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Serena-Maneesh  (Norway)

Serena-Maneesh  (2005,  58.10)  **
#2: Abyss in B Minor  (2010,  37.40)  *½

Serena-Maneesh are a Norwegian shoegaze outfit, whose eponymous 2005 debut is, sadly, as dull as they come, Sapphire Eyes High and lengthy closer Your Blood In Mine being the only points at which the band's influences come together properly. Emil Nikolaisen allegedly plays Mellotron, but unless I'm very much mistaken, the background strings and flutes on Selina's Melodie Fountain, cellos on Candlelighted and strings on Don't Come Down Here are samples and not especially good ones at that. (Cue anguished e-mail from someone to do with the band to tell me it's real). They took five years to follow-up with #2: Abyss in B Minor, released on their obvious spiritual home: 4AD. Somehow or other, it actually manages to be not only duller, but also more irritating than its predecessor, Lina Wallinder's vocals on several tracks redefining the word 'boring'. Nikolaisen on 'Mellotron' again, with flutes on opener Ayisha Abyss, Honeyjinx and closer Magdalena (Symphony #8), but I'm not convinced they're any more genuine than last time. One day, maybe someone can try to explain to me what they like about this stuff. I know I'm an old fart, but the sheer boredom of this stuff makes me want to beat my head against a wall so I know I'm still alive. Serena-Maneesh is bad, but Abyss in B Minor is awful.

Serpent Throne  (US)

Ride Satan Ride  (2007,  40.10)  ***½
The Battle of Old Crow  (2009,  43.37)  ***½

After the untimely death of their singer, Randall "Snake Eyes" McDoogan (you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?), Philadelphia's Serpent Throne elected to carry on as an instrumental quartet, releasing a 'soundtrack', Ride Satan Ride, in 2007. As various online reviews have fairly needlessly pointed out, aside from the instrumental approach, this lot cut Black Sabbath so close that Tony Iommi could shave with them, although, given some of the pretenders to the Sabs' crown, I'd rather give it to Serpent Throne, myself. They've got the guitar tone (in duplicate) down pat, the percentile mix of grindingly slow and uptempo boogie (it's often forgotten that Sabbath were a killer boogie band when the fancy took them) and just the right amount of bottom string bending, not to mention a sense of humour: Back Stabbeth, anyone?. Co-guitarist Don Argott is credited with Mellotron, with strings on Veil Of The Black Witch and strings and solo flute on Blood Rites, although something about them tells me they're not real, so until/unless I'm told otherwise...

The band followed up two years later with The Battle of Old Crow, about which it would be fair to utilise the old maxim, 'if it ain't broke...' Stylistically identical to its predecessor, it's every bit as good, assuming instrumental stoner doom is your bag; I have to admit, in smallish doses, this stuff really isn't 'alf bad... It's sort of futile to try to isolate 'best tracks'; the album's strength lies in its overall effect, sensibly limited to 'vinyl length' (I believe both of these are also available on that format). Fakeotron again on closer Thirteen Mountains, with an excellent flute part opening the track plus strings later on. Serpent Throne are, of course, a little bit silly, but isn't most music, or at least, most rock rather silly, when it comes down to it? This lot are searingly honest in their approach; there's absolutely no artifice here, they do exactly what it says on the tin. I'm pretty sure the 'Mellotron' isn't, but if anyone knows better... Recommended for Sabbath fans who think most 'doom' stuff is a load of old cock.

Ron Sexsmith  (Canada)

Long Player Late Bloomer  (2011,  43.36)  ***½

Long Player Late Bloomer's superficially lightweight sound hides a considerable depth of compositional talent, as acknowledged by several of Sexsmith's songwriting idols. Best tracks? Difficult to say without giving the album the several close listens it deserves, not to mention the ever-present singer-songwriter problem (well, for me) that the lyrics are usually considered at least as important as the music, but Believe It When I See It, Late Bloomer and Middle Of Love are particularly strong. John Webster is credited with Mellotron, with obvious strings on Believe It When I See It and Every Time I Follow, although several other tracks, not least the strings on Miracles and No Help At All and the flutes on closer Nowadays feature sounds which may or may not be Mellotronic. Samples all round, I'd say.

Sexus  (US)

Universal  (1997,  59.44)  **

Going by the evidence presented here, Sexus played a kind of indie/metal hybrid, which is every bit as horrible as you can imagine. There are no best tracks. It is also interminable. Yaron Fuchs plays samplotron strings on Occasion Of My Tears (listen for the overly-sustained chord at the end).

Shades Apart  (US)

Eyewitness  (1999,  46.34)  ***

Shades Apart, at least on their fourth full album, 1999's Eyewitness, are at the better end of pop-punk, filling the album with songs catchy enough to chart (as, indeed, Valentine did), yet not cheesy enough to repel the more serious listener. The album's actually stuffed with potential singles, not least Edge Of The Century and 100 Days, so it's surprising that they only had the one hit from it; once the public became aware of them, surely they would have bought others? Maybe their label didn't release any. Bassist Kevin Lynch doubles on samplotron, with a distant string part on the quiet bit of Valentine.

Shadow Circus  (US)

Welcome to the Freakroom  (2006,  45.26)  ****

Shadow Circus' name gives the impression that they're yet another half-arsed prog-metal band, which couldn't be further from the truth (well, not much). They're actually a new New York-based outfit, nothing like Shadow Gallery and their ilk; actually, Spock's Beard are a distinct influence, in the way the band meld newer and more 'traditional' forms of progressive rock, using piano like few other modern bands, alongside keyboards old and new. Welcome to the Freakroom's highlight is undoubtedly three-part closer Journey Of Everyman, although mock-AOR classic Radio People raises a wry smile and, in truth, there's nothing here to offend the open-minded prog fan, with next to no nasty neo- influences to be heard. Zach Tenorio plays keys, including samplotron, with choirs on the opening title track, strings on Storm Rider and Inconvenient Compromise, strings, flutes and choir on Radio People and choir (and strings?) on Journey Of Everyman.

Shadowlight  (UK)

Twilight Canvas  (2012,  56.48)  **½

Shadowlight are clearly aiming for the progressive market, such as it is, although I struggle to find anything particularly 'progressive' about their 2012 debut, Twilight Canvas. Of course there isn't anything genuinely 'progressive' here, but nor is it particularly 'genre prog', the overall sound being more Dream Theater-lite (OK, perhaps that counts as 'genre prog'), reprehensible AOR influence intact. Better moments? Scattered across the album, while refusing to bunch together into a single track, although opener Dreaming Awake fooled me into thinking this was going to be half-decent. Keys man Mark Wilson's string and choir sounds are largely generic, only really sounding distinctly (pseudo-)Mellotronic on Cutting Room. Sorry, chaps - I hate to stick the knife in, but this really isn't 'progressive rock', more slightly proggy hard rock/AOR, for those who like that kind of thing.

