Pinkroom are a newish Polish progressive metal outfit, although thankfully, their influences on 2009 debut Psychosolstice wander further afield than the average. Yes, the ghost of Dream Theater is ever-present, but I hear a lot of Discipline-era King Crimson, particularly in the complex, interlocking clean guitar parts that run through most tracks, while they could almost be mistaken for a goth outfit in places. Best tracks? Opener Path Of Dying Truth, if only because it perfectly lays the band's cards out on the table and possibly Days Which Should Not Be, nicely enhanced by Anna Szczygiel's cello. Band mainman Mariusz Boniecki plays Mellotron string samples here and there, notably on Path Of Dying Truth and Stonegarden, although I think they crop up elsewhere, too. All in all, then, considerably better than your average prog-metal-by-numbers nonsense, if no classic.
Norwegian hip-hop duo Pistol & Bart rap in their own language and their (lone?) album, ...Rir Igjen, is certainly more musical than the average in their genre. You know, people actually playing real instruments an' shit. Sadly, the only bits that might appeal to me are inevitably ruined by one of the lads spouting nonsense over them. Well, I presume it's nonsense, working on the basis that most hip-hop is full of macho braggadocio. Maybe they're saying something erudite. Who knows? Er, Norwegians, actually. Rudi Nikolaisen and Cato Salsa play samplotron, with distant choirs on Det Gamle Huset and strings on Konsentrasjon and Kilometerteller.
Plackband's history has already been précised in my review of the original '70s band's lone archive release, 2000's 1981 live recording The Lost Tapes. Twenty years on, that album and 2002's After the Battle bear some comparison, the bulk of the new release being average, uninventive, limp neo-prog, notably closer Remember Forever, the lengthy 'modern prog' title track being about the best thing here. The whole affair could've been much improved by judicious wielding of an editing knife, but at an interminable hour long, it's all a bit dull, frankly. Obviously sampled Mellotron all round, with a major string part on the title track, along with an overextended choir chord that gives the sample game away, just in case, plus choirs and strings on End Of The Line and a couple of other tracks. I can't in all honesty recommend this album, much as I applaud the band's tenacity. Listen to someone other than Pink Floyd, Camel and (ahem) Marillion please, chaps.
Home Brewed does what it says on the tin, being a self-financed album in an indie/psych/powerpop vein, at its best on opener People Get Up, Streamlined and The Grape Ape (Retires At The Thanksgiving Day Parade) and its least good on Mascara and Midnight. Suspect there's a lot of samplotron in the mix, but it's only occasionally overt, notably the obviously sampled flutes on Streamlined.
As I've said in my review of Plasticsoul's genuine Chamberlin-heavy debut, 2005's Pictures From the Long Ago, they sit somewhere inbetween Americana and powerpop, the two genres being more closely related than you might think. The band have followed up with 2009's Peacock Swagger, a slightly more laid-back, countryish effort, highlights including opener You Sentimental Fucks/Life On Other Planets and the acoustic What Do You Know About Rock & Roll? Band mainman Steven Wilson (no...) has admitted to me that all the 'Chamberlin' here is sampled; the band clearly fell in love with the sound while recording their debut and couldn't bear to let it go, just because of a lack of access to a real one again. Anyway, we get that peculiarly raucous string sound on half of the tracks here, plus that oh-so-distinctive solo male voice on Cancer, occasional flute use and a whole strings phrase on My Three Friends sounding not dissimilar to the MkII Mellotron 'moving strings'. Despite the differences between their two releases, anyone into the band's debut will find things to like here, while of the two, Americana fans will probably prefer this.
Platinum Weird were a long-lost early '70s outfit, helmed by a young Dave Stewart (Eurythmics, not Egg/Hatfields) and legendary vocalist Erin Grace, who recorded an album's-worth of material... OK, they're not. In the grand tradition of The Rutles, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Spinal Tap and others, they're an elaborate fake, although Stewart went all-out to create a backstory for the band, including fake websites, one amusingly claiming to've existed since 1987 (yeah, like CDs signed by Hendrix). They're supposed to've influenced Fleetwood Mac just before their Americanisation and indeed, 2006's Make Believe sounds a lot like a less catchy version of the Rumours-era band. So; who is Erin Grace? Kara DioGuardi, as it happens, a performer/writer/general industry mover'n'shaker who was attempting to write material for The Pussycat Dolls with Stewart when they diverged into this project.
But is it any good? I hear you ask (possibly). Er, faux-mid-'70s soft rock? Whadd'ya reckon? It's sort-of amusing for its accuracy and commitment to 'getting it right', but only once. Actually, it's so easy to forget you're listening to a fake that it quickly just becomes dull, full of slushy ballads and spot-on half-arsed attempts at 'rock', like If You Believe In Love or closer Goodbye My Love. Someone called Noel Chambers is credited with Mellotron, but the veracity of both is a bit suspect, frankly. Given that he's working with Stewart, Chambers seems to have no online presence whatsoever, while the 'Mellotron' is not only too smooth (M-Tron! M-Tron!), but Love Can Kill The Blues features a string chord holding rather over the maximum eight seconds. Hardly surprising, given that a) Stewart's never been known to use one before (please correct me if I'm wrong) and b) the whole thing's a fake, anyway. The samples crop up on most tracks, with strings across the board and the occasional flute part, although by the time we get to the strings on Goodbye My Love, the fakery is fairly apparent.
Amused by fake bands? You'll love Platinum Weird. Love Rumours-era Mac? You might find this an amusing diversion. I did say 'might'. Everyone else? I rather doubt that you'll get much from this, but you never know. Plenty of fakeotron, but I can't really say it improves the material overmuch.
Ernesto "Ego Plum" Guerrero's influences include film music, cartoons, '80s American post-punk and The Residents, amongst others. The Rat King is his (and his Ebola Music Orchestra's) debut, a crazed melange of all of the above, the end result sounding like a twisted circus, or a soundtrack to a freakshow, possibly at its best on the lengthyish title track. Aaron Cohen plays fakeotron flutes on Something To Hide, Hansel And Gretel and the title track and strings on Funeral Dirge.
Plumb's strangely-titled Candycoatedwaterdrops starts by sounding like it's channelling Zeppelin's Kashmir in a contemporary style, but quickly sinks into a pit of horrors, not least due to the revelation (ha ha) that they're bloody Christians. Well, I should've realised, shouldn't I, with titles like God-Shaped Hole and Drugstore Jesus? Not to mention the 'thanks section: "We want to thank most importantly Christ, our Savior, in whom this album is in honor" Er, 'in whom this album is in honor'? Is their faith so overwhelming that their grammar goes to shit? Obviously. That looks a lot like someone trying to write 'proper' English without actually knowing how. Anyway, this album is lyrically offensive to anyone who would once upon a time have been known as a 'free-thinker', and it's musically offensive to anyone who likes anything outside the mainstream. Yes, even a little bit. Co-producer Glenn Rosenstein allegedly plays Mellotron on Stranded, but given that both he and Mike Purcell are credited with 'programming', it's safe to say that it's lost somewhere in the glossy, superficial mix. Exactly the same goes for Matt Stanfield's supposed Mellotron work on Solace. Oh well, at least I didn't waste a whole 43 mins 55 secs listening to this dreck; when Mellotron tracks are credited and the music's awful, I freely admit that I reach for the 'skip' button with some frequency. Drivel. And I haven't even mentioned the ludicrously-named Tiffany Arbuckle's horrid, 'confessional' vocal style. After listening to this, I feel defiled. Avoid, with urgency.
Mike Plume sits somewhere in between two closely-related genres, Americana and 'roots rock', coming across like a cross between, say, Steve Earle and Tom Petty, or maybe John Mellencamp. 1997's wittily-titled Song & Dance, Man was his band's fourth release, although their third recording, as they recorded another album's-worth of material at the end of the sessions, releasing it first. It's the kind of album that does a job and does it well, with little fuss or bother, notable tracks including opener Rattle The Cage (yup, always start with a strong one), the countryish If There Was Ever A Fool and Take Me With You, largely for its pseudo-mariachi trumpet arrangement. Producer Marek (nothing to do with my pal in Litmus, I hasten to add) is credited with Mellotron, but if the vaguely flutey sound on Oblivion is a genuine machine, I'll be stunned. So; a good album of its type, but not one obviously containing any Mellotron.
Bloody hell, how to describe Resurrecting the Magus? German jamband funk? Eight tracks in over seventy minutes means a lot of jamming, at least in this case, although much of the guitar work is funky, rather than psychedelic. I can't honestly say this stuff floats my boat, although I might find an abbreviated version of the album more listenable, which is quite certainly missing the point massively. Oh well. Pofter (whoever he may be; ludicrous nickname, too) plays samplotron strings on Dig This.
The Pogo Pops played a form of mainstream guitar pop on Crash, occasionally slipping into the 'power' variety, notably on Jennifer Peach and Just Like You. Yngve L. Sætre's credited Mellotron on Jennifer Peach and Veronica Says is very clearly nothing of the sort. Fail.
Polifemo are one of several Argentinian '70s outfits who credited 'Mellotron' when the album quite clearly contains nothing of the sort. I'm not at all sure what was going on there, but having listenend to several of these efforts and been rewarded with nothing more than Ciro Fogliata's string synth every time, I've completely given up on music from that country/era. Saying that, Polifemo II is actually a pretty good album, just not one that really belongs on a website celebrating the Mellotron. They did that mix'n'match thing with their sound, veering from hard rock through fusion to a fairly straight prog sound on different tracks, which could be seen either as diversity or not knowing what they wanted to do; your decision, really. Their self-titled debut apparently credits Fogliata with Mellotron again, but I think it's safe to assume it's as non-existent as here. Fogliata previously played with Espiritu, so the same goes for their albums, as it does for Gustavo Montesano of Crucis.
Polytechnic worked their way through several other names before arriving at their final, uninspired moniker. Fitting, really, as their music's no more inspiring than their name, being a slightly-more-melodic-than-usual variety of indie, at least on their sole full-lengther, 2007's Down Til Dawn. Vocalist Dylan Giles' style veers between Tom Verlaine and his more famous namesake, possibly to disguise an inability to carry a tune in a bucket. Cynical? Moi? A couple of tracks rise slightly above the mire, but overall, it's all pretty dull, albeit largely inoffensive. Giles, Peet Earnshaw (the actual keyboard player) and Yuri Caul are all credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Won't You Come Around and Quay Street are unable to convince, a speedy run at the end of the latter being the definite sample giveaway. So; not very exciting, really, is it? As the band found their limited level of fame through live work, I'll be charitable and assume that the material worked better on stage.
Steve Poltz' singer-songwriter thing incorporates a large helping of '70s-style soft rock, which doesn't, to be brutally honest, improve it a great deal. I've no idea why Billy Harvey is credited with Mellotron.
Lola Ponce (pronounced 'Pon-che') is an Argentinian singer/actress type who broke through internationally in Italy (her website has a '.it' suffix); 2008's Il Diario di Lola is her fourth album, combining Italian, Spanish and English lyrics in a probably successful attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience. It's pretty much as you'd expect; pop of various hues, from the glossy AOR of opener Colpo Di Fulmine through the balladry of Mi Heroe to the dance-pop of Devorame Otra Vez, making for the kind of album that you, dear reader, are unlikely to go for. Rick Nowels (Dido, Ronan Keating, a host of other mainstream pop acts) plays samplotron, with little repeating string stabs on It Goes Down and flutes on Use Your Imagination.
Pony Harvest play a form of '60s-influenced electronica, if that makes any sense, possibly at its best on Brain Medicine. Richard Bradley slaps samplotron choirs and flutes all over Medieval Hairdo.
Norway's Poor Rich Ones have a post-rock-inflected indie sound on the wildly overlong Happy Happy Happy, with no obvious highlights. Someone (Cato Salsa?) plays samplotron strings on the title track, Drown and several others, with flutes elsewhere, notably the way-over-eight-seconds pitchbends on New Lullaby.
2004's Poorfolk is something of a '90s indie hangover, with no obvious highlights. I've no idea why regular Canadian samplotron user Dave Draves even gets a Mellotron credit.
Florian Fricke's Popol Vuh (nothing to do with the later Norwegian band, of course) soundtracked Werner Herzog's iconic Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1972, although it took three years for any kind of soundtrack album to appear. 1975's Aguirre actually only contains two tracks from the film, Aguirres I and II, the rest of the material dating from various studio sessions between '72 and '74, two of which (Morgengruß II and Agnus Dei) are alternate versions of tracks from '74's Einsjäger und Siebenjäger. Fricke largely gave up on electronics after '72, preferring ethnic musics or his beloved piano, making this one of their more varied releases, also covering acoustic (Morgengruß II and Vergegenwärtigung) and psychedelic (Agnus Dei) areas, the only tracks with any real connection to each other being the ones from the film.
Aguirre is one of the commonest Mellotronic 'mistaken identity' albums, due to Fricke's use of the legendary 'choir-organ' (see: Amon Düül II). It can be heard on both parts of Aguirre itself (and the CD-only third part), providing ethereal choral washes, backdropping tribal drumming and volume-pedalled guitar on Aguirre III. Although slightly (and understandably) disjointed, this is an excellent album and the best way to hear the rarely-recorded choir-organ, but don't come here expecting to hear any Mellotron.
Porcupine Tree (UK) see:
Willy Porter's seventh album, 2009's How to Rob a Bank, is a reasonably appealing concoction of folk/roots/Americana, the chief exceptions to the rule being the mildly funky Colored Lights and the jazzy Psychic Vampire. Best tracks? Probably the mildly raunchy Hard Place (great guitar sound) and gentle closer Barefoot Reel, but nothing here offends. Dave Adler supposedly plays Mellotron, but the fakeness of the pleasant, overly-smooth flute part on I Didn't Bring it Up is pretty much verified by the long flute note at the end of Wide Open Mind, while the cello on a few tracks is real. A decent enough record, then, if somewhat unexciting, with a little sampled Mellotron.
Porter Block are the NYC-based duo of Peter Block and Caleb Sherman, The Gowanus Yacht Club (named for Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal) being their fourth album. I want to like this more than I actually do; they're great when they play powerpop (opener Youth's Magic Horn, Moving Around The Sun), but their West Coast influences keep creeping in (Your Heart Is A Broken Thing, Down And Sinking), trying to spoil things. Still, the former outweigh the latter, so think of it as a two-thirds decent record. Andy Baldwin's credited with Mellotron, given the lie by the obviously sampled flutes on Moving Around The Sun.
Poseidotica's debut album, 2005's Intramundo, is possibly best described as instrumental, psychedelic stoner metal with prog influences, although Las Cuatro Estaciones taps into a trad jazz zone. Highlights include the Floyd-esque Aquatalan, Tantra and closer Mantra, although, unfortunately, some of its material falls into the trap of sounding like songs waiting for lyrics and a vocal line, in the way of many formative instrumental outfits. Pablo Catania is credited with Moog bass on Aquatalan and Moog and Mellotron on Mantra, but I'd love to know where the latter (it's pretty much a given that it's sampled) might be: the brassy/stringy thing in the background towards the end of the track? Hmmm. Anyway, it's an extremely minor player on the album overall; listen to this because it's worth hearing, not because of a spurious Mellotron credit.
Grace Potter and her inimitable Nocturnals are a classic case of genre-blending, mixing soul, blues, country and a smidgeon of arena rock into a radio-friendly stew that should appeal to, say, Dave Matthews fans (Potter & Co. supported Matthews in 2008). Her/their third studio album, 2007's This is Somewhere, efficiently blends their various influences without actually coming up with anything particularly memorable, although better moments include the mildly raunchy blues-rock of Stop The Bus and Grace's Plant-esque wails on Here's To The Meantime, sitting happily alongside some Page-esque slide, the whole thing just scraping three stars. Potter plays samplotron herself, while Mike Daly adds pseudo-Chamberlin, with a muted flute line on You May See Me and background strings on Falling Or Flying. Although The Lion the Beast the Beat (with or without punctuation) is a better album, I'm not sure it's better enough to garner an extra half star. Better tracks include the ripping opening title track, the catchy Turntable and the slow-burn of The Divide, while One Heart Missing is about the best of several slow numbers. Potter plays samplotron flutes, with a nicely pitchbent line on Never Go Back and an echoed part on Runaway plus credited strings on four tracks.
Although 2015's Midnight is credited as a solo album, various members of her band play on it, so she doesn't seem to have split the band. Unfortunately, the album takes influences from the current r'n'b scene, coming across as a poor attempt to make a mainstream pop record. Are there any high points? Low isn't so bad, ditto Nobody's Born With A Broken Heart, although, like the rest of the album, the irritating production intrudes, inserting unwanted effects to what could've been perfectly good songs. Potter and Eric Valentine are credited with Mellotron, but I've no idea where; several tracks contain string-ish sounds, but none sound like they emanate from a Mellotron. Even if we are hearing anything, it's almost certain to be a sample, so that's where this is going. I can't even slightly recommend it, anyway; let's hope Potter gets back to her usual area as soon as possible.
Jack Potter is a drummer with a mission, viz, a concept album concerning the dreams of a chap called Duke (wonder where he got his inspiration for the name?), the end result being 2013's Celestial Adventures. At least he didn't name it after its protagonist... Potter's influences range across the progressive spectrum, from prog-metal, through the 'modern prog' of Spock's Beard et al. to the '70s variety, specifics including a little burst of Styx crossed with Van der Graaf sax in Streets Of Gold, a sudden 'Genesis moment' in Quiet Conversations With Duke, vaguely Gentle Giant-esque pseudo-marimbas on Sunday Morning and a terrible Watcher Of The Skies rip in Faithful Witness, Pt. 3. Sadly, the album is marred by frequent, sometimes lengthy sections of narration (mostly English-accented, interestingly) that I have seen laughably described as 'non-obtrusive'; OK, the concept may well be incomprehensible without (and with?), but I'm not sure that's any excuse. Just when you think that it can't get any worse, the last (American-accented) piece of narration includes the line, "It was in the hands of my lord. My lord, my saviour". Nooooo!!!!
Two musicians are credited with Mellotron: Andreas Diemann on Prison Walls and The Dreamer and Davie Marschall on Faithful Witness, Pt. 4, but if the choirs on the first-named are anything to go by (which, in fact, they are), we are, to absolutely no-one's surprise, looking at samples. The Dreamer features more watery choirs and passable strings, with slightly better choirs on the final track, but you really aren't going to buy this for a few Mellotron samples, frankly. Concept album fans may well go for this, but I'm afraid to say, at least for this reviewer, its failings heavily outweigh its strengths.
8 Circles is a rather wet singer-songwriter/Americana effort, at its least dull on a capella closer You Won't See Me Cry. Fernando Perdomo plays samplotron strings on Together and strings and flutes on Seduction.
Jim Rigberg's first Samples review, folks...
Don't you just love it when a release grabs you by the ass from the first note? Merlin Laughed, track 1 of Doug Powell's The Lost Chord, opens with sputtering (sampled) 'Tron choir and strings leading into a great harmony vocal singing the song's motif. Things just get better from there. Stylistically, The Lost Chord is going to flat-out appeal to Jellyfish fans; it would be hard to get away from Jellyfish comparisons because Powell's voice is very similar to Andy Sturmer's. Melodically speaking, Powell's work is every bit as strong as anything Jellyfish ever released and easily stands up in its own right.
The 'Tron apparently is the product of samples from the EMU Vintage Keys Plus module. Mr.Powell has advised that he removed the effects that had been included with the presets and used a 'dry sample'. The results are impressive - none of the 'Tron sounds fake nor are there any dead giveaways (e.g. infinite sustains). The Lost Chord also does NOT engage in Thompson's pet peeve (crediting anyone, anywhere with 'Mellotron' where no actual Mellotron is used). The sampled 'Tron, moreover, pops up all over the place. Any Jellyfish fans, those who like pop/prog crossovers, excellent songwriting, etc. as well as those who like hearing a lot of Mellotron - regardless of whether its sampled or real - will want to add this CD to their collection.
The pretentiously-named The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers' pretentiously-titled second album The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia is, in many ways, yer typical indie effort, although it throws in elements from metal and electronica, amongst other unrelated genres. If I'm going to be honest, while a track or two of this exceedingly dull, pseudo-haunted stuff is just about OK, fifty minutes of it is a thorough bore, leaving the non-indie fan willing it to end. Soon. I believe it's Alex Lazara who adds sampled Mellotron strings and flutes to a few tracks, notably on closer The Sad Lives Of The Hollywood Lovers, to no great effect, if truth be told. I know this stuff's popular, presumably with people who identify with the 'meaningful' lyrics and simplistic music (or aren't bothered about the latter), but to anyone steeped in genres where keeping it interesting is considered a prerequisite, this is going to come across as very tame indeed.
Eagle-Eye Cherry collaborator Christopher "Preacher Boy" Watkins is an author, poet, songwriter, musician and singer, whose second album, 1996's Gutters & Pews, reminds the listener of a less extreme Tom Waits, if he concentrated more on old-time country and blues and less on being deliberately weird. Watkins is a superb guitarist, who clearly loves his raft of vintage instruments, playing them to perfection across the album, better tracks including Something Is Wrong, the energetic Buckshot and Back Then We Only Cared For Hell. Watkins supposedly plays Mellotron, but whatever he might've added to the album is effectively inaudible. Anyway, this is a fine Americana record from the old school, but you're not going to bother for the Mellotron.
Predmestje were a Yugoslav (actually Slovenian) fusion outfit, incorporating vocals into their style, possibly in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Brez Naslova was their debut and I'd be lying if I said it was the most exciting album I'd ever heard, or even heard today. It's... OK, but their second-hand jazz moves get a mite tiresome after a while, which isn't to denigrate their playing in any way, which is as good as you'd expect from musicians who had probably spent the previous decade playing clubs several nights a week (listen to Aleksander Malahovsky's sax squawking on closer Sled Sonca). Bum notes are simply not an option... Andrej Pompe's 'Mellotron', as with albums from several other more obscure countries, turns out to be nothing more exciting than a string synth. A nice string synth, but a string synth nonetheless, heard to reasonable effect on Brez Besed and Svit. String synth, guys, not Mellotron. Very different.
Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) (Italy) see:
Despite releasing their 2008 debut, Blinds, on French progressive label Muséa, Presence of Soul (led by vocalist/guitarist and alleged Mellotronist Yuki) are far more post-rock than prog. OK, so there's a distinct musical crossover, but even the longer material on the album bears few real prog hallmarks, mostly shifting between crushingly loud sections and ethereal floaty ones, few with any real musical development. The 'Mellotron' (notably the string part that opens Rule and the flutes on closer Tightrope) is clearly nothing of the sort, although Yuki largely refuses to overuse it, thankfully. I'm afraid to say that, while a couple of tracks of this stuff might work in a progressive environment, an hour of it becomes rather tedious; I can't say I really know why Muséa have even released this. Strange.
Pressgang have been chugging along for many years now, brandishing their own, raucous take on UK folk-rock at the general public, some of whom have been seduced by the band's raw, uncompromising but fun approach to the genre. I hesitate to say this, but there are at least slight similarities between their sound and that of the tedious 'folk-punk' crowd, including the Levellers and the appalling New Model Army, although Pressgang beat the competition hands down, largely by not being boring politicos, having brains and knowing how to write a tune. I first heard Mappa Mundi some years ago and was quite surprised to see a credit for 'Mellotron' on three tracks, as all I could hear was a weird sort of drone, unlike any Mellotron sound I'd ever heard. The album itself is actually bloody impressive; doom-laden opener The Sylkie sets the tone nicely, with several other darker pieces scattered throughout the record. There are more 'trad' folk numbers, too, plus a handful of more modern folk-rock efforts, making for a varied and interesting album that nonetheless fits firmly within the boundaries of English folk.
Presto Ballet is the latest project from Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, who gleefully admits to having been a vintage keyboard collector for some years. Peace Among the Ruins is a curious mixture of '70s progressive hard rock and Vanderhoof's roots, '80s metal, so this isn't going to appeal to everyone into Zeppelin, Heep et al, although many of you will get off on at least some of it. Find The Time is particularly retro, with a No Quarter-style piano part and swirling synths (rock reviewer cliché no.37 - sorry about that), while Sunshine is an acoustic strum-along kind of thing, with upfront samplotron strings and flutes, although most of the other material is heavier, in that '70s-crossed-with-'80s way that Vanderhoof seems to have made his own. The sampled Mellotron and Chamberlin are everywhere you look, high-points including the flutes'n'strings pitchbending at the end of Sunshine, the point in closer Bring' It On where he finally uses the choirs and just about every point where the strings lurch up out of the mix and kick you in the teeth. Three years on, they follow up with The Lost Art of Time Travel, possibly a less heavy album than its predecessor, although certain production tricks pronounce it a modern album, not a long-lost classic. It's as good as its predecessor, too, albeit rather different, which means (wait for it...) THEY'VE PROGRESSED! Well, shiver me timbers and fuck my old boots! It's such a rarity to see a band in the progressive area actually, y'know, move on these days that I feel it had to be remarked upon. Slightly less samplotron than on Peace..., with two tracks entirely free of it, but plenty of good, tasteful use on most of the record makes this another worthwhile effort.
2011 brings two releases, the hour-long Invisible Places and the forty-minute 'EP' (huh?) Love What You've Done With the Place. Although they're both recognisably Presto Ballet, most of the band has been replaced and they take a sharp left turn, going for that late '70s pomp thing, sounding not unlike Styx in the process. Is this a good thing? Depends on whether or not you like The Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight, really; I do, but I'm sure many US readers tired of them after radioplay overkill at the time. The end result is quite excellent, only falling very slightly short of an extra half star, highlights including upbeat opener Between The Lines, All In All (particularly the sequencer/guitar interplay section) and parts of closing epic No End To Begin. New keys man Kerry Shacklett plays samplotron, with strings on opener Between The Lines, Sundancer and No End To Begin, strings and choirs on Of Grand Design and flutes on One Perfect Moment. Love What You've Done With the Place, while good, smells like outtakes, although the Wurlitzer-driven Deep Black Blue is as good as anything on the album. Material that wouldn't (and indeed, didn't) make the cut includes the cheesily-riffing Looking Glass, which incorporates the Peter Gunn Theme, for no apparent reason and their cover of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's immortal Faith Healer, which channels the live version, rather than the original studio take. Shacklett adds samplotron strings to the first four tracks, notably on The Clock.
Clearly on a major roll, 2012 brought yet another Presto Ballet release, Relic of the Modern World, on which the band have backed away a little from their prevailing pomp influences, going back to a more 'typically' rock/prog (as against the abomination of prog metal) approach. It's impossible to pick out any 'best tracks'; they're all excellent, although the 'side-long' title track, veering between detailed, Genesis-like 12-string work, Spock's Beard riffery and a plethora of other styles is possibly the stand-out. Shacklett (and Vanderhoof?) presumably play samplotron, with strings on opener The Chemical Age, playing solo at the end of track, plus more of the same on Watching The Radio and the title track, the last-named adding choirs.
The Pretty Reckless (great name) are a female-fronted powerpop/alt.rock crew, whose debut, Light Me Up, gives us gems such as opener My Medicine, Miss Nothing and Goin' Down, while nothing here genuinely disappoints. Maybe one thing: those are obviously sampled 'Mellotron' flutes on Make Me Wanna Die.
Drummer Bobby Previte is one of the central figures in the New York jazz/avant-garde scene, frequently working with luminaries such as Charlie Hunter (in Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte as Groundtruther) and John Medeski. Jazz discographies are notoriously convoluted, making it near impossible to work out how many solo albums Previte's released. Step 1: define 'solo'. Step 2: define 'released'. You get the picture... Suffice to say, 2006's Coalition of the Willing is a jazzy ((blue) note: not 'jazz') instrumental album, stuffed to the gills with Hunter's guitar (the album's outstanding feature, I'd say), working on a regular six-string instrument for once. Why is it so many jazz bandleaders are drummers, huh? Then they give all the solos to tuned instruments? Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, son. Jamie Saft (Matt Maneri) plays Mellotron, alongside Hammond, Moog and guitar and bass, although it only gets a look-in on one track, closer Anthem For Andrea, although it's near-impossible to tell what it might be doing. Samples, then.
Spike Priggen's melancholy powerpop on Stars After Stars After Stars is probably its best on Big Store, Questioningly and his blistering version of Alice Cooper's I'm Eighteen. Priggen and C.P. Roth allegedly play Chamberlin, with background strings on Be Married Song, How We Were Before and Nightime, although I'm not convinced. There's No Sound in Flutes! ups the ante a little, highlights including Everyone Loves Me But You, The Only Girl In The World and I'm So Glad (You Broke My Heart), while the fly-on-the-wall recording of a bandleader's excoriating putdown of his band (who is this?), inserted after a lengthy gap at the end, both names the album and leaves the listener open-mouthed. Roth is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin this time round, with combinations of strings, flutes (which do make a sound) and occasional choirs appearing on almost every track, given away as bogus by the ridiculously high notes at the end of Everyone Loves Me But You.
Primal Scream's tenth album features one huge, obvious influence on its lead-off track and scattered throughout: Hawkwind. Sub-motorik beat, vocal 'melodies' of, er, limited range, squalling sax, whooshy synths... Sadly, many of its tracks slump into the band's default position of the world's leading exponents of indie-Stonesism, but the occasional ray of light shines through, notably aforementioned opener 2013 and bonus track (why is this not on the main release?) City Slang. Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes are both credited with Mellotron. Really?
Chaos & Disorder seems to be generally regarded as the better of the two contractural obligation albums Prince made for Warner Bros in the mid-'90s, while in the middle of his 'symbol' phase and battle with Warners over his future. It's nowhere near as commercial as his major '80s albums, but is by no means a bad record, with several fun tracks such as I Like It There and I Rock, Therefore I Am. I'm probably not the best-qualified person to review Prince's music, but this album certainly didn't offend me. One apparently Mellotron track, with very upfront strings on brief closer Had U, although a close listen reveals identical attack portions on repeating notes and a repeating low E, well below the instrument's bottom note. While this was some years before the M-Tron and the other easily-available modern sample banks, Roland and E-Mu (or however you spell it) had both released PCM sample-based boxes containing the basic Mellotron sounds, so I'm sure that's what we're hearing.
I Profeti (The Prophets, unsurprisingly) were a mainstream Italian pop group, moving from '60s beat to '70s balladry across their ten-year-plus career. Six of Era Bella's eleven tracks are singles or b-sides, bulked out with balladic filler, in the manner of pop albums of the day. Any highlights? The five-minute Odissea D'Amore is at least vaguely experimental, while the expanded CD's version of Gun's Race With The Devil, Il Diavolo Col Cuore, is amusingly lightweight. Despite references to organist Maurizio Bellini's Mellotron use, all the album's strings are clearly real.
The Proles play a kind of indie/garage/powerpop mash-up, sometimes listenable (100 Drinks, Mr. Postman), more often not. Jason Sewell's 'Mellotron'? The strings on Real Light Show nearly pass muster, but those are really obvious samples on Get Around.
Ex-Green on Redder Chuck Prophet's 2000 release, The Hurting Business, strikes me as rather better than '93's Balinese Dancer, particularly lyrically, top efforts including Apology, I Couldn't Be Happier and the beautiful turnaround of Lucky. Three samplotron tracks from Jason Borger, with a distant, pitchbent string part on opener Rise and more fairly distant strings on the excellent Apology, with more upfront pitchbent strings and occasional flutes on God's Arms. Many years on and 2014's Night Surfer is a solid Americana release that shows Prophet's songwriting skills honed to a keen edge, highlights including Wish Me Luck, Laughing On The Inside, Ford Econoline and the powerpop of Tell Me Anything (Turn To Gold). Rusty Miller plays samplotron, with cellos (and real strings) on Wish Me Luck and polyphonic flutes on Lonely Desolation.
Absu's drummer, Russ "Proscriptor (McGovern)" Givens, has been releasing solo albums under his nom de plume since the mid-'90s, giving him a creative outlet for his more eclectic material. His debut, 1995's The Venus Bellona, is certainly that, starting off as some kind of Scottish history concept album, before heading off into magic(k) territory, an area he has subsequently heavily explored. While some of the album's twenty mostly brief tracks are acoustic instrumentals, too many of them 'feature' Givens' rather peculiar vocal style, somewhere between someone auditioning for a minor role as an orc in the then-not-yet-filmed Lord of the Rings series and a man with a sore throat. Better efforts include the three-in-a-row of I Am The One, the mad, Highlandaphilia of Our Blood And Veins From The McGovern Regiment and Hi Ri Ri Tha E Tighinn, but all too much of the album strays a little too far from sanity for its own good. Givens plays obviously sampled Mellotron strings on Lady Day Eve and possibly a few other tracks, although the samples are so primitive (well, it was 1995) that it's hard to tell. An EP of the best material from this album would be worth hearing, but fifty minutes of slightly crazy stuff is more than this listener, at least, can bear. Incidentally, Givens shows his true colours on the album's final track, a bizarre version of A Flock of Seagulls' I Ran (So Far Away), unless it was included to show his lighter side (?!).
Prosser appear to be, effectively, Eric Woodruff's solo project, a handful of other musicians chipping in on his/their eponymous release, a kind of post-rock singer-songwriter effort, many of its rather tiresome songs too long for their content. Producer Paul Turpin is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on The Time Has Come and Today are clearly sampled. Seriously, I can not overstate the tediousness of this album. Just don't.
The Provenance fall into that non-category, 'modern prog', a kind of postmodern 'anything goes' area, where a track can start off in an indie vein, shift through ambient territory, finishing up with extreme heaviosity. A bit like modern Porcupine Tree, I suppose, albeit with female vocals; like what that band have become, I'm not sure the combination actually works that well, at least not over the length of an entire album.
Unfortuantely, on 2005's provocatively-titled How Would You Like to Be Spat at (what, no question mark?), substance seems to have been largely sacrificed in favour of style, although it's possible some of the material might grow on me were I able to give it enough time. Mellotron strings on most tracks, sometimes doubled with either fast-bowed string samples or a guitar delay effect, notably on opener Woh II TSC (huh?), although I'm pretty damn' sure they're all samples. Usual stuff: over-use of the strings, 'too-clean' and consistent sound... I haven't actually spotted any overlong notes (the ultimate giveaway), although the last, held note of Kick You So Hard cuts it close. Flutes here and there, and even what sounds like brass on Going Down, but the choirs on Considering The Gawk, The Drool, The Bitch And The Fool are, again, too clean for their own good.
The following year's Red Flags ditches most of the Porcupine Tree influences for a more generic indie metal sound, presumably in keeping with their new label, Peaceville, adding male vocals to the mix in places. The material is universally tedious, making its predecessor almost sound good, with samplotron strings on several tracks, including Crash Course, Thanks To You and Deadened, to relatively little effect, to be honest.
Providence seem to be one of the lesser-known Japanese '80s prog outfits, although their albums seem to be about as available as anyone else's that haven't been reissued on Musea. Their only album released in their 'lifetime', And I'll Recite an Old Myth From..., is often described as 'neo-prog', which is an over-simplification. The second half of the album is, indeed fairly sophisticated neo- with female vocals from Yõko Kubota, but the first track, Galatea, is ripping fusion-influenced progressive with nary a trace of bad '80s-ness about it, assuming you ignore the slap bass solo half-way through. Er... Keys man Madoka Tsukada uses what sounds, on first listen, like Mellotron strings on three tracks, with a major part on Dream Seeker's Mirage, but upon closer scrutiny, it's this almost solo section that gives the game away; it's all in octaves (there was no two-octave string sound at the time), and the high notes are clearly stretched. They're good samples, but samples none the less. Their rather belated follow-up from 1996, There Once was a Night of "Choko-Muro" the Paradise (what is it with their titles?), follows roughly the same path as their debut, being a mixture of superior neo-prog and old-school symphonic, with a 20-minute epic in its title track. Less 'Mellotron' this time round, with the only noticeable stuff being strings on the title track and A Breeze In The Dawn.
Prydwyn Olvardil Piper has been releasing albums sporadically for over twenty years now; if 2009's Solitude Owes Me a Smile (co-credited to his band, Quickthorn) is typical, I'm keen to hear more of his work. It's a beautiful, all-acoustic record that sounds 'traditional', although only three of its titles actually answer that description, the rest hailing from sources such as obscure 'Vertigo' band Dr Strangely Strange (opener Ashling), Shawn Colvin (Shotgun Down the Avalanche), Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (Closing My Eyes) and, of course, Pink Floyd (Ummagumma's serene Grantchester Meadows). Although someone calling themselves Wye is credited with Mellotron on Shotgun Down the Avalanche, I think I can state, with reasonable certainty, that it's nothing of the sort, sounding more like string section samples played on an M-Tron, possibly. The presence or otherwise of a Mellotron is, however, entirely irrelevant to the quality of this album, which is every bit as high as you might hope.
Although I've been aware of Neil "Genesis P-Orridge" Megson's projects (principally Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV) since the late '70s, I think this is the first time I've ever actually heard any of his work. 2007's Hell is Invisible/Heaven is Her/e is PTV's thirty-somethingth release, delving heavily into the ever-confrontational P-Orridge's gender-bending (or 'pandrogynous') lifestyle, also the last recorded work of his second wife and 'other half', Jacqueline "Lady Jaye" Breyer, before her untimely death in October of that year. I'm sure PTV fans will lap (or, more likely, have lapped) this up, but its eclectic approach is likely only to appeal to the select few.
The actual material veers between funk, rock, ambient, various dance sub-genres and avant-garde, although whether or not it's actually any good can only be a matter of very personal opinion. There's something about opener Higher And Higher that reminds me horribly of Bros' When Will I Be Famous? (remember them? Thought not), full of appalling, dated slap-bass. Lies, And Then is somewhat leaden rock, the lengthy I Don't Think So a sort-of harrowing exposition of P-Orridge's childhood, Just Because is what a whiny punk number would sound like if it were ten minutes long, while just about every other track on this rather overlong album sounds like something different again. Kosta Cross plays a distant samplotron string part on Lies, And Then.
2016's Alienist has more of an early '70s, hard rock jamming sound about it, much more cohesive than Hell is Invisible.... Opener Jump Into The Fire is actually pretty awful, but the other three tracks on this barely-over-EP length release are improvements, particularly Looking For You. Saying that, Genesis' chanted, presumably improvised vocals are pretty terrible; I'm not sure we should forgive the repeating couplet, "It doesn't matter, you're a hatter..." any time soon... John Weingarten plays samplotron, with strings improvising around E major all over Looking For You.
Rem Austin's Psycho Lemon play a form of pre-psych '60s-inspired indie; dull, but less offensive than many. Austin's Mellotron credit turns out to be a samplotron flute solo and cellos on opener Mr. PI Meet The Avengers, with more flutes and cellos elsewhere.
I remember Dean Carter doing his Hammill-esque thing in London clubs in the mid-'90s, although he had trouble making an impression on what I'm told is one of the world's toughest crowds. Maybe sensibly, he turned to space-rock soon after with Psychomuzak, getting a deal with notorious space cadets Delerium, then still home to Porcupine Tree. It seems Carter only released two albums under this moniker, though, 1994's The Extasie and Send, from three years later. A bewildering blend of styles, Send sounds as much like the Ozric Tentacles as Gong or Steve Hillage and very little like Peter Hammill or Van der Graaf. '70s Pink Floyd are utilised as a jumping-off point on opener Keep Breathing (even sounds like a late-period Floyd title), complete with Camel/Bevis Frond drummer Andy Ward, while Deep Heat is an Ozrics-style dub excursion. The album's longest track, the trippy Send itself features David Cross (ex-Crimson, of course) on violin, leaving the relatively brief Sea Of Tranquility as possibly the most coherent piece here, six minutes of fittingly tranquil guitar overdubs.
Carter's credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, although it's perfectly possible he's using the same sample set as Steven Wilson's crew. Actually, it's perfectly possible he didn't use anything at all, as there's nothing here that actually sounds like a Mellotron. The strings on Keep Breathing? Nope. Female voices on Deep Heat? Definitely nope, not to mention that Carter's also credited with 'choirs'. Anything else? Not really, no. Where is it, Dean? Overall, then, a reasonable spacey effort, should you be into such things. It makes good background music (the dub bits aside), but actually sitting down and listening to it is a bit of a chore, at least to this listener. No obvious Mellotron, either, so I'd really have trouble recommending this to you lot.
I can't tell you much about Publius, their name being a Google search nightmare, but Publius is an example of how to play driving, indie-influenced, psychedelic space-rock without sounding anything like Hawkwind, at its best on Leitmotif and woozy closer My Heart Says Yes. Dave McNally plays samplotron cellos on I'd Love To Love You Better, strings on Change Your Mind, choirs on I Thought I Knew You and Feeling Kind Of Low, plus other use dotted around here and there.
Although Italian, Alex Puddu moved to Denmark, aged twenty, Chasing the Scorpion's Tail being his debut release, some years later. Most of its contents are best categorised as soul with a dash of funk, apparently at the softer end of Italian 'Giallo' pseudo-soundtrack music, although you'll find little in common with the likes of Goblin, sadly. Any better tracks? The slightly rockier Step Out Of Your Mind and the jammed-out title track, but I'm afraid the bulk of this release left this listener stone cold. Puddu is credited with Mellotron on opener All The Colours Of The Dark. Why? Why is he credited with it, when all that's there is a string synth and generic choir samples?
As you can see from their 'regular reviews', Pugwash are an absolute joy, an 'intelligent pop' band who refuse to compromise their ideals, sticking out another great album every three years, regular as clockwork.
They use samples from a real Novatron plus more generic 'Tron/Chamby samples on all fourteen tracks of their second album, Almanac which, incidentally, is truly excellent, stuffed with great songs, indelible hooks and sublime harmony vocal work. So this stuff's unfashionable? And? Amongst the dreck of most contemporary music, Pugwash stand out like a diamond in the, er, dirt. With nary a bad track on the album, it's almost impossible to pick out highlights, although personal favourites include Monorail and Omega Man. The samples were played by main man Thomas Walsh, Keith Farrell and occasionally Duncan Maitland, often layering two sounds from the Chamby and the 'Tron, with strings (from both), Chamby brass and 'Tron flutes and vibes splattered all over the album, not to mention the credited Mark II rhythm samples on Monorail. They manage a serious coup by getting Jason Falkner (ex-Jellyfish and a host of cool sessions) to play on several tracks, although he resists the temptation to play anything crankier than a Vox Continental.
One of the 'Tronless' tracks from 2005's mostly-sampled Jollity, This Could Be Good, has actually been released as a single, with another two 'Tron' tracks on the, er, b-side (so to speak). To My Maker has a vague Dylan vibe about it, while Home to Me's distorted vocal and generally rockness stands out as a rarity in the all-too-small Pugwash catalogue, although someone (Walsh?) still manages a beautiful fakeotron part in the middle, complete with pitchbend, and is that choirs I hear at one point? If you're going to buy the album, make sure you get this, too.
After a couple of albums featuring real Mellotron, followed by a long gap, 2015's Play This Intimately (as if Among Friends) is a welcome return for Pugwash. Thomas Walsh's musical emphasis has clearly changed over the years, as this is less powerpop, more classic '60s pop, influenced more by Burt Bacharach, say, than The Beatles. Is this a bad thing? Probably a little less to my personal taste, but it's still a fine album of thoughtful, introspective songs of the quality of Feed His Heart With Coal, The Fool I Had Become and Hung Myself Out to Dry, while that Bacharach influence turns up on Just So You Know, Clouds and the trumpet solo on We Are Everywhere, to name but three. Funnily enough, You Could Always Cry sounds exactly like early Beatles, just to complete the circle. Walsh and Tosh Flood are credited with Mellotron, but it doesn't sound especially authentic to my ears; let me know if I'm wrong, chaps! The samples (if samples they are) aren't overused, either, with flutes on Clouds, faint strings on Oh Happy Days and upfront parts on All The Way From Love and We Are Everywhere, plus flutes on the latter, amongst other use.
Puppet Show (a Spinal Tap joke?) released their debut, Traumatized, in 1997, apparently aiming for a '70s prog sound; unfortunately, they fell well short, their overreaching ambition coming across as second-rate IQ for much of the album. Possibly the most infuriating thing about it is the odd decent idea surrounded by a wasteland of neo-prog mediocrity; couldn't you have worked on those good bits a little longer, chaps? Mike Grimes adds samplotron to a couple of tracks, notably the choirs and flute part on As Ye Hath Sown and strings on closer The Ring Of Truth, but they're not that central to the band's sound.
It took them nine years to follow up with 2006's The Tale of Woe (autobiographical? No, I'm not being rude), a little better than its predecessor, but not exactly a quantum leap forward, frankly. One of the band's bad points is Sean Frazier's vocals; he sings in tune, but tends to overemote, in true neo- style, not to mention the lyrics. There I was, listening to track two, the near-fifteen minute Seven Gentle Spirits, when... Oh no. He said it. He said "Masquerade". Only Rush are allowed to get away with that one and then only just. Once again infuriatingly, good moments (there are at least two particularly good bits in The Past Has Just Begun) are surrounded by not so good ones, although this time, the good bits are both better and more frequent and the not so good bits less obvious, which has to be an improvement. Also once again, samplotron here and there, but they aren't fooling anyone.
Purple Overdose are reputedly one of the most authentic psych bands of the last decade or two, making it a shame they're based in a country not known for such things, heavily reducing their accessibility to Western European and American fans of the genre. Led by vocalist/guitarist Costas Constantinou, they've been around since the late '80s, releasing seven albums (live and studio) over two decades, of which Reborn is the fifth. This isn't your mad, post-freakbeat 13th Floor Elevators type stuff, nor your whimsical, well-mannered British style; this is that dreamy, lysergic late-'60s thing that Pink Floyd mastered before heading off for pastures new, only Purple Overdose have stuck to it for their entire career, turning their noses up at anything as bourgeois as progressing. Top tracks include lengthy opener (It's A) Fortune Teller, the whacked-out acid guitar-fest of Gonna Be Tomorrow, Today and the title track, although the album never outstays its welcome, despite its length. Vasilis Kapanikis is credited with Mellotron, and while it could be genuine, it doesn't sound particularly like it, with string parts on Fading Sound Of Lost Thoughts and the title track.
The band released The Salmon's Trip - Live the following year, in two entirely different versions, just to confuse their audience. Although the available material would fit nicely onto two CDs, somebody opted to compile a 50-odd minute CD and a lengthy double LP, just too long for single-CD issue. Irritating. Going by the CD's tracklisting, the joy seems to have gone out of it, somehow, at least to my ears. It's not a bad album, but fails to grab my attention the way their studio effort does, with a couple of tracks jammed out for far too long. Another couple of 'Tron' tracks, quite clearly sampled this time, not that that should come as any great surprise. For some reason, the LP set works rather better, although (or because?) it features all the longer, more jammed-out material. Again, little samplotron, but the sound's clearly secondary low on the band's priority list. So; three albums of new(-ish) yet ancient psych, seemingly better in the studio than live. Maybe we should think of them as two almost different bands, as the Floyd were early on; a more concise studio outfit and a jamming live band. Anyway, I may yet be proven wrong about the samples (or otherwise) on Reborn, but I won't be re. both versions of The Salmon's Trip.
Although best-known for his membership of Brit-jazz-rock mavens Hatfield & the North and National Health, drummer par excellence Pip Pyle's forty-year career encompassed the better part of a dozen different outfits, excluding his solo work. 1998's 7 Year Itch is actually his only solo project, featuring contributions from many of his former bandmates, not least Dave Stewart, Elton Dean, Phil Miller, Hugh Hopper and Barbara Gaskin, pretty much a Who's Who of the Canterbury scene from the '70s. As a result, if you're allergic to said scene, or jazz-rock (as against fusion) generally, you're probably not going to like it very much. Like so many similar albums, it veers from whimsy to fiery workouts, often within the same piece, but really isn't that accessible to those of us who prefer our thirteenths unflattened. Although Mellotron is rumoured, the pretty authentic flute that open the ensemble's strangely jazzy take on you-know-who's Strawberry Fields Forever is credited as 'keyboards programmed by' either Pyle himself or Stewart, so the chances of it being real are vanishingly small to nonexistent, I'd say. Sadly, Pyle died in 2006, robbing the world of one of another great percussionist; the eclecticism of 7 Year Itch is a fitting tribute to his memory.