, although the keyboard-heavy mix bears little relation to the band's live, twin-guitar assault, while the band's ongoing 'vocalist issues' lead to some uneasy compromises on that front; I mean, what the fuck is with the "I like pavement" bit in Mystery Sells? This is what happens when you let American humour (the album was mixed by Master Musicians of Bukkake's Randall Dunn) onto a British album. It's difficult to pick out 'highlights' per se; the album works best as a whole, all eight tracks featuring excellent bits amongst, er, some not-quite-so excellent bits, although my personal favourites are probably the title track, featuring Sarah Anderson's blistering violin work and closer Miles And Miles Away. Although the band had access to my Mellotron, they opted to use samples, with strings on most tracks and chordal flutes here and there, alongside the analogue synths used extensively on the record. Not a bad start then, chaps, but how about coming down and recording the off-white box full of tapes next time, eh?

Kurt Ostbahn & die Kombo  (Austria)

Ohjo  (2001,  54.16)  **½

As far as I can ascertain from Google translations, Kurt Nilsen/Ostbahn, a vague parody of Bruce Springsteen, is the invention of Günter Brödl, brought to life by Austrian singer Willi Resetarits. I did say, "'As far as I can ascertain..." The Nilsen/Ostbahn persona seemingly took on a life of its own, releasing more than twenty albums over a near-thirty-year period, finally retiring the character in 2005. 2001's Ohjo (credited to Kurt Ostbahn & die Kombo) is a mainstream German-language pop/rock effort, meaningless if you don't speak the language and possibly if you do. While not actually 'awful', this is also a very long way from 'interesting'. Roland "Prof. Gugg" Guggenbichler is credited with Mellotron, but if the murky strings on Passn & Woatn are supposed to be genuine, I'm an Austrian. Er... One for the more mature Austrian listener, I suspect; certainly not for anyone wishing to hear some Mellotron.

Otep  (US)

The Ascension  (2007,  61.05)  **½

Otep are a female-fronted and led American (semi-) extreme metal band, the female in question being Otep Shamaya. Y'know, if I didn't know it was a woman singing, I'd assume all the 'roaring' stuff was a bloke, with Shamaya adding the quiet bits... Her/their third album, 2007's The Ascension (or the_Ascension) is fairly typical of the genre, quiet bits juxtaposed with bits that aren't quiet at all, with nary an original riff in sight, although that seems to be typical of the metal scene these days. Best track? Their cover of Nirvana's Breed, 'cos it's actually got a tune. Holly Knight (yes, the one who's written for Bon Jovi, Heart, Aerosmith et al.) co-produced Perfectly Flawed, allegedly adding Mellotron strings to it. Sampled, says I.

Other Lives  (US)

Other Lives  (2009,  45.13)  ****

After changing their name from Kunek (why? It's better), Other Lives have released an EP and two albums, the eponymous latter of which is quite lovely, operating in an Americana/folk rock zone, augmented by a small string section and multiple harpsichords (!). Actually, it's not difficult to spot a subtle progressive influence on several tracks, too, although I wouldn't be surprised to find that they've come to it from a different angle to that of most 'regular' prog fans. Singling out 'best tracks' is nigh-on impossible; suffice to say, the album features a refreshing lack of indie whining and a refreshing surplus of intelligent, emotionally mature songwriting, that should keep fans of the more cerebral end of the rock spectrum happy. Josh Onstott plays samplotron flutes on opener E Minor and End Of The Year.

Ottoman  (US)

Times Like These  (2001,  57.08)  **½

Ottoman's alt.rock has distinct soul, jazz and occasional dub influences on several tracks; whether or not this improves them is entirely up to the listener. Marianna Hetrick's credited Mellotron flutes on Times Like These are clearly nothing of the sort, while it's unknown whether the flute line on Running Out Of Time is even supposed to be Mellotronic.

Our Broken Garden  (Denmark)

When Your Blackening Shows  (2008,  38.21)  **½
Golden Sea  (2010,  41.10)  **½

Anna Brønsted is, essentially, Our Broken Garden, her slow, dreamlike songs and wispy voice defining the band's sound on their debut, 2008's When Your Blackening Shows. It's the kind of album that sounds good for a handful of tracks, but even though it's only 'vinyl length', its relentlessly sad approach begins to drag after a while, making you (or at least, me) beg for something with slightly more energy. Or indeed, any. Palle Hjorth allegedly plays Mellotron, amongst many other things, with faint flutes on opener Watermark, quite certainly sampled. Two years on, Golden Sea is more of the same; at least you couldn't accuse them of inconsistency. Søren Bigum may very well be credited with Mellotron, but I have no idea why.

Outer Limits  (Japan)

Stromatolite  (2007,  52.07)  ***½

Twenty years on from Outer Limits' last studio album proper, the band reform and release 2007's Stromatolite (a geological term, in case you were wondering). And it... sounds like an updated version of Outer Limits; four of their six members from two decades earlier are present and correct, not least violinist Takashi Kawaguchi, who provides so much of the band's identity. His solo piece, Caprice, proves his competence, but his violin and viola work are the main reason this album stands out from the pack. Overall, the band's take on the Japanese prog sound flirts with cheesiness, notably in the synth brass used on Pangea and Constellation, although good taste prevails throughout keyboard player Shusei Tsukamoto's pipe organ solo, Organ Small Works No. 4 (stop laughing). Tsukamoto is credited with 'keyboards, Mellotron, pipeorgan', but the nearest anything here comes to sounding like a Mellotron are brief flute and string parts that barely even sound like samples, although the flutes on Constellation just about pass muster. Would I have bought this album if I'd known the 'Mellotron' credit was false? Probably not, to be honest, although it's not a bad record.

Outer Space  (US)

Outer Space II  (2012,  47.43)  ***

Outer Space II is an EM album with a considerable difference, to whit, it doesn't sound like Tangerine Dream, or any other major name, for that matter. Admittedly, the eleven-minute Vanishing Act features Tangs-esque sequencer lines, but 3332, while rhythmic, will never be mistaken for the hordes of Tangsalikes that infest the scene, ditto lengthy closer Liquid System Functions. Despite several online references to being 'produced with Mellotron M-400 and synthesizer', the Mellotronic strings on Vanishing Act are clearly sampled.

Jessica Owen  (Canada)

Ever-So-Slightly Rearranged  (2003,  47.15)  **

Ever-So-Slightly Rearranged is, at heart, a wishy-washy Americana album, although elements of alt.rock turn up in places. Best track? Sparse closer If I Could Sleep, no contest. Andrew Hollander plays samplotron strings on Mr. Billboard.

Ginny Owens  (US)

Long Way Home  (2005,  43.43)  **
Get in, I'm Driving  (2011,  42.12)  **

Ginny Owens is a blind CCM singer, which slightly takes the wind out of my sails on the cruelty front, although 'brutal honesty' is still an option. Long Way Home is, frankly, undiluted slop, although the rockier Pieces is just about palatable. Cason Cooley is credited with Mellotron, but the flute parts on Fellow Traveler and Wonderful Wonder aren't striking me as authentic. The nicest thing I can say about this is that I've heard worse. Get in, I'm Driving is slightly more musically adventurous, but not enough to be genuinely interesting. Co-producer David Das is credited with Mellotron, but the string swells on the title track and flutes on Before You Fly really aren't doing it.

Owl Watches  (US)

Tales From the Inflatable Forest  (2002,  50.15)  ***
Ghost of a Train  (2006,  39.42)  ***½
Guaranteed to Be 100% Free of Hit Singles  (2007,  49.23)  ***
The Complete Radio Free Antarctica Tapes  (2010,  29.16)  ***

The Owl Watches began as Phil McKenna's solo project, gradually becoming a fully-fledged band, although their/his debut, 2002's Tales From the Inflatable Forest, is an entirely solo work. More fusion than prog, its five lengthy tracks could probably have done with a little editing, but it's by no means a bad record, just a slightly unoriginal one. Phil admits to using 'fake Mellotron'; the string samples on the opening sixteen-minute title track are very obviously un-Mellotronic, so he isn't lying. Four years and three new members later, Ghost of a Train is a huge improvement, far more (genuinely) progressive than its predecessor, better tracks including the Crimson-esque title track, The Mysterious Old Roundhouse and the rhythmic Requiem For An Engineer, sticking with the railway/road theme. Fakeotron on most tracks from McKenna, plus Dave Condra on The Mysterious Old Roundhouse, almost fooling the ear in places, until they're used outside their natural range.

2007's amusingly- (and devastatingly accurately-) titled Guaranteed to Be 100% Free of Hit Singles is possibly more 'progressive' again, but at the cost of even the tiniest hint of accessibility. I suppose that's the point... Rocky(ish) Closer Just What Did My Royalties Pay For? aside, it consists largely of sparse, sometimes almost formless jazzy explorations, as often as not supported by ambient percussion, rather than anything especially rhythmic. Sound like your bag? I'm afraid I preferred their approach on Ghost of a Train, but kudos to the band for refusing to fall into the trap of repeating themselves. The Mellotron samples finally turn up on the penultimate track, WARDROBE!!!!!, with a chordal flute part throughout, but it's hardly the heaviest use you'll ever hear. Their final album, The Complete Radio Free Antarctica Tapes (an amusing conceit, purporting to be recorded on an Antarctic base after a five-night residency), is another free jazz/avant-prog effort, not dissimilar to McKenna's previous work, with a little samplotron strings here and there.