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S.E.T.I.  (Chile)

Discoveries  (2010,  66.29)  **½

Chileans S.E.T.I. are apparently a Subterra side-project, not that I've heard their parent band. Their second album, 2010's Discoveries, is solid modern neo-prog, love it or loathe it, influences including Marillion, IQ and various prog-metallers; amazingly, they've actually managed to rope Damian Wilson (Rick Wakeman, Threshold, Landmarq) in on guest vocals, although I couldn't tell you where. The album's material is pretty uninspired, if truth be told, veering towards Andrew Lloyd-Webber territory in places, when it isn't aping Dream Theater, which is simply not acceptable. I'm afraid to say that S.E.T.I. are saying absolutely nothing that hasn't previously been said, possibly with (slightly) more panache, by a host of modern neo-proggers and prog-metal merchants.

Claudio Momberg adds Mellotron samples to several tracks; strings kick in half way through lengthy opener A Draconian Tale, with more of the same on Ellipse and choirs on The Inner Outside, plus other possible bits, assuming it actually matters. I'm sorry I can't be more (or indeed, at all) enthusiastic about this album, but its blatant refusal to even remotely attempt to do anything not already done a thousand times before has defeated me. Unless you're a total neo-prog addict, don't bother. Really.

Jamie Saft  (US)

Black Shabbis  (2009,  59.01)  ***
A Bag of Shells  (2010,  49.44)  ***½

Jamie Saft is a well-known session keyboardist on the New York circuit, having played with the likes of John Zorn and Japanese noiseniks Merzbow. It's difficult to tell how many solo albums Saft has released, or in how many styles; suffice to say, 2009's Black Shabbis (clearly a Jewish Black Sabbath) features a unique combination of grindingly slow metal, prog and several other styles, thrown together in an avant-garde stew that fans of Zorn may well go for. Best track? Hard to say with something this uncompromising, but his combination of influences possibly peak on Der Judenstein. Although Saft is credited with Mellotron, unless it provides the album's occasional vibes, it isn't readily apparent anywhere on the record, surprisingly.

The following year's A Bag of Shells is a collection of soundtrack pieces, as unsurprisingly varied as that suggests. Although there are echoes of Black Shabbis in its early tracks, the bulk of the material on offer here is more 'typically' soundtrackish, highlighting Saft's superb keyboard playing. One supposed Mellotron track this time, with what sound like sampled flutes on My Biggest Fear, although the album's occasional cello parts sound real. Saft's attempts to construct a 'Jewish heavy metal' on Black Shabbis aren't always convincing, but A Bag of Shells' soundtrack pieces work well. Worth hearing in places.

St Johnny  (US)

Let it Come Down  (1995,  50.38)  **½

St Johnny were based in New York, sounding like an unholy amalgam of indie and hard rock, which probably isn't a million miles away from the grunge scene with which their career was contemporaneous. 1995's Let it Come Down was the last of their three albums, not dissimilar in places to Mercury Rev, although the songwriting level's never going to trouble that outfit unduly. Given that production's handled by Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse), notorious ('round these parts, anyway) for using samples up until a few years ago, not to mention the general murkiness of the Mellotron sounds on offer, it's almost certain that they're early, fairly crummy samples (possibly from eMu's horrible Vintage Keys module). Anyway, we get flutes on Just When I Had It Under Control, strings on Pin The Tail On The Donkey, Hey Teenager! and closer Salvation Arm, for what it's worth. Overall, I'm afraid this hasn't impressed me one bit; I don't think I've applied the phrase 'of its time' to anything this (relatively) recent before, but I have now.

Saint Jude  (Australia)

Saint Jude  (2012,  38.51)  ***

Australian country blues-rock, for want of a better description, at its best on its most downbeat tracks, the mournful Bury Me Down and Black Monkey. Brendan McMahon's 'Mellotron' flutes on Rain Rain and strings on Black Monkey really aren't.

St Vincent  (US)

Actor  (2009,  39.05)  **½

Annie "St Vincent" Clark, ex-member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' band, released her first solo album in 2007, following up with Actor two years later, a record apparently written in GarageBand on a Mac; may I say, it shows? The string arrangement on Marrow, amongst others, has that 'programmed' sound to it; in fact, the whole album sounds quite 'artificial', but that may be the effect she was after, I suppose. Her indie singer-songwriter sound isn't going to appeal to everyone (not least myself), although it's done perfectly well, best track probably being Black Rainbow, which builds up to a fairly intense peak. Clark plays Mellotron samples on several tracks, with choirs on opener The Strangers, Marrow, The Bed and Black Rainbow, plus flutes on the last-named and strings on The Party. Does GarageBand include Mellotron samples? No idea, but these don't sound much like the real thing. Perhaps she isn't bothered. Incidentally, 2014's St Vincent (**) sounds like it just might feature samplotron, but the resemblance isn't quite close enough to be sure.

Saintseneca  (US)

Dark Arc  (2014,  40.21)  **

Ohio's Saintseneca are often described as 'folk', in which case, all I can say after listening to their second album, 2014's Dark Arc, is 'indie folk'. Think: a folk ensemble who forgot how to play, ending up bashing out quarter-note downstrokes like any other half-arsed indie wasters, overlaid with Zac Little's loud, yet whiny voice. That isn't to say the album's a total waste of space; the brief !! is a lovely instrumental, while !!! is interestingly experimental. Er, is there a pattern forming here? Mike Mogis is credited with Mellotron on either Falling Off or Only The Young Die Good, depending on which you consider 'track 6' to be. However, given that there's nothing Mellotronic on either, I think we can safely consign this to 'samples', and there may it rot.

Motoi Sakuraba  (Japan)

Beyond the Beyond: Original Game Soundtrack  (1996,  47.45)  ***½
Shining the Holy Ark OST  (1996,  57.43)  ****

Motoi Sakuraba is one of the seemingly endless stream of amazing Japanese keyboard players, in this case, the one who drove Déjà Vu, also playing with Pazzo Fanfano di Musica and on the Kings' Boards album, amongst other projects. In the '90s, he turned to computer game soundtracks, making a name for himself producing proggy incidental music for onanistic fanboys games geeks to kill everything in sight to, nicely subverting the usual dance rhythmed rubbish.

A handful of these soundtracks have gained a commercial release, edited into listenable pieces, rather than the frequently-few-second-only snippets used in the actual games. 1996 brought Beyond the Beyond: Original Game Soundtrack (which it isn't, precisely), consisting of five lengthyish tracks, making up a perfectly decent prog album. Sakuraba uses loads of sampled Mellotron, but the samples are really poor, probably due to their being mid-'90s ones. The flutes occasionally sound like the real thing, but the strings and choirs are terrible, as are many of the other sounds, sadly. Then again, this is for game-players, not prog fans and it's a good few steps up from the usual drivel they're force-fed, so stop complaining.

Shining the Holy Ark, from later the same year, is quite brilliant; why is this music currently out of print? Sakuraba's produced a minor progressive classic here, largely unknown to Western audiences, only ever available as an import outside Japan. He really knows how to construct pieces in the grand tradition, retaining enough 'Japaneseness' to make them stand out from the pack. Apart from the occasional Emersonism, there's little to fault here, if only you could get hold of the damn' thing. Less sampled Mellotron this time round and seemingly slightly better samples; did a new sample set appear that year? Maybe Roland's.

Kevin Salem  (US)

Ecstatic  (2001,  51.37)  ***

Like many similar, Ecstatic comes across as powerpop informed by current indie, leading to a situation where every good track is slightly outweighed by one or two mediocre ones. Not bad, yet not that good, pretty obviously sampled 'Mellotron' strings on It's Only Life.

Salem Hill  (US)

Not Everybody's Gold  (2000,  65.15)  ***½

Salem Hill formed in 1991, playing that peculiarly '90s form of prog that isn't exactly 'neo', but isn't 'trad' either; think: vaguely like Echolyn or Spock's Beard, though those are only pointers. Not Everybody's Gold is their fifth album, apparently comparing well with their earlier material, generally being regarded as their best yet. As long as you don't approach it expecting a full-on '70s thing, you shouldn't be disappointed; the songs are reasonably good, though I occasionally wish they'd write slightly darker material. Michael Ayers' keys tend to be of the modern variety, which makes it surprising that he used a Mellotron on the album, although, given that it's clearly sampled, maybe less surprising. Why is it that artists of other genres make the effort to track down real Mellotrons/Chamberlins, but so many prog bands don't? It only appears on short melodic parts on The Last Enemy and The Hill Of Peace, anyway, so it's hardly the most major use ever. Not Everybody's Gold is a good album, just not actually a classic. The lengthy Sweet Hope Suite is the best track; it's just a pity they felt it necessary to make such a long album, when, with a bit of judicious editing, it could well've been more concise and better.

Samba  (Germany)

Aus den Kolonien  (2004,  35.45)  **

Samba (terrible name, especially in these days of Internet searchability) are no more or no less a German indie outfit, which tells you more about them than I ever wanted to know. 2004's Aus den Kolonien is possibly their fifth album, a thankfully brief trawl through various modern pop stylings, every bit as dull as you might expect. Andreas Bonkowski is credited with Mellotron on Sie Atmen Durch, although the nearest the album gets to it is the flutes on the following track, Gib Mir Karma!, although they still sound sampled. Please don't bother with this album.

Andy Samford  (US)

Electrolight  (2010,  53.45)  ***
Love & Magic  (2011,  95.29)  ***
In the Autumn of Forever  (2011,  35.24)  ***½
Lost in a Dream  (2011,  39.20)  ***½
Outside of Time  (2014,  36.01)  ***½

Andy Samford is not only frontman for Telestrion and several previous outfits, but has also found time to record a largish clutch of solo material from the mid-'90s onward. Most of it doesn't concern us, but Andy has pointed me at four of his recent 'releases' (all available, absolutely gratis, from his website), all containing the same Mellotron samples as Telestrion's self-titled debut. Stylewise, unsurprisingly, Samford sticks to his main band's template in the main, that being psychedelic hard rock of the early '70s variety (there's any other variety?), Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath being obvious touchstones. 2010's Electrolight is a decent enough effort, highlights including the propulsive Demon Seed, the psychedelic In The Afternoon and the epic The Electric Yellow, although a little too much filler drags its overall rating down. Shedloads of samplotron, with strings and flutes on opener Illusions And Dreams/Wake Up and In The Afternoon, strings on Cleared To Land and Superdust and flutes and spectacularly murky choirs on Mello, amongst other usage.

The following year's Love & Magic is a 'double', or would be if you burnt it to CD, with a five-track 'bonus EP' to boot. While much of its contents are pretty much what you'd expect, exceptions include the gentle title track, the psychedelic Lost Sunshine and above all, the '70s soft soul/pop (!) of Make Love To You. Is this a step too far in your '70s worship, Andy? The album's (possibly unintentional) highlight, however, is the bonus EP's opening track, Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler's finest hour, Total Eclipse Of The Heart, played in the style of Hawkwind. Ludicrously magnificent. Samford adds samplotron strings to several tracks, notably opener There Is No Beginning, with choirs here and there an flutes on the title track, but overall, less so than on Electrolight. Samford's second and third (!) releases of 2011, In the Autumn of Forever and Lost in a Dream, are similar enough to review in one hit. In fact, going by previous releases, these two could easily make up one overlong disc, but are sensibly served up in two shorter (and more listenable) chunks, making for an easier listen (if not actually easy listening) all round. Highlights of the former include Sleep and Curtain Call, while energetic opener Nothing Left, the doomy Not Me Not You and closer The Last Dream Dies are possibly the latter's top tracks. Surprisingly little samplotron on both releases, although an extended choir chord is the first sound heard on the former (the strings on Curtain Call being the only other obvious use), with the choirs on I'm Lost In A Dream and strings on The Last Dream Dies being the latter's chief proponents.

2014's Outside of Time shows an impressive maturity in the songwriting department, particularly on The Girl Inside My Dream, the Neil Young-ish The Ninth Dimension and stomping closer One Final Thought I Forgot. Sensibly, Samford has retained the shorter format of his more recent releases, ensuring that the album's contents, already varied, refuse to outstay their welcome. Samplotron strings here and there, notably on opener Ancient Space Man and The Last Great Gasp, plus flutes on The Ninth Dimension. Given that you too can download these albums, absolutely FREE (from here), to your desktop, means that moaning because Love & Magic is too long and lacks cohesion is entirely churlish. None of these albums is top-notch all the way through, but they all contain a percentage of good material, certainly enough to make one killer compilation. Listening to them one after another gives the impression that Samford has learnt to moderate his sampled Mellotron usage; impressive though it is at first, subtlety is definitely the way to go.

Sammal  (Finland)

Sammal  (2013,  44.07)  ****

Sammal are a young Finnish band who, against all the odds, insist on playing a style indistinguishable from organ-driven hard rock circa 1971. 2013's Sammal is an excellent slice of Finnish-language so-called stoner rock, although the five-piece clearly have a far better understanding of the era than most of their contemporaries, resulting in a collection of songs, as against excuses for downtuned, jammed-out idiocy. Top tracks? Possibly opener Puolikuu, Näennäiskäännäinen, Lehtipuiden Alle and closer Kylmää Usvaa, vaguely reminiscent of Aerosmith's Dream On, of all things, although nothing here lets the side down. Guitarist Jura Salmi plays what the band insist are Nord II Mellotron samples throughout Kylmää Usvaa, although I'm struggling to work out what they're meant to be. High-end cellos? Violas, even? Quite an effective sound, whatever it is, briefly replaced by a 'standard' string sound halfway through. A minor triumph, then, gentlemen; this might not feature enough genre tropes to keep your average stoner fan happy, but your intelligent approach might just allow you to outlive the bandwagon-jumpers. Worth hearing.

Delta Joe Sanders  (US)

Working Without a Net  (2012,  50.47)  ***½

For the first two or three tracks of Working Without a Net, my chief thoughts were a) this is a country/blues parody and b) this guy can't sing. By the time the album was half over, I'd realised that a) it isn't and b) it doesn't matter. Unlike the highly-entertaining-but-not-very-authentic "Seasick" Steve Wold, "Delta" Joe Sanders appears to be the real deal; not that he grew up in a Mississippi shack - he didn't - but this seems to be what he's always played, a rough-hewn, down-home American music, at its best on Preachin' To No One, Say The Word and could-be-but-just-about-isn't-cheesy closer The Toast. Sam Shoup supposedly plays Mellotron, but the background strings on Say The Word really aren't.

Sanhedrin  (Israel)

Ever After  (2011,  51.43)  ****

Shockingly, it's taken Sanhedrin (in one form or another, named for a governing body in Hebraic history) over two decades from conception to debut, 2011's Ever After. I'd say the wait was worth it; a thoughtful, immaculately constructed instrumental album, if there's any justice (unlikely, sadly), this should garner the band international acclaim, slots on major festivals and sales aplenty. Unfortunately, it's more likely that a small number of enthusiasts will speak of it in hushed tones to little general interest. What's that? The music? Twisting, turning symphonic progressive, of the variety that takes a periodic sharp left turn to hold the listener's attention. Highlights include the suitably medieval tonalities of Dark Age, the vaguely psychedelic Timepiece and acoustic interlude Tema, but, although the album could be seen as slightly overlong, there's nothing here that would improve the album by its absence. Keys man Aviv Barness plays obviously sampled Mellotron strings and choirs on Il Tredici and strings on Sobriety and Steam, the overly-sustained notes on the latter giving the (already given) game away. It has to be said, though, that a bit of sampled Mellotron is neither here nor there on this excellent record, to the point where I'm not even sure why they bothered with it. Fans of eclectic, as against generic prog need to hear this. Immediately.

Lucas Santtana  (Brazil)

Sobre Noites e Dias  (2014,  41.40)  ***

Lucas Santtana (actually Santana) is a Brazilian musician, whose MO appears to be combining traditional Brazilian influences with electronica, at least going by 2014's Sobre Noites e Dias, which may or may not be his sixth album. It's certainly an original genre mash-up, at least to my knowledge, better examples including Montanha Russa Sentimental, the brass-driven Mariazinha Morena Clara and Funk Dos Bromânticos, which isn't actually a recommendation. Santtana's credited with Mellotron on Montanha Russa Sentimental, but, I can quite assure you, it's entirely inaudible, so, under my 2017 rule, into 'samples' it goes. This is actually perfectly good at what it does, even if I don't like it. Three stars.

Sasha  (UK)

Involver  (2004,  77.37)  **

Alexander "Sasha" Coe's Involver is one of a handful of various-artist albums on this site that are filed under the compiler's name; like most of the others, that's due to it being a 'DJ mix' effort, a concept unknown in the more conventional rock/pop world. Originally an acid house DJ in the late '80s, Sasha has, unlike some of his contemporaries, managed to keep abreast of current trends, giving him a twenty-plus-year career. However, from my probably deplorably old-school (note: not 'skool') approach, although it's more than 'a bloke playing records', it isn't that much more. But is the album any good? I dunno - do you like dance stuff? I don't - I'm sure it's great if you're off your tits in some club on the Balearic, but I'm not, so it all falls a little flat. As far as its presence here is concerned, James Lavelle of UNKLE supposedly adds some (real?) Mellotron to What Are You To Me?, but I'll be buggered if I can hear it. The upshot being, no, you don't need to hear this for any reason whatsoever.

Savage Rose  (Denmark)

Universal Daughter  (2007,  47.04)  ***
Roots of the Wasteland  (2014,  40.36)  **½

(The) Savage Rose are known to prog/psych fans as a rare Danish entry in the field from the early '70s, so it comes as quite a surprise to discover that they never split up, releasing albums on a regular basis throughout the subsequent three decades. However, although their website lists current tour dates, they've released no new material since the death of founder member Thomas Koppel in 2006, putting a question mark over their future as a creative entity. Their latest (last?) album, 2007's Universal Daughter, contains a mixture of soft rock and '70s psych (as against '60s), with soul and gospel influences apparent in the vocal arrangements, not least in Koppel's partner Annisette Hansen's throaty (tobacco-ravaged?) delivery. The album's best moments arrive courtesy of a handful of ripping solos from guitarist Staffan Astner, though, notably on the opening title track and what I take to be a rather belated band 'theme' song, closer Savage Rose (Take Me Higher). Palle Hjorth is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, although I wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out to be fake. Anyway, all we get is the faintest of faint flutes on the title track and If, with nothing obvious on Malaya, so you're really not going to give this a go for its Mellotron content, are you? Good at what it does, but an album that isn't really aiming any higher than the band's mostly Scandinavian fanbase, I suspect.

Seven years on and 2014's Roots of the Wasteland drops any pretence of being psychedelic in any way, essentially being a kind of gospel/soul/blues effort. It opens with a strange white reggae number, The Joker, steadfastly refusing to pick things up from there. Hjorth and Frank Hasselstrøm are both credited with Mellotron, but the occasional vague string part is clearly nothing of the sort - to be honest, it barely even qualifies as Mellotron samples.

Saville Row  (US)

The Way Around it  (2014,  45.43)  ***

The no-doubt intentionally-misspelled Saville Row, formed in 2011, are a supergroup of sorts, featuring guitarist Marc Bonilla and other Californian luminaries. Their debut album, 2014's The Way Around it, kicks off well, with the quiet/loud of Between The Eyes, other better material including the funky hard rock of Insight and closer Last Goodbye. Sadly, however, the bulk of the album sits in the 'ballad rock' area, for want of a better term, in a bit of a 'heard it all before' kind of way. Bonilla is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings and flutes on Lying To Myself and combined choir and strings opening Everlasting Low, amongst other parts, are clearly sampled. There's a good band trying to fight their way out of this album; perhaps next time they'll let it.

Saws  (US)

Saws  (2005,  44.46)  **½

True to their name, Saws explore the potential of the musical saw in the avant-rock realm, the end result being... variable. Fifteen or twenty minutes of this stuff might be interesting, but even a 'regular-length' album strikes me as rather too much. Rick Frystak has the good grace to credit himself with 'virtual Mellotron', although I'll be buggered if I can tell where it might be.

Hadden Sayers  (US)

Supersonic  (2001,  49.29)  ***

Texan Hadden Sayers' Supersonic almost defines the now-overused epithet 'classic rock'; its Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-meets-Bad-Company vibe placing it fairly and squarely around 1975. Except that, er, it hails from 2001. Nothing wrong with that, mind, as long as you're not actively looking for something contemporary. Songwise, opener Email Lover kicks off with the now-dated sound of a dial-up modem - will people eventually feel the same way about references to 'the telephone'? - Good Man reminds me of Tom Petty, the sitar-driven Blasted unsurprisingly features something of an Eastern feel, while Little Bit Of Love is more Bad Co. than anything, right down to its title (I actually had to check to make sure it wasn't a cover). Tony Harrell supposedly plays Mellotron, but it seems to be entirely inaudible, even on its obvious placement, Love Won't Let Me Go. Is it in there somewhere? Who knows? Anyway, one for those who worship the sound of a Strat through a Fender Twin and a Texan bluesman giving it all he's got, despite a lack of any obvious Mellotron.

Noel Schajris  (Mexico)

Uno No es Uno  (2009,  50.26)  **

Nahuel Schajris "Noel Schajris" Rodríguez, ex-Sin Bandera, is actually Argentinian by birth, relocating to Mexico in the '90s. 2009's Uno No es Uno is his first solo album, mixing Latin balladry with more upbeat styles in a way that is unlikely to appeal to a Western rock audience. Like he cares. To absolutely no-one's surprise, Schajris' 'Mellotron' appears to be sampled, the attack portions of the notes being too long and regular. Anyway, we get strings and flutes on No Importa, flutes on bonus track Regresar and a reprise of No Importa's strings and flutes on the bonus Solo Noel version. Are you going to bother to hear it for yourself? Shouldn't think so, no.

Luca Scherani  (Italy)

Everyday's Life  (2007,  45.02)  ***½

Luca Scherani is a sometime member of Finisterre and their offshoot Höstsonaten, as well as playing on Zuffanti & Heward's Merlin project, and has found time to record a solo album, Everyday's Life. It's an eclectic mix, going from 'straight' prog, through electro-tinged jazz (Anonimous) to an almost lounge feel on parts of the title track, not to mention a soundtracky feel on several tracks. Disconcertingly, it frequently switches styles within songs, but then, isn't that sort of experimentation what progressive rock should be about? Almost entirely instrumental, the only vocals (not to mention the only guitar solo on the former) are on Solo Chi Ha Sofferto and Soli, so don't panic; no terrible neo-prog singers here. Luca has generously not only sent me his album, but has owned up to using Mellotron samples, which he employs with considerable taste, rather than the usual 'do 'em to death' approach. Most tracks feature some strings, with the odd bit of choir; if it were real, it would probably get a TT to TT½ rating. So; I'm not saying that I like all of this album, but it's most professionally done, and some of the music will appeal to the Italian prog fan. Worthwhile.

Janne Schra  (Netherlands)

Ponzo  (2015,  37.53)  ***

2015's Ponzo is Janne Schra's second album, although she had considerable success a decade earlier with Room Eleven. It sits somewhere between jazz, pop and indie, although the end result is more pleasing than that unpromising description might suggest. Not, you understand, that I'll be returning to this any time soon (read: at all), but it does what it does with vigour and skill, which immediately elevates it above the vast majority of current pop albums. Torre Florim and Jonathan Brown are variously credited with Mellotron, but, despite being credited on four tracks (Ship, Everything I Do Ooh Ooh, The Show and You Are Still New), it only turns up on the last-named, with obviously sampled low flutes and strings. Just to confuse the issue, the flutes also turn up, uncredited, on City. Who the hell wrote the sleeve credits?

Greg Schroeder  (US)

Schroeder  (2011,  35.44)  ***

Greg Schroeder plays pretty straightforward Americana on Schroeder, possibly at its best on gentle closers I'll Wait and Lullaby and at its most generic on Won't Do You Wrong's by-numbers rock'n'roll. Chad Stockslager's Mellotron? Inaudible.

Klaus Schulze  (Germany)  see:

Klaus Schulze

Schwarz  (Spain)

Hard Listening  (2000,  66.44)  ***
Cheesy  (2002,  46.31)  **½

Although Schwarz are often lumped in with the modern psych/space-rock crowd, the overwhelming influence on their second album, Hard Listening (LOVE it when bands from non-English speaking countries pun in English!) is post-rock. Yup, this basically sounds like Mogwai with some psych/prog bits thrown in, not least the Theremin on Sun And Moon Vibrations, although Narcotic is definitely more late-'60s than late-'90s. Band leader Alfonso Schwarz, also known as Alfonso Alfonso (real surname unknown) seems to have a pretty coherent vision for his band, and as long as you accept said vision, you'll probably enjoy what they do. Sadly, I don't really get it, but it seems to be passably good at what it does (he said, grudgingly). María "Ma" Dolores González (and, reputedly, Alfonso himself) play 'Mellotron', although its veracity has to be considered suspect, to the point where I've put it in 'samples' until/if anyone proves it's real. Anyway, there's some rather murky flutes on Travels Without Moving and the same, low in the mix, on Outsider, only surfacing as the other instruments die away, although the flute runs at the end of Tsunami are presumably generic samples, as no-one's credited with a real one. A high string line on Through Your Eyes is trumped by the full-on strings in Moonsickness, but it all sounds a bit fake to my ears. Go on, prove me wrong.

The band released two discs in 2002, the Plays Christian Music EP and the Cheesy album, recorded at the same sessions but regarded as distinct releases. I don't believe there's anything Mellotronic on the EP, but the album sounds a lot like its predecessor, only for some reason it outstays its welcome even sooner, despite being shorter. It's not that it's a terrible record, just that (for me, at least) it goes on and on and on... The post-rock of opener Gasoline, the uptempo The Impossible Dream, the psych-out title track and the overlong Peppermint... Sorry, guys - I was bored. The 'Mellotron' sounds even less real this time round, with a distant string part on Peppermint, rather clunky flutes on Glad Of Being Sad and more flutes and strings on closer Say Goodbye With A Kiss. I think we're talking samples.

Scorfina/Nickeson  (US)

Wag  (2009,  40.21)  **½

Guitarist Steve Scorfina and keyboard player Tom Nickeson played in the legendary Pavlov's Dog in the mid-to-late '70s, teaming up again for 2009's Wag (ho ho), although recording actually began in the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, I have to report that the bulk of the album consists of rather undistinguished AOR/mainstream rock, with some especially tedious balladry in the middle of the record. Best tracks? Probably instrumental Pavlov's-esque opener Old Dog, New Trick (ho ho again) and closer You May Not Know, which has something of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross about it. Nickeson plays Mellotron samples on a couple of tracks, with strings on After Running and strings and flutes on closer You May Not Know, actually enhancing the latter, despite their inauthenticity. I can't really recommend this, sadly, but get to hear its two best tracks if you get the chance.

Alison Scott  (US)

Chinese Whispers  (2010,  49.56)  ***

Chinese Whispers straddles the bridge between soul and singer-songwriter, groovy without descending into slush; not my personal bag, but of undeniable quality. Peter J. Sands is credited with Chamberlin; surely not the strings in Just For Us?

Jamie Scott  (UK)

Park Bench Theories  (2007,  51.10)  **

Park Bench Theories starts off as a passable-enough singer-songwriter effort, but quickly descends into sentimental mush. Andreas Olsson plays fairly obvious samplotron strings on Changes and Two Men, as against the real strings elsewhere.

Scrote  (US)

Never Let the Little Man Down  (2012,  19.15)  **

It seems Scrote is a solo artist, not a band - amusingly, it's a word I'd hear during my adolescence in London, meaning 'miserable old sod'. Does Mr. Scrote know this? Is it relevant? Anyway, his Never Let the Little Man Down is an EP of grungy, low-fi indie, with no obvious redeeming features. Rob Shrock plays Chamberlin on She Goes Quickly, supposedly, with string and flute parts. I know the instrument's difficult to tell apart from samples, but I don't think so...

Scumbucket  (Germany)

Batuu  (1998,  42.17)  **½

Charmingly-named German trio Scumbucket (frontman Kurt Ebelhäuser also plays in Blackmail) fit into the 'melodic yet fucking heavy' category, which is another way of saying that they're influenced by Nirvana. Their second album, 1998's Batuu, gets the requisite quiet parts in amongst the noisy ones, but all to relatively little effect, I'm afraid. A few tracks of this stuff is genuinely exciting; a whole album is just dull. Someone (Ebelhäuser?) adds Mellotron samples to a few tracks, with strings on Spot Parts, slow, interweaving flutes on Atomic Gun and strings all over elegiac closer Wimp. I can't honestly say that I'm too keen on this stuff, but it clearly has its audience. No real Mellotron, though.

Seaweed  (US)

Spanaway  (1995,  40.36)  **

Seaweed's career is both boundaried and defined by the '90s; playing a punky version of grunge clearly seemed like a good idea at the time, although history is unlikely to be overly kind to their fourth album, 1995's Spanaway. In fairness, it isn't terrible, but nor is it even remotely memorable; I mean, I managed to forget most of its songs while they were playing, which isn't a good sign. Vocalist Aaron Stauffer supposedly plays Mellotron, but if the squally strings on Saturday Nitrous are supposed to be a real machine... I've heard an awful lot worse albums than this, but that's only because I've heard some utter, utter shite. Dull and pointless. No wonder they split up.

Guy Sebastian  (Australia)

Like it Like That  (2009,  47.49)  **

After hearing Guy Sebastian's fifth album, 2009's Like it Like That, it should come as no surprise to discover that he was the first winner of Australian Idol, back in 2003. The album is a highly tedious collection of faux-soul/R&B dross, having little, if any, of the authenticity of the genre's progenitors. Is this Sebastian's fault? Possibly not, but he might note that sometimes it's worth ignoring the more recent years/decades of a genre's development and going back to its roots. David Ryan Harris is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but the squeaky-clean string line on All To Myself fails to convince, ditto the mellow flutes on Fail To Mention and string chords on Never Be You, although he allegedly used real Mellotron and Chamberlin on an album of his own in the late '90s. I'm sure Sebastian is a genuine soul fan, but his (or his musical director's) vision is seriously askew. Just don't.

Second Decay  (Germany)

La Décadence Électronique  (1992,  36.49)  ***½

Second Decay were the late-period German electropop duo of Andreas Sippel and Christian Purwien, whose first full album (after a cassette-only release and a 12"), 1992's La Décadence Électronique, is synthpop as it used to be, the band proudly proclaiming, "This album was produced without MIDI. It is dedicated to our beloved Synthesizers". A cover of John Foxx's Burning Car gives the game away, as does the Trans-Europe Expressness of closer Laboratorium II; not the Soft Cell/Depeche Mode end of the genre, but the Kraftwerk/early Ultravox! one. Hurrah! Admittedly, the Foxx number's the best thing here, but the band's own material isn't bad, just not outstanding.

The gear list is magnificent; allow me to reproduce part of it here:

And that's leaving out some of the other drum machine/sequencing gear and effects... And believe me, they use them to the full. OK, this stuff was easier (and cheaper) to pick up in the mid-to-late '80s (wish I'd bought more myself), but it's still a pretty impressive selection... Either Sippel or Purwein plays the alleged Mellotron, but can it be heard? Can it fuck. Is it actually here at all? The female choir on Poisoned Water? Background strings on Chronomatic or Close My Heart? None seem likely, so I'm afraid it's a bit fat zero on the Mellotron front, unless someone out there would like to enlighten me. Great album within its genre, though, recommended for synth nuts.

Marianne Segal featuring Circulus  (UK)

The Gathering  (2007,  45.51)  ***½

Marianne Segal was vocalist with folk-rock trio Jade, whose sole album, Fly On Strangewings, appeared in 1970, while Circulus are the UK's premier (OK, only) medieval folk/rock/psych outfit. Despite knowing the band, I don't know the full story, but Segal sings and plays guitar on Circulus' version of her composition, Swallow, on their first full-length album, 2005's marvellous The Lick on the Tip of an Envelope Yet to Be Sent, essentially making them her backing band for the track, a function they performed again two years later on an entire album of her material, The Gathering.

To be honest, the album's a slightly mixed bag, stronger material including opener September Song, Lapis Wings, the slightly medieval-ish Saints On Tapestry and Dreamers, although I'm not entirely convinced by the band's attempts to 'rock it up' on a couple of tracks, even though they're perfectly capable of doing so on their own records. An unusual feature of the album are the four Little Lucy Vignettes, brief instrumental pieces consisting of (in order) Will Summers' medieval woodwind, Oli Parfitt's harpsichord, Oli's lute and Ian Catt's fakeotron, all leading up to final, hidden track Little Lucy (presumably), a terribly cutesy song about a puppy owned by Marianne as a child. Yes, it's easy to be cynical about such things, but it's actually very sweet. No, really.

Ian Catt plays what I'm fully assured is sampled Mellotron on three tracks, with flutes and choirs on Saints On Tapestry, flutes opening and throughout Dreamers and strings and flutes on Little Lucy. To be fair, they almost sound real, but, er, aren't. While not up to the standard of Circulus' own albums (in my humble opinion, of course), The Gathering's still a very listenable record, well worth the effort for those who've rediscovered Jade in recent years.

Philip Selway  (UK)

Weatherhouse  (2014,  37.07)  **½

Phil(ip) Selway is Radiohead's drummer, whose second solo album, 2014's Weatherhouse, sits somewhere inbetween Eno-esque ambient and the lighter end of indie pop, for better or worse. I can't even really name 'best' (or, indeed, 'worst') tracks; they're all pretty much of a muchness; if you like one, chances are you'll like all. Any one on its own is fine, but stick ten of them together and the overall effect becomes soporific. Katherine "Quinta" Mann is credited with 'mellotron' (why is it that samples users never use the capitalised proper noun?), but, amongst the actual string quartet and other instrumentation, whatever's being used is entirely inaudible, anyway.

Semente  (Brazil)

Semente  (1999,  41.53)  ***

Semente's lone (at least to date) eponymous album is something of a mixed bag, to be honest; the opening title track is quite reasonable, but the band seem to run out of ideas as the record progresses, until the tired jamming of Novas Forças and Mundo Guerreiro makes you rather glad it's all over. A shame, as they have some good ideas in places, but they don't seem to be able to sustain them. Sérgio Benchimol and Pedro Kosinski are both credited with 'Melotron' on different tracks (Kosinski on the title track and Ninfa Azul, Benichimol on Mundo Guerreiro), but the only thing I can hear that approaches it at all is some indeterminate strings on Ninfa Azul which must be, at best, fairly poor 'Tron samples. Of course, I've been wrong before... So; a rather uninspired record with some decent moments, and very little 'Tron, real or otherwise. Incidentally, Benchimol's 2004 solo album, A Drop in the Ocean, an Ocean in a Drop, is supposed to contain 'Mellotron', too, but I couldn't even hear samples this time round. Not a bad record, however.

Senjahopen  (Norway)

Tåra, Pess og Blod  (2013,  45.49)  ***

Norwegian-language pop/rock, leaning towards that odd 'Scando-Americana' thing. Perfectly pleasant, if a little unengaging, unlikely to appeal to anyone much outside the band's home territory. Didrik Lund plays a samplotron flute line on Carl Edvard.

Sense  (Québec)

Madness  (2002,  53.22)  **½
Out of Range  (2004,  43.08)  **½
Stone in the Sky  (2005,  46.26)  **
Going Home  (2007,  46.45)  **½

Sense are a modern Québecois neo-prog outfit, led by guitarist/bassist/keyboard player Stéphane Desbiens (how do they do this stuff live?), who confuse the issue by throwing in the occasional interesting bit. Their debut, 2002's Madness, is largely generic neo-, with a smattering of prog metal thrown in for good (?) measure, although the band occasionally manage something slightly more original, not least the acoustic-based 'hidden track' that closes the record. All of the album's string and most of the choir parts are generic samples, although some 'proper' Mellotron choir samples crop up in I Was There. 2004's Out of Range is weirdly schizophrenic, in that one minute it's trying to be standard neo-prog, and the next it's flying off at an interesting tangent, sounding more like Guapo, or anybody else with a dissonant turn to their music. Unfortunately, it tends more towards the former than the latter, with most of the interesting work being in lengthy opener Out Of Range/Out Of Line, while a burst of jazzy piano in Nightmare keeps the listener on their toes, although the occasional Celtic interlude serves only to confuse. Desbiens' credited with Mellotron, which is a bit naughty, as he's become known (around here, at least) as a sample user. Their use is intermittent, with a couple of credited tracks having no more than a few string chords, but Out Of Range/Out Of Line has a fair chunk of string work, with a medium helping of choirs on Nightmare.

2005's Stone in the Sky is an odd one: two studio tracks, around ten minutes in total, plus several live ones, the disc being paired with a DVD that partially overlaps the CD's live tracks. Confused? Me too. Once again, although the band default to a form of tedious, clichéd neo-prog, every now and again they confound us with a properly 'out there' section, like the one several minutes into Out Of Range. I'm not sure about those covers, though... Steve Howe's Mood For A Day on clean electric guitar and bass? An atrocious version of Genesis' I Know What I Like, with loads of wrong chords and outrageously-accented vocals? No thanks. Their latest effort, 2007's Going Home, is basically more of the same, albeit with more of a Yes influence this time round. Stranger Coming Home is reasonably nice, if a bit bland, but everything else here makes me want to hit the 'next' button. On the samplotron front, we get strings all over one of the album's better efforts, Stone In The Sky (a different version to the one on the album of the same name) and the Yes-ish title track, although that's pretty much it.