Shakary  (Switzerland)

The Last Summer  (2002,  50.25)  ***

Well, Shakary's second album, The Last Summer, is more concise than Alya, but carries on ploughing their 'modern'/neo-prog furrow, with what appears to be a concept album about a doomed holiday romance from some years earlier. Not typical prog fare, to be honest, but a brave move, making a welcome change from the 'I'm so miserable' brigade, or the prog-metal 'dwarves and hobbits' approach (see: the ludicrous Rhapsody et al.). My regular readers will know that I'm not especially a fan of this style, but it seems to be done well enough here, certainly far better than some I could name. The playing's good all round, and is that a real piano I hear? The Hammond is quite clearly a synth approximation, and although I'm assured there are Mellotron sounds used, there's little in the string department that sounds anything other than generic samples, presumably from Giovanni Galfetti's Kurzweil. Maybe the 'Tron sounds are mixed with 'real' strings? The occasional lead synth sound is very obviously digital, too, although the band assure me they're going to track down some genuine vintage gear next time.

Bree Sharp  (US)

More B.S.  (2002,  37.26)  **½

Bree Sharp seems to be running her career in reverse, releasing three solo albums before joining Beautiful Small Machines. The second of her own efforts, 2002's More B.S., starts acceptably enough, in 'girly singer-songwriter' mode, but the quality of her material drops as the record progresses, until tracks like Sunday School & Cigarettes and Dirty Magazine make me want to reach for the 'next' button. Don DiLego's Mellotron on Galaxy Song seems to consist of a generic string sound played in a 'Mellotronic' manner, although the strings on The Last Of Me and flutes on Morning In A Bar sound slightly more realistic. But only slightly. Maybe not, then.

Ken Sharp  (US)

Sonic Crayons  (2007,  42.43)  ****

Ken Sharp was originally known as an author, penning a respected Raspberries bio in the early '90s, followed by titles on other bands, not least the-powerpop-band-who-aren't-(yet-are), Cheap Trick. Given that he was (and is) such an aficionado of the genre, it apparently came as little surprise when he released his first album, 1301 Highland Avenue, in 1994, following it with 2000's apparently Mellotron-containing Happy Accidents. 2007's excellent Sonic Crayons carries on in similar vein, unsurprisingly, melody-packed powerpop (is there any other kind?), top tracks including brief-yet-perfect opener Hello Hello (very Cheap Trick, sir!), The Man Who Couldn't Be Wrong (spot the sublime chord change a few seconds in), the Beatles-esque Melody Hill and Orange Cellophane, although, truth be told, there isn't a bad track here. Ritchie Rubini is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on several tracks and flutes on So Simple Radio are, at least to my ears, too smooth to be genuine, not to mention the well-over-eight-second string note on Rush Rush and non-Mellotronic pitchbends on Why Girls Cry. Frankly, the presence or otherwise of a real Mellotron is sort of incidental; this is a great album, full of genuine love for the genre.

Maia Sharp  (US)

Hardly Glamour  (1997,  52.20)  **½

Maia Sharp's breezy pop/rock on Hardly Glamour starts well with I Need This To Be Love, but heads steadily downhill from then on, culminating in the tedious balladry of closer Parting Request. Mark Addison's Mellotron? Surely not the strings on Wandering Heart?

Sarah Sharp  (US)

Fourth Person  (2005,  40.40)  **½

Fourth Person is a rather bland pop/rock-end-of-the-singer-songwriter-spectrum album, probably at its best on Finally, its dull material interspersed with occasional little bursts of energy, notably in the middle of Buzz Factor. Kevin Ryan is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, presumably from the same sample set, with strings on opener Time Capsule (spot the unfeasibly-speedy run), strings and flutes on Run and clarinet on Coffee Shop Song, amongst other use.

Ringo Sheena  (Japan)

Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana  (2003,  46.29)  ***½

Yumiko "Ringo Sheena" Shiina's third album, Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana (Kalk Samen Chestnut Flower) is a long way from your 'standard' J-pop album, being an intriguing, multi-layered mélange of various flavours of pop, jazz and the avant-garde, possibly at its best on the potty Camouflage and closer Funeral. Uni Inoue is credited with Mellotron on Doppelganger and Poltergeists, with sampled flutes on both and uncredited ones on opener Religion.

The Sheer  (Netherlands)

The Keyword is Excitement  (2004,  48.25)  ***

The Keyword is Excitement is a pretty decent powerpop album, Dutch division, The Sheer being indistinguishable from many American genre outfits, possibly at its best on the punky The Goodtimes, Right Now and the propulsive, synth-fuelled You Are Mine. Jasper Geluk plays samplotron flutes on Love Is The Law (A Tune For Lune).

The Sheila Divine  (US)

Where Have My Countrymen Gone  (2001,  41.37)  **

The Sheila Divine play a rather unexciting form of 'transcendent' post-rock/indie on Where Have My Countrymen Gone, at its least unacceptable on Some Kind Of Home. Peter Linnane plays samplotron flutes on Monarchs and closer Vanishing Act.

William Sheller  (France)

Avatars  (2008,  45.41)  ***½

William Sheller occupies what must be a completely unique position, at least in France, as both a respected classical composer and pop/rock artist, the two worlds merging in places. 2008's Avatars is something like his thirteenth non-classical studio effort, an eclectic, interesting album of intelligent, quirky pop/rock, highlights include the Beatles-esque Tout Ira Bien, the mildly angular Jet Lag, Camping and closer Avatar II (Log Out), amongst others. What makes its best material as good as it is? Hard to say, but Sheller's ability to take the compositional road less travelled keeps the listener guessing, treading a fine line between 'accessible' and 'challenging'. Sheller plays vaguely 'Strawberry Fields'-esque samplotron flutes on La Longue Echelle; I suspect the consistently flat D utilised in the sequence is part of his sample set.

Maisie Shenandoah  (US)

Sisters: Oneida Iroquois Hymns  (2003,  43.14)  ***

Maisie Shenandoah, already elderly when she recorded Sisters: Oneida Iroquois Hymns, was Wolf Clanmother of the Oneida Nation of New York (thanks, Wikipedia). A collection of largely a capella hymns, while the women's voices are beautiful, a little of this stuff goes a long way; I'm really not sure what Christianity's got to do with Native American culture, while it all gets a bit sickly-sweet towards the end of the album. Tom Wasinger's credited with Chamberlin, by which I presume they mean the cello on Follow Me. Maybe not. Sadly, Shenandoah died in 2009.

Vonda Shepard  (US)

The Radical Light  (1992,  49.47)  **½
Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life  (2001,  62.20)  *½

Vonda Shepard made her name in the dull (and now, thankfully, almost forgotten) Ally McBeal, selling an awful lot of albums off the back of the show. Her first alleged tape-replay album, The Radical Light, is best described as 'mainstream pop/rock', I think. Her voice is fine, for those who are interested in such things, but the music is entirely anodyne, blandola nonsense, which means it's more popular than nearly everything I like. David Campbell plays viola and Mellotron on the record, though I'll be buggered if I can hear where he uses the latter. The strings on a handful of tracks sound sampled, and there isn't even a hint of the flutes, the usual fallback for minor-use Mellotron albums. Ally McBeal: For Once in My Life works on the same 'half Vonda' basis as the other albums from the series, sharing vocal leads with various cast members and is the usual selection of smooth-as-silk mainstream balladry, making it about as inessential a listen as it could be. I mean, she (or rather, her arrangers) turn Dylan's Don't Think Twice, it's All Right into complete slush, which is quite a trick. Least offensive track? Anastacia and Shepard's Love Is Alive, which at least manages to inject a little Clavinet-led funk into the proceedings. Campbell's credited with Mellotron on Home Again and Alone Again (Naturally), but it's completely inaudible under the real strings on both tracks. Pah.

Shimmering  (Norway)

Shimmering  (2010,  47.36)  **½

Shimmering sits somewhere in between post-rock and singer-songwriter territory, possibly at its best on opener What If/Would You and As If Two Flowers. Hasse Rosbach's credited with Mellotron; I dunno about the strings on There's A Lot Going On Under Water, but that's obvious samplotron on Milou IV and Knock Out In Reverse.

Shine Dión  (Norway)

Berkana  (1994,  12.02)  ***
Killandra  (1998,  44.46)  ***
Wyn  (2002,  41.43)  ***

Shine Dión are a female-fronted Norwegian folk-bordering-on-new-age outfit; perfectly pleasant, but they remind me more of Ritchie Blackmore's current project, Blackmore's Night, than anything more authentic. They debuted with 1994's three-track Berkana, which sets their stall out neatly, all wafty female vocals, acoustic guitars and flutes. Perfectly pleasant, as I said, but (sad to say) somewhat uninspiring. Jørn Andersen supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, but the distant choirs on Woods Eternal aren't especially Mellotronic, while whatever's supposed to be on Rowan's Song is entirely inaudible. It took the duo four years to come up with the full-length Killandra, containing re-recordings of two of the EP's three songs. Andersen supposedly guests on Mellotron and mandolin this time, but there's startlingly little on the album. In fact, although there seem to be (synth-driven) ethereal choirs a-plenty, the only tracks I'd say are likely to contain it are Woods Eternal and Rowan's Song (the same as the Berkana tracks), both with some distant choirs, quite certainly non-Mellotronic. Wyn is a bit of an improvement, better tracks including opener Flowering, Moonlit Voice and closer The Valley's Song, while The Well reads like a rewrite of Richard Thompson's Fairport classic Crazy Man Michael. Andersen is credited with Mellotron yet again, on The Valley's Song, but I'd love to know what, precisely, he's doing with it, as both flute and violin are real, while the synth pad is quite clearly nothing more exciting than... a synth pad. Null points.

Shipwreck Union  (US)

Self Defense  (2005,  49.32)  **½

Shipwreck Union seem to be running on a 'rock'n'soul' ticket on Self Defense, at its best on propulsive opener Out Of The Woods and worst on the drippy So Sweet. Eric Hoegemeyer's 'Mellotron'? What, the strings on closer The Good News Is...? I don't think so.

Shotgun Honeymoon  (US)

Foregone Conclusion  (2007,  38.10)  **

Foregone Conclusion is a tiresome US indie album, at its best on the sparse, jazzy Label Of Blues and its worst on the limp I'm On This and Across The Room. Jeff Trott allegedly plays both Mellotron and Chamberlin, but, not only do the strings on Beautiful Suicide fail to ring true, but all other orchestral sounds sound like generic samples.

The Show  (Canada)

Debt Sweat & Tears  (2005,  59.07)  **½

The Show (rubbish name, chaps) are a Canadian R&B outfit, which means, in practice, a combo of hip-hop and soul vocals over largely tedious, repetitive backing, though not enough to be considered full-blown hip-hop. Any highlights? Yes, as it happens; the beautiful choral vocal work on Is It Raining and the massed synths of Watchin' Me. Craig McConnell's credited with Mellotron, presumably the vaguely Mellotronic strings on Let Go and what sounds like MkII 'moving strings' on Bobby And Sarah.

Sia  (Australia)

1000 Forms of Fear  (2014,  48.40)  *½
This is Acting  (2016,  50.44)  **

Sia (Furler) is an Australian singer, musically active since the early '90s. Her sixth album, 2014's 1000 Forms of Fear, is a glossily-produced mainstream pop record, her strained vocals doing nothing to improve matters. Is there a best track? Of course, not, although closer Dressed In Black probably gets the 'least bad' non-award, while the vocal effects on Free The Animal are a summation of why I hate this album so much. Greg Kurstin is credited with Mellotron and occasional Chamberlin, mostly cello and string parts, the sample giveaways being the extreme (and somewhat inauthentic) pitchbends at the end of Straight For The Knife and the high-speed cellos on Fair Game, while whatever Chamby sounds are being used on Dressed In Black are effectively inaudible. Two years on and This is Acting is marginally less irritating than its predecessor, which isn't saying much. Kurstin is credited with Mellotron on opener Bird Set Free, very clearly sampled.

Silent League  (US)

But You've Always Been the Caretaker...  (2010,  48.51)  **½

The Silent League exist in a post-rock/indie zone, But You've Always Been the Caretaker... zipping between ambient instrumentals (opener Egg-Shaped), Autotune Hell (Yours Truly, 2095) and thoroughly average indie (most of the rest), even channelling Hawkwind on Rules Of Disengagement. Messy, frankly. Dave Sherman's 'Mellotron'? The strings on There's A Caretaker In The Woods?

The Silos  (US)

When the Telephone Rings  (2004,  44.19)  ***

When the Telephone Rings is a decidedly superior Americana album, typified by stonking opener The Only Love, complete with its Neil Young-esque guitar work, the rocking Innocent and The First Move. Dave Bassett's credited with Mellotron, but the cello and strings on Ready For Anything sound sampled.

Silver Sun  (UK)

Neo Wave  (1998,  47.34)  ***½

Silver Sun are a relative rarity these days; a British powerpop band, admittedly one at the rockier end of the genre. After an initial burst of activity (with that all-important record company support), they were dropped after their rather groovy second effort, 1998's Neo Wave, presumably because it didn't sell a million, or something. Highlights include opener Cheerleading (hey, always start with your strongest song!), the rocking Would've If I Could've, Mustard and their cover of Johnny Mathis' (!) Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, but there's little here that offends. Bassist/vocalist Richard Kane plays samplotron on two tracks, with strings on Cheerleading and a choir chord at the end of Mustard. Incidentally, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late was released as the lead track of an EP, track two of which was their four-minute condensing of Rush's epic Xanadu, which truly has to be heard to be believed...

Silver Sunshine  (US)

Silver Sunshine  (2004,  42.10)  ****
A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit  (2005,  26.59)  ****

Silver Sunshine are a new psych outfit from San Diego, with a day-glo time machine set for 'back', although their retro textures occasionally sound more like previous '60s-influenced bands than the real thing. Who cares, though, when they make a noise as glorious as Silver Sunshine? Despite being Californians, they freely mix the US and UK wings, so the Strawberry Alarm Clock rub shoulders with Love, then Pink Floyd and the Kinks take a bath together. Backwards cymbals, backwards entire mixes, phasing, voice-through-Leslie, you name it, they do it. The lyrics are, of course, ridiculous, but isn't that the point? Conor Riley and Kayo Mitsuishi play the samplotron (confirmed by the band), with occasional strings and high-in-the-mix cello on opener (and best song?) Velvet Skies, a more obvious string part on their 'theme' song, I See The Silver Sunshine and major flutes and cellos on the balladic Nightmares, although I can't hear anything obvious on Miranda May.

The following year's A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit is a worthy successor to their album, although I'm not sure why they didn't wait until they had an album's-worth of material. While the songs are uniformly excellent, Another Day is an awful lot too White Album for its own good, although Hiroshima Never Again ups the ante with its instrumental intensity. Samplotron from Conor Riley and Richard Vaughan this time round, with flutes and strings on Waiting For The Sun and, surprisingly, flutes on the 'bonus track', a home demo of Winter Witch, alongside a real one. So, a thoroughly derivative and bloody brilliant album, with an equally good and marginally less derivative EP. Not bad (fake) Mellotron, either. Buy. n.b. Silver Sunshine have now morphed into the vastly more rocking Astra, a truly essential listen.

Silverstein  (Canada)

Discovering the Waterfront  (2005,  39.08)  **½

I've seen Silverstein (named for children's author Shel Silverstein) described as 'post-hardcore', but their second album, 2005's Discovering the Waterfront, sounds like a punk Queensrÿche to my ears, copping their trademark duelling riffs, then sticking shouty vocals on top. I'm afraid I can't name any 'best tracks'; the album's best moments are the occasional bursts of inventive riffing on several tracks, invariably spoiled by the vocals. Although Curtis Mathewson is credited with Mellotron, the vague background strings on My Heroine could be almost anything, frankly and are most unlikely to emanate from anything involving tapes. So; punk/prog/metal, no real Mellotron. Your choice.

Jeffrey Simmons  (US)

The Failure of the Horse & Buggy  (2000,  43.34)  ***
Almost... All the Way... Down  (2003,  50.41)  ***

Jeffrey Simmons' The Failure of the Horse & Buggy is an infuriating album, in that one minute it's XTC, the next it's bloody Coldplay. Highlights include the opening title track, Paint Youself and Step Outside, but inconsistency knocks half a star from its rating. Simmons plays blatant samplotron, with dirty brass and strings all over the title track, flutes on New York State and skronky strings on Word Gets 'Round, while the flutes on closer Count Me Out, heard on their own at the end of the album, really give the sample game away. 2003's Almost... All the Way... Down is, effectively, more of the same, at its best on opener Unkind, Goodbye Blues and the countryish Turning Grey. Joel Simches's Mellotron? Ropey flutes on Unkind.

Stephen Simmons  (US)

Something in Between  (2007,  46.22)  ***

Stephen Simmons is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, so it comes as no surprise to learn that there's a distinct country influence in his music. Saying that, it's a long way from Grand Ol Opry schmaltz, for which we have to be grateful, although sometimes the Nashville in Simmons rises a little too close to the surface, as on Down Tonight. The album's probably better lyrically than musically, to be honest, which is probably the way with a lot of country music, but it's far from offensive, although it has a faint air of 'heard it all before' about it. Richard McLaurin is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but the album's strings all sound real, leaving nothing but vague, background flutes on Blues On A Sunny Day, one of the album's better tracks. If you don't dig country (I bet most country people don't say 'dig'), you're not going to go for this, but it does its job well.

Alan Simon  (France)

Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring  (2007,  55.15)  **½

I might have approached Alan Simon's Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring with a slightly more open mind had I not been subjected to the bulk of the album at Fairport Convention's annual Cropredy bash in 2010. Fairport invariably bring on a handful of special guests during their headlining set, but to be given such a large, indigestible lump of new music in one go was, at the very least, rather unwise.

Listening to the album in full in the comfort of my own home has confirmed my view that it's essentially your typical faux-Celtic stuff, a million miles away from Alan Stivell or Dan Ar Bras' work in the '70s (although the latter guests here), while any number of guest artists aren't going to polish this particular turd. OK, I'm being slightly unfair; any single track taken in isolation is passable enough, but nearly an hour of it in one fell swoop is enough to make you want to track down Michael Flatley and kill him. Slowly. No, America, we're not all 'a little bit Irish', even when we actually are. Special guests all over: as you can see, aside from Fairport and Ar Bras, the highly distinctive Jon Anderson, John Wetton, Justin Hayward, Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and Jacqui McShee's current version of Pentangle are all involved, for better or (mostly) worse.

Marco Canepa is credited with Mellotron, but the only obvious part on the whole album is the strings on Call (special guests, Les Holroyd's Barclay James Harvest). Cut and dried, you might be thinking. But... Les' version of the band (the AOR one, tragically) have never used a Mellotron, that being the province of Woolly Wolstenholme, whose departure triggered the band's change of direction originally (or, more likely, vice versa). It doesn't sound especially authentic, either, so unless I get an outraged e-mail from someone involved with the project to tell me otherwise, this stays in samples for the indefinite future. So; do you want to hear this? Well, how to you feel about cheesy 'Celtic' folk-rock with loads of powerchording guitar? That's the question you need to ask yourself before shelling out your hard-earned on this overblown load of old nonsense. He said, provocatively.

Harper Simon  (US)

Division Street  (2013,  39.57)  **½

Paul Simon's son's Division Street is rather less engaging than his eponymous 2009 release, being more 'wet end of indie' (there's a dry end?) than 'singer-songwriter'. And Nate Walcott's 'Mellotron' strings all over opener Veterans Parade aren't.

Simon Says  (Sweden)

Paradise Square  (2002,  63.28)  ***½
Tardigrade  (2008,  74.04)  ***

After their 1995 debut, Ceinwen, Simon Says effectively disappeared for seven years. After working on an electronic project, bassist/keyboard player Stefan Renström realised he'd written enough Simon Says-style material for a new album, and after tracking vocalist Daniel Fäldt down, reformed the band, releasing Paradise Square in 2002. It falls into the 'reasonably good' category, probably as good as its predecessor, in fact, although like that album it's never going to match Änglagård/Anekdoten et al. I've had it confirmed that they use Mellotron samples here, provided by Johan Wallén from Paatos, possibly from Änglagård's machine. It carries on (fake Mellotronically, at least) in a similar vein to Ceinwen, with some very full-on strings in places, although nothing you can't live without, really.

Another six years and the exceedingly overlong Tardigrade (named for a form of microscopic life) appears, constantly shifting gear between a Genesis-style symphonic sound (spot the Entangled rip on Circles End) and a rather less interesting neo- approach, with hints of fusion, notably on Strawberry Jam. I'm not sure what persuaded the band that they could write a coherent 26-minute epic, but here it is anyway, in the shape of Brother Where You Bound. Fakeotron all over the place, from the rapidly-becoming-tedious M-Tron, with the usual string, flute and choir parts, but nothing you haven't heard before. So; two decent enough albums, OK sampled Mellotron, that's about it.

Sturgill Simpson  (US)

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (2014,  34.26)  ***

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (referencing Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, of course) is, possibly ironically, pretty much a 'trad' country album, exceptions including the countryish blues rock of Living The Dream and the psych/country of It Ain't All Flowers. Mike Webb's credited with Mellotron, but the strings on opener Turtles All The Way Down sound authentic until the end of the track, at which point they... don't, while the ones on The Promise don't even manage that.

Dave Sinclair  (UK)

The Little Things  (2013,  53.44)  ½

What, THAT Dave Sinclair? On/off member of Caravan? It would appear so. Who'd have thought he'd produce an album of the limpest, most insipid balladry since, well, the last limp, insipid balladeer to cross your path? This is properly dreadful, in a 'can't believe it isn't some wet-as-water contemporary American singer-songwriter' kind of way. Sinclair's credited with Mellotron on Makino and Always There, but if the strings and choirs on the tracks (Jimmy Hastings played real flute) are supposed to be genuine, well... When old proggers go bad. A rare rock-bottom rating.

Sing-Sing  (UK)

The Joy of Sing-Sing  (2001,  53.14)  **½

I've seen Sing-Sing described as 'dream pop', which seems as good a description as any for their rather fey indie stylings. Essentially the duo of vocalist Lisa O'Neill and ex-Lush vocalist/guitarist Emma Anderson, they recorded a mere two albums in their decade together, the first being 2001's The Joy of Sing-Sing. It is, frankly, pretty wet, although I'm sure it sounds exactly as it's meant to; I think you've really got to be into the limper end of British indie to get anything much out of this... Producer Mark Van Hoen supposedly plays Mellotron, along with stacks of great synths (and a DX-7), with many excellent synthpop-era sounds cropping up. Unfortunately, the Mellotron is essentially inaudible; I thought I spotted some strings on Underage, but they turned out to be real. So; despite a couple of better tracks (notably closer I Can See You), this is a rather drab album, although indie fans probably love it to bits.

David Singer & the Sweet Science  (US)

Civil Wars  (2002,  35.18)  ***

David Singer's Civil Wars is a kind of indie/Americana crossover record, at its best on Better Than Nothing and I'll See You in the Moon, just scraping three stars. Singer plays obvious samplotron flutes on Slightly Damaged, Hardly Used.

Sioux City Pete & the Beggars  (US)

Necro Blues  (2006,  57.52)  ***

Rarely has an album been better titled than "Sioux City" Pete Phillips' Necro Blues, typified by raucous opener Farmlands and Playing the Murder Game, to pick two titles almost at random. It diverges from the pattern occasionally, as on the filthy acoustic blues of Dockerys' Pt 1 or the fuzzed-to-the-max Dockerys' Pt 2, funnily enough. 'The Beggars' are credited with Mellotron, although I'm not at all sure why.

Sippy Cups  (US)

Electric Storyland!  (2006,  50.40)  ***

San Franciscans The Sippy Cups (you know, those non-spill cups for small children) are (were?) like a psychedelic version of what The Aquabats eventually became; a band writing sweet little songs for kids, while retaining enough musical integrity to keep parents interested, too. Electric Storyland!'s probably at its best on Little Puffer, the early Floydian (no, really) I Am A Robot and the pure powerpop of Flower Tower, although five year-olds may disagree. Eric Drew Feldman (of all people) and Chris Xefos get Mellotron credits, although the flutes on Snail Song and choirs on I Am A Robot are clearly fake.

Sister Hazel  (US)

Fortress  (2000,  58.11)  **

It took me until the last track on Sister Hazel's tedious Fortress to pin down where I'd previously heard their style: Counting Crows. Yup, the same vapid, empty, scene-stealing bombast allied to a kind of fake Americana, full of pointless anthemic nonsense. So: tell it like it is. Say what you think. Don't beat around the bush. I tried, you know, I tried... I failed. This is rubbish. I've heard worse, which is why it doesn't get an ever lower rating, but fourteen bloody songs of this were enough to well and truly grind me down. Had the album only contained eight tracks, I mightn't have found it quite so relentlessly awful, but it doesn't. Kim Bullard and Jamie Muhoberac both allegedly play Mellotron, but the only places it even might be are the strings on Shame On Me and Your Winter. So; not good. Not good at all. Don't.

Sithonia  (Italy)

Confine  (1995,  54.38)  ****

Sithonia are a relative rarity: an Italian progressive band from the '90s who don't worship at the altar of Marillion et al., which has to be a bonus. Confine, their third release, is actually a pretty adventurous Italian symphonic prog album, combining the best of the genre's past and (then) present, making for a cohesive and inventive whole. As with so many progressive albums, praising individual tracks is almost pointless; it's more about the overall effect, which is up there with, say, Montefeltro or Consorzio Acqua Potabile. We could probably have done without the sub-90125-isms of Ultimo A Stare In Porta, mind, but nothing's perfect. Oriano Dasasso and Paolo Nannetti both play keys, but there's no way of knowing which of them contribute the Mellotron-sounding strings on Porto D'Inghilterra. 1995 was fairly early for 'Tron samples, but these (along with most of the album's older sounds) are more than likely from eMu's Classic Keys module, I'd guess. Anyway, a decent modern(-ish) prog album, despite some dodgy keyboard sounds. Worth hearing.

Siva  (Germany)

Capturing Ghosts  (2004,  16.34)  **½

How can I describe Capturing Ghosts? Downtuned indie metal? At its best on opener Black Hole, the EP's other three tracks veer too close to the 'indie' end of that description. Andreas Bonkowski plays samplotron flutes on Black Hole and closer Open.

Sixpence None the Richer  (US)

Divine Discontent  (2002,  55.10)  **

For some unknown reason, it took Sixpence None the Richer five years to follow their eponymous third album with Divine Discontent; well, it wouldn't have been drug addiction, would it? Maybe that's why they covered There She Goes... Conspiracies? We gottem. Anyway, more slushy shite; they manage to bugger up Crowded House's sublime Don't Dream It's Over, simply by playing it in their usual style. I mean, where's the bloody Hammond solo, you tossers? Drivel. Couple of less awful tracks in Melody Of You and Paralyzed, but it's like polishing turds, really. Samplotron from Jerry Dale McFadden, with a passable flute part on Waiting On The Sun.

Skambankt  (Norway)

Hardt Regn  (2009,  40.19)  ***

Skambankt apparently started out as a muck-about kind of band, taking a decade to decide to make a proper go of it. 2009's Hardt Regn is their third album, in a solid '70s hard rock (note: not heavy metal) vein, albeit sung in Norwegian; while perfectly acceptable (and vastly better than the hordes of modern metal drivel), it's disappointing in comparison to the '70s greats, but then, what isn't? Christer Knutsen supposedly plays Mellotron on O Desverre, but it's anyone's guess as to what he's playing, as the 'choirs' seem to be no more than the band singing 'aahs' in unison.

Ske  (Italy)

1000 Autunni  (2011,  56.24)  ****

Ske are effectively Yugen keys man Paolo "Ske" Botta's solo project, a magnificent, crazed piece of Änglagård-esque instrumental progressive rock, touching on avant-rock and jazz. Attempting to pick out individual highlights is pointless; this is an hour-long journey through a complex, angular musical landscape, clearly designed to be listened to as a whole. Samplotron all over, chiefly strings, arranged well enough to almost fool the ear. Highly recommended.

Skenet  (Sweden)

Allting Rullar  (2015,  41.37)  ***

Allting Rullar is the kind of album that puts the rock into folk/rock, at its best on the jangly title track, Percival and Groundhog. David Svedmyr plays not-so-obvious samplotron strings and flutes on closer Vindöga, while someone adds obvious ones to the title track.

Matt Skiba & the Sekrets  (US)

Kuts  (2015,  31.57)  **½

Matt Skiba joined Blink-182 in 2015, the same year he released his first full solo album, Kuts, so it won't come as any great surprise to hear that, in many ways, it's a typical pop-punk record. Material like opener Lonely And Kold, She Wolf and She Said all fit that mould, although, towards the end of the album, Skiba slips into a kind of mainstream singer-songwriter pop area, notably on Krashing, the cheesy Never Believe and Vienna (not that one). Rob Schnapf supposedly plays Mellotron. Er... Surely not the background strings on the amusingly-titled I Just Killed To Say I Love You? Or the faint background flutes on Never Believe? I think not. Which poses the question: if you're not using anything obviously connected to a Mellotron, even its sounds, why credit one?

Skies of America  (US)

Shine  (2006,  50.55)  ***

Named for an Ornette Coleman album, The Skies of America are yet another powerpop outfit, which sounds more cynical than intended. What I believe is their sole album to date, 2006's Shine, is chock-full of songs of the quality of the marvellous She's The Kind Of Girl, You Belong and Get Up, Get On, but... Why do I feel unfulfilled as the album ends? Q. Is it too long? A. Probably. Q. Do they spread their talents a little too thinly? A. Almost certainly. A good trimming, to thirty-five minutes or so, would do this record a world of good, but don't let a little excess fat put you off. Robert Bonfiglio is credited with Mellotron, but the high-speed strings all over opener Move! sound most suspect to these ears, ditto the flutes on You Belong, about the best sample use here being the upfront strings on Save The Day. All in all, a good album, though somehow lacking a certain something, which might be how the title track found itself on the soundtrack to the following year's Music From & Inspired By Bridge to Terabithia. Never trust a Hollywood soundtrack, kids...

Skuggsjá  (Norway)

A Piece for Mind & Mirror  (2016,  60.14)  ***½

A Piece for Mind & Mirror is, effectively, a Norwegian history lesson, seen through the eyes of the black metal fraternity, Skuggsjá consisting of members of Enslaved and Wardruna. The end result combines metal, Scandianvian folk, post-rock and other genres into an intriguing genre mash-up, although non-Norwegian speakers are at a disadvantage. I would guess that it's Ivar Bjørnson playing the repeating samplotron string part on Bøn Om Ending - Bøn Om Byrjing.

Sky Architect  (Netherlands)

A Billion Years of Solitude  (2013,  61.11)  ***½

Sky Architect play progressive rock the way it used to be - or do they? Their third album, A Billion Years of Solitude, touches on jazz, metal, ambient, psychedelia... An eclectic record that doesn't always quite hang together, but with so much going on, I'd imagine it would take more listening than I have time for to exhaust its possibilities. Rik van Honk's credited with Mellotron, but it sounds somewhat sampled to my ears, with strings on most tracks plus an unidentified woodwind on opener The Curious One, choirs on Elegy Of A Solitary Giant and closer Traveller's Last Candle.

Sky Cries Mary  (US)

Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves  (1996,  73.46)  ***½

The Sky Cries Mary's Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves is rather more cohesive than A Return to the Inner Experience, the band seemingly finding their musical feet properly. Although there's still a dance element to the record, it's better described as 'modern psych', its fourteen tracks spread over a long, yet rarely dull seventy-plus minutes. Gordon Raphael plays 'backwards Mellotron' on the curiously-titled An Ant, The Stars, An Owl And Its Prey and indeed, the repeating string line sounds slightly odd. Samples, says I.

Sky Picnic  (US)

Synesthesia  (2008,  32.22)  ***½
Farther in This Fairy Tale  (2010,  46.00)  ****
Lost is Found/Strange Things Are Afoot CDS  (2010,  10.32)  ***½

Sky Picnic are a new, NYC-based psych outfit, dedicated to taking the British model (particularly Syd's Floyd) and giving it a good seeing-to, to the point where if you didn't know they weren't Brits, you, er, wouldn't know. Their Synesthesia EP/mini-album does pretty much what it says on the tin, particularly well on Moons Of Jupiter and twelve-minute closer Sequence IV. Samplotron on the last three tracks, mostly strings with a bit of choir. I won't pretend Farther in This Fairy Tale is perfect; some of its more psychedelic moments (notably Universal Mind Decoder) drag slightly and the drum solo (also Universal Mind Decoder) is a little unnecessary, but I suppose if you want to run the full gamut of psych styles, you gotta take the trippy with the tuneful... The rest of the album falls into the latter category, thankfully, with top tracks including killer opener Hide & Seek, the acoustic Seven and bass-led closer White Plane (Reprise). Guitarist/vocalist Chris Sherman has owned up to using the M-Tron, with some great string pitchbends in Hide & Seek, flutes, choirs and strings on Marker 25, 27 and strings on about half the remainder. Before his admission, I wasn't convinced by the sounds' veracity, anyway; too murky and too smooth, which is an odd, but accurate combination. They followed up later in the year with the Lost Is Found single, a surprisingly 'normal' sounding track, only going all weird on us towards the end, although the flip, the six-minute Strange Things Are Afoot, lives up to its title rather well. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get discordant stings towards the end of the 'A' and muted choirs throughout the flip, but they're hardly central to its sound.

Skypaint  (US)

Skypaint: A Pop Opera  (2005,  59.38)  **½

Boston's Russell Chudnofsky's Skypaint: A Pop Opera, seemingly released under the name Skypaint, is exactly what it says on the tin, although I'm a little unsure of what its concept might actually be. It's as musically uncohesive as many similar, the lyrics taking precedence over the music, its mix of electronica, pop/rock and Americana clearly struggling to reach a wider audience. Phil Aiken plays samplotron cello on Momma's Warning, flutes on Follow Me Down and strings on Merge As One and Machines.

Skyscraper Frontier  (US)

Moonlit Behavior  (2009,  28.08)  *½

I've seen Los Angelinos Skyscraper Frontier's debut mini-album, 2009's Moonlit Behavior described as 'uncategorisable'. Let me try: Radiohead-lite-lite for the most undemanding of listeners who haven't noticed vocalist Russ Martin's inability to carry a tune in a bucket. There, does that help? No, it has no best tracks. Raymond Richards supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes on Your Hazy Mind sound much too clean for comfort, at least to my ears. Y'know what? It barely even matters, as I'm never going to listen to this again and I can only urge you not to in the first place.

Sleep Station  (US)

After the War  (2004,  47.02)  ***
The Pride of Chester James  (2008,  41.13)  ***

Sleep Station are effectively the one-man band of David Debiak, although some of his/their albums feature other musicians, too. Debiak's schtick is to release what amount to concept albums, although he doesn't use the term himself (wisely), preferring to refer to them as 'thematic'. 2004's After the War is his fourth full release, slotting loosely into the indie/singer-songwriter area, tracks often tied together by snippets of British World War II soldiers reading poetry to their loved ones. While I can appreciate that the album's good at what it does, I have to say that it left me entirely unmoved, though I'm sure the fault is mine. Debiak plays samplotron himself, with background choirs on the title track. After a few-year break, Debiak resurrected Sleep Station in 2008, releasing The Pride of Chester James, telling the tale of the drifting circus worker of the title. More of a band effort this time, the album's also slightly rockier than its predecessor, although the songwriting style remains the same. Brad Paxton plays samplotron on Always In The Fire, with an affecting little flute melody that reiterates throughout the song and a stabbed chordal flute part in closer Our Carnival.

Sleeping Pictures  (UK)

Many Hands Should Throw Stones  (2006,  66.17)  **½

Sleeping Pictures are the London-based duo of Marc Blackie and Gary Parsons, whose second album, 2006's Many Hands Should Throw Stones, throws genres together with abandon, although it's more neo-folk than anything. It might be a lot more palatable were the lyrics sung, rather than intoned. Much as I prefer to hear British as against American accents (sorry, Americans), I find this trick profoundly irritating, for no readily apparent reason. Some of the material would be pretty good were it sung (or instrumental); incidentally and amusingly, The Library Of Babel accidentally rips off Rush's classic Xanadu, doubtless to the duo's chagrin were they to find out. Parsons plays what are ostensibly upfront Mellotron strings on brief opener The Broken City Yawns to good effect, although their sheer regularity makes me think 'samples'. So; one for folk/electronica types who don't mind a bit (or a lot) of spoken poetry, as against sung lyrics. Not my bag, though and that Mellotron doesn't convince.

Sleepyard  (Norway)

The Runner  (2003,  64.18)  **

I suppose you'd call the overlong The Runner a psychedelic album, with heavy drone elements; believe me, they don't call it drone for nothing... Its chief failing, though, is that it's boring. Perhaps listening to it in an 'enhanced state' would improve it. I am not in an 'enhanced state'. Oliver Kersbergen's Mellotron? Possibly the strings on The Big Match, definitely the ones on Aerial Son, definitely sampled.

Sloan  (Canada)

The Double Cross  (2011,  34.03)  ***½
Commonwealth  (2014,  58.29)  ***

It seems Nova Scotians Sloan have been around since the early '90s and are considered to be 'one of the most popular Canadian bands of all time', so I'm not sure how I've managed to miss them. 2011's The Double Cross is apparently a pun on the year being their twentieth anniversary (XX), a fine powerpop effort, if slightly lacking in hungrier outfits' joie de vivre. Highlights include The Answer Was You, Unkind, the acoustic Green Gardens, Cold Montreal and closer Laying So Low, but I can't imagine powerpop fans will find much to carp at here. Someone adds sampled Mellotron to a handful of tracks, with flute and string parts on The Answer Was You, Your Daddy Will Do and at the end of Traces; good to hear, but nothing startling. 2014's Commonwealth is a good album, if overlong, its seventeen-minute prog/powerpop crossover (there's a first) Forty-Eight Portraits dragging proceedings out to an unfeasible length. Highlights? Three Sisters, the superb Carried Away and the punky 13 (Under A Bad Sign), but it doesn't all work well; What's Inside bangs on for a while to no great effect and, as previously stated, Forty-Eight Portraits does go on a bit. Should've stopped at a dozen, I reckon. Hard to tell how much samplotron, too; we get strings opening, er, opener We've Come This Far, but with a real string section on the album, it's possible that all other string parts are real.

Tomáš Sloboda a Sounds Like This  (Slovakia)

Chobotnica  (2012,  42.48)  **½

I'm having trouble finding any English-language biographical details about Slovakia's Tomáš Sloboda; I know he released an album (Sounds Like This) in 2007, but I've no idea whether or not 2012's Chobotnica is only his second. Although he seems to be most commonly categorised as 'psychedelia', this album is, sad to say, far closer to indie in its execution, the end result being well-meaning yet rather dull, with nowhere near enough sonic or compositional experimentation to be all that interesting to the seasoned listener. Peter "Ďud'o" Dudák is credited with Mellotron on Liliana, but... the sustained string note at the end of the track gives the game away, although it was fairly certain already. This looks like it should be a lot more interesting than it is; perhaps he's better live.

Slow Electric  (UK)

Slow Electric  (2011,  41.51)  ***

Slow Electric consist of Brits Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers and Estonians Robert Jurjendal and Aleksei Saks, with the inimitable Tony Levin (Crimson, Gabriel) cropping up on a couple of tracks. Given Bowness' involvement, it'll come as no surprise to you to hear that their eponymous 2001 debut is best described as 'atmospheric', be it in the form of almost rhythmless opener Towards The Shore/Towards An Ending or the subtly rhythmic Criminal Caught In The Crime. Although Bowness is credited with Mellotron on closer Between The Silent Worlds, not only is it certain to be sampled, but it's also inaudible, making this a double-whammy in the 'no Mellotron' stakes. If you like Bowness' other works, chances are you'll like this. Conversely...

Slowpoke  (US)

Virgin Stripes  (1998,  41.42)  ***

The Dallas-based Slowpoke were generally regarded as being a mid-'90s indie outfit, although their second album, 1998's Virgin Stripes, has a broad streak of rather unfashionable powerpop running through it, not least in the band's insistence on writing vocal melodies and harmonies. What, they don't have a 'singer' who emits his turgid lyrics in a strangulated half-wail of forlorn, hopeless despair? And they expected to sell any records? Anyway, the album starts off in a more 'indie' direction, moving into more listenable territory on Lorraine, other better tracks including Am I Shade? and Belladonna. Dave Gibson plays samplotron, with string stabs on Lorraine and long, held notes on Valentine and Dirty Hands.

Slugbug  (US)

Pointless Journey  (2009,  29.35)  ***

Paul D. Millar's Slugbug (presumably named for an American nickname for the humble VW Beetle) have a sound, at least on 2009's Pointless Journey (originally a highly limited CDR, now a free download), that is strongly reminiscent of Devo, all wacky vocals and angular synths; I've never heard Danny Elfman's Oingo Boingo, but I suspect they, too, are a major influence. I'll freely admit that I'm not a huge fan of this stuff, while acknowledging that it has plenty of musical credibility, unlike the vast majority of recent music I've been unlucky enough to hear. High points? I actually quite like noo wave-ish opener Welcome To My Room, (Fell In Love With A) Potted Plant and the electronica of Someone Trying To Sell Me Something, although I'm afraid Millar's low-fi aesthetic ends up merely grinding me down. Samplotron? Fairly obvious choirs on the title track, although that would appear to be it. Well, this isn't going to cost you anything, so if 'Devo played on Casios' (er, did Devo actually use Casios themselves?) sounds like your bag, go for it.

Slychosis  (US)

Slychosis  (2006,  53.32)  **½

Slychosis metamorphosed out of Karma-Kannix, releasing their eponymous debut in late 2006. The band's website details their various travails; Slychosis's recording was not so much low- as no-budget, the end result sounding surprisingly professional, all things considered. Style-wise, the band sit firmly in the 'modern neo-prog' bracket, mixing vaguely symphonic sections with elements of various eras of hard rock, albeit not in an especially original manner (note the very Yes feel on Innerspace, amongst others, not to mention the straight Floyd copy/tribute on Until Then). Better tracks include Galactic Wormhole, with its early '70s-inspired guitar work, the ethnic influences on Wild Night In Calcutta and the acoustic instrumental Glass ½ Full, but the deletion of several others might have actually improved the album's overall feel.

Gregg Johns is credited with Mellotron, but the muted choir and string parts heard on most tracks (notably the strings on Cyber-Evil and flutes on Glass ½ Full) clearly have zilch to do with a real machine (see: no-budget, above), which at least makes them easy to identify and quarantine. I'm sorry to be so harsh on this album, as the band have clearly put a huge amount of effort into it, but it's only really going to appeal to fans of contemporary prog who haven't delved too far into the genre's history, I suspect. And that album sleeve? The band freely admit it was an 'ill-advised' attempt at humour: the butterfly is comprised of manipulated photos of the band members' heads, which works about as well as you might expect.

Small Town Workers  (US)

The Right of Way  (2003,  47.10)  **½

Small Town Workers are best described as 'alt.rock', which doesn't help very much, but I've probably never heard half of their influences. The Right of Way's, y'know, OK, not terrible, nor that good, at its best on Without You, So Much More and closer Dirty Boots. Brandon Bush's Mellotron? Vague background strings and cellos here and there. Maybe not.

Smashing Pumpkins  (US)  see:

Smashing Pumpkins

April Smith & the Great Picture Show  (US)

Songs for a Sinking Ship  (2010,  33.43)  ***

It seems April Smith suffers (if that's the right word) from 'late last child' syndrome, forcing her to become precocious simply in order to be noticed by her elder siblings. Now all grown up, her second album with her Great Picture Show, 2010's Songs for a Sinking Ship, is a wonderful concoction of '30s and '40s swing stylings filtered through Tom Waits, taking in the drama of Queen, Nancy Sinatra and (according to her MySpace page) Tim Curry along the way. Best tracks? Entirely down to taste, of course, but What'll I Do and Dixie Boy are my personal faves. Brandon Lowry plays Mellotron and Dan Romer Chamberlin, with vibes and strings on Dixie Boy, although I'm not sure which provides which, plus flutes on bonus track Bright White Jackets, although all sound sampled to my ears.

Jami Smith  (US)

Bravo God  (2005,  39.59)  *½

Upon checking biographical information for Jami Smith, alarm bells began ringing at phrases such as 'a seasoned worship leader'. Mind you, I'd have thought that the title of her eleventh album in thirteen years, 2005's Bravo God, should have given the Christian game away... Surprisingly, the album isn't as full-blown awful as I'd expected, less unacceptable tracks including breezy opener Love Like You Love, How Great Thou Art (a country-rock version of the well-known hymn) and the rocky(-ish) Way Of The Cross, but things quickly deteriorate into slop such as My King and closer Happy Dying. Believe me, you won't be when you get there. Chad Copelin plays samplotron, although the real strings on several tracks rather confuse the issue, to the point where the only definite sightings are the flutes and possible strings and vibes on Best Tries and flutes on Your Child. So; yes, bravo, God; bravo for existing and making the world such a truly wonderful place where no-one dies in agony or is shot by some nutjob gun-freak. Yeah, bra-fucking-vo.

Matthew Smith  (US)

All I Owe  (2006,  39.07)  **

All I Owe is, in many ways, your standard-model CCM record, at its least bad on opener Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing, quite certainly because it turns out it's an old folk tune. The rest of the album is filled with the kind of breezy pop/rock which would be considered fairly harmless, were it not for the usual lyrical guff. Cason Cooley is credited with Mellotron on Jesus, I Am Resting and All I Owe, with nothing obvious on the former and samplotron strings on the latter.

Meaghan Smith  (Canada)

The Cricket's Orchestra  (2009,  37.24)  ***

Meaghan Smith is a young Canadian singer-songwriter, whose 2009 debut, The Cricket's Orchestra, is an adventurous effort, combining a huge pre-war jazz influence with modern touches, not least the turntablism on A Little Love. The album's default position, though, is swing-era brushed drums, accordions, upright bass and muted brass, all overlaid with Smith's vocals, which somehow manage to portray a combination of freshness and world-weariness, usually at the same time. No, I don't know how, either. According to Smith's website, I Know 'is made almost entirely from a Mellotron sample': MkII rhythms, for what it's worth, with 'moving strings' later on, more left-hand manual flute phrases in A Little Love and a flute part on A Piece For You. It's fairly obviously sampled, chiefly due to there being so few unmodified MkIIs still in existence, let alone easily available, but it's good to hear those lesser-known sounds crop up on a modern album. So; a very listenable record, a (thankful) world away from your typical manufactured 'modern singer-songwriter' guff. More, please.

Michael W Smith  (US)

Healing Rain  (2004,  51.11)  **

It seems that Michael W Smith's default position is big, glossy Christian AOR. Great. For all that, 2004's Healing Rain is only medium-horrid; I've heard far worse in the field, without the interesting chord changes that Smith sticks in here and there. Originality isn't his strong suit; Eagles Fly rips the vocal harmony part from The Doobie Brothers' Long Train Running something rotten, while several other sections have that 'air of familiarity' about them. Lyrically, of course, it's the usual delusional guff about how 'he is coming' (no he isn't), but then, it wouldn't be a Christian album without that, would it? Paul Moak allegedly plays Mellotron, but apart from a vaguely flutey thing on one track, there's nothing here that even remotely suggests any tape-replay involvement.

Mindy Smith  (US)

Mindy Smith  (2012,  38.40)  ***

Mindy Smith's eponymous album shifts between bluesy Americana and a rather twee country sound, to the point where it just scrapes three stars. Best track? Don't Mind Me. Jason Lehning's 'Mellotron'? Background flute samples on Cure For Love.

Steve Smith  (UK)

This Town  (2008,  51.40)  **½

Steve Smith is already a veteran of two successful bands, Higher Ground and Dirty Vegas, producing his first solo release, This Town, in 2008, after moving to the States. It's pretty much what you'd expect from his background: a singer-songwriter record with a distinct influence from whichever part of the dance scene he considered home. The actual material is fairly generic indie, to be honest, although the programmed beats only intrude occasionally. Smith's musical collaborator, Cornershop's Anthony Saffery, is credited with Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's completely inaudible right across the album.

Steve Smith & the Tylas Cyndrome  (UK)

Phoenix Arising  (2011,  69.41)  ***

Phoenix Arising is unusual in its combination of 'typical' EM and, for want of a better phrase, 'cosmic rock', leading to Berlin School sequences and synth washes allied to a full band, complete with much not-especially Froese-ish guitar work. Decent enough, then, but wildly overlong, with occasional samplotron choirs.

Smoke Fairies  (UK)

Sunshine/When You Grow Old 7"  (2009)  ***½
Blood Speaks  (2012,  44.05)  ***½
Smoke Fairies  (2014,  45.04)  ***

The Smoke Fairies (who actually sound like their name) are the duo of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, who met at school and have worked together ever since. After a now-disowned 2006 album, Strange the Things, the first release they'll admit to was 2008's Living With Ghosts 7", followed by Sunshine, a fittingly ghostly folk/blues. To look at the twosome, you'd expect them to have a fey, English sound, but they're actually more acoustic American blues than anything. Leo Abrahams is credited with Mellotron on the flip, When You Grow Old, but the only thing it even might be is a background cello line that could, frankly, come from almost anything, so into samples it goes. This is available on 2010's US-only Ghosts singles compilation, although for some reason, both sides of 2009's Jack White-produced Gastown are missing.

2012's Blood Speaks, their second album (ignoring that debut), continues the haunted Americana/British folk vibe of their early singles, highlights including Awake, Feel It Coming Near and bonus track The Wireless, although I have trouble warming to their more electric side, notably The Three Of Us. Blamire is credited with Mellotron, but if the best she can do is the most un-Mellotronic strings on the title track, this is barely even worthy of the samples section. Although 2014's Smoke Fairies utilises all the same elements as its predecessor, somehow, