One Starving Day
Kurt Ostbahn & die Kombo
Outside the Inside (2005, 61.25) ***
|Catch a Falling Knife
Cost of Loving You
Moving in Shadows
Outside the Inside
I Want to Funk You
What a Shame
Keep the Ring (But Give Me Back My Heart)
Voyage (C'est la Vie Voulez Vous)
Man in the Mirror
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 'Tron.
Fleuve (2015, 32.53) ***
Fille Tannée/Fille Tendue
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.
Diegesis (2014, 42.27) **½travis Wax Madonna
Burning of the Midnight Lamp
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.
Impression (2000, 70.11) **½
Children of the Cloud
Flower of Scotland
In Your Eyes
A Prophet's Dream
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.
The Sunlandic Twins (2005, 41.18/54.03) ***½
|Requiem for O.M.M.2
I Was Never Young
Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games
Forecast Fascist Future
So Begins Our Alabee
Our Spring is Sweet Not Fleeting
The Party's Crashing Us
I Was a Landscape in Your Dream
|Death of a Shade of a Hue
Oslo in the Summertime
October is Eternal
The Repudiated Immortals
[bonus disc adds:
Art Snob Solutions
The Actor's Opprobrium
Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks
Everyday Feels Like Sunday]
Skeletal Lamping (2008, 57.58) ***
|Nonpareil of Favor
For Our Elegant Caste
Touched Something's Hollow
An Eluardian Instance
Women's Studies Victims
St. Exquisite's Confessions
|Triphallus, to Punctuate!
And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow
Death Isn't a Parallel Move
Beware Our Nubile Miscreants
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 'Tron 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.
Psych fans are unlikely to prefer Skeletal Lamping to The Sunlandic Twins, but stranger things have happened... More sampletron on the latter than the former, but you're probably not going to listen to these for it anyway.
See: of Montreal | Apples in Stereo | Beulah | Ladybug Transistor | Marbles | Sunshine Fix | Thee American Revolution
ÜTOPIYA? (2015, 76.52) ***
|Omen: Divided We Fall
Someone Must Shout That We Will
Build the Pyramids
Yallah Karga (Dance Song)
Soudain le Ciel
I Terribili Infanti
|Portals of Tomorrow
Requiem for Tony
Aslan Sütü (Santé, Vieux-Monde!)
Palindrome Series (Live at Saint-Merry)
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.
Coming Through (2002, 56.47) ***Godzilla vs. King Ghidarah
The Farther He Goes, The Farther He Falls
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.
So; the proverbial mixed bag, with a couple of really good tracks, several so-so's, one fusion nightmare and a crummy ballad. A decent amount of fake 'Tron neither helps nor hinders the album overall, so it's really down to how badly you want to hear an otherwise unavailable 'Beard epic.
See: Spock's Beard | Neal Morse | Kitaro
Blame it on Gravity (2008, 46.17) ***
Dance With Me
No Baby I
My Two Feet
She Loves the Sunset
This Beautiful Thing
|I Will Remain
The Easy Way
Here's to the Halcyon
Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue
By 2008, The Old 97's 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 tracks here coast along in neutral.
Mainman Murry Hammond supposedly plays Mellotron (they used one on 1997's Too Far to Care), 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. Decent enough, then, if patchy, with sampled Mellotron.
See: Old 97's
A Streetcar Named Disaster (2009, 47.54/75.12) ***
In Too Deep
Rock and Roll
Journey Through the Past
Throw Your Lovin' Arms Around Me
|Fear is a Lie
Keep Your Tears Away
[Bonus disc adds:
There's a World
Day of Days
|A Simple Kinda Life
The Time Ain't Right
I Promised You More
They Won't Take Me]
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.
See: Julian Cope
Tired Birds (2010, 29.55) **½Mourning Doves
Soul on Fire
Off the Rails
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) see:
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.
Atlas Coelestis (2009, 55.24) **½Meridians
The Drift Of Andromeda
An Evil Light
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.
Abnormal Pleasures (2002, 73.53) **
My Heart Belongs To Daddy (Lolita)
Let the Music Play
Kiss of Bliss
|I'm Still in Love With You
Tongue Stuck on the Sun
Bright Morning in Utopia
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.
Opeth (Sweden) see:
What if... (2010, 45.36) ***The House on the Hill
A Second Before
A View From a Hill
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.
The Old Road (2008, 58.01) ****Grand Designs
Power and Speed
Ray of Hope
Take it to the Sun
The Old Road
Out in the Darkness
The Time and the Season
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.
See: IQ | Jadis | Gryphon | Spock's Beard | John Wetton
The Tree of Life (2011, 49.48) ***½Angel Eyes
The Temple of the Worm
The Return of the Sorcerer
Don't Look Now
I Was Made Upon Waters
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.
Pat Ortman (2001, 26.51) **½Tomorrow is Never Gonna Be Your Fault
Worried About Selling Out
It's Just You
All Must Go to Sleep
Eyes Open Wide
Letter to the Editor
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.
Three Seats Behind a Triangle (2006, 63.19) **½
Pictures From Inside
Part I - Colours & Notes
Part II - Unlimited Mind
Part I - After Hours
Part II - Flying Time
The Rebirth of Passion
The Body Parts Party (2008, 56.57/72.55) **½
|Body - The Body Parts Party
Liver - Mr Liver's Letter to You
Brain - Mind on Cloud Nine
Tongue - A White Lie
Spine - In Full Swing
Heart - Back and Forth
Muscle - Strong But Powerless
Bone - My Name is Bone the Single Bone
|[Digipak version bonus tracks:
Remember Your Name
Echoes of the Seat]
Uninvited Dreams (2009, 65.00) ***Univinvited Dreams
My Nightmare is Scared of Me
Childmare (a Goodnight Story)
Lack of Dreams
Is the Devil From Spain?
Is That Devil From Spain Too?
Particles (2013, 47.10) **½
Until You're Gone
Master of Puppets]
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:
Blazing World (2014, 38.37) ****That's Not Like You
Miles and Miles Away
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?
Ohjo (2001, 54.16) **½
In Dera Bar
Jetzt is Jetzt
Passn & Woatn
So Vü Täg Und So Vü Nächt
Da Talking Plachutta Blues
|Liegn Oda Knian
A Batzn Hetz
So Oda So
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.
Stromatolite (2007, 52.07) ***½
Organ Small Works No. 4
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 'Tron samples, although the flutes on Constellation just about pass muster. I could be proven wrong here, but I think it's pretty unlikely; the only relief is that it doesn't sound like the bloody M-Tron. So; 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. It's very typically Japanese, but reasonably good at what it does.
See: Outer Limits
Tales From the Inflatable Forest (2002, 50.15) ***Tales From the Inflatable Forest
There Ain't No Such Things as Spooks
Perfect Picture in Reverse
Healing of a Heart
That's All He Wrote
Ghost of a Train (2006, 39.42) ***½Coal and Dust Prelude
Ghost of a Train
Distant Wolves and a Brakeman's Song
The Mysterious Old Roundhouse
In Three Days
Requiem for an Engineer
Waiting for the Last Express
Guaranteed to Be 100% Free of Hit Singles (2007, 49.23) ***
|The Lawyers Made Us Do This...
Did They Even Sing?
Sign With Disappearing Ink
It Takes a Village to Raise an Idiot
Hydrogen and Stupidity
A Brew for Elliot Spitzer and the Minutemen
And Your Point is...? (for Miles Davis)
Don't Do the Mime if You Can't Do the Time
Just What Did My Royalties Pay for?
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.
So; three decent albums, although Ghost of a Train is the best bet for the prog fan and/or those wishing to hear a reasonable level of (admittedly fake) Mellotron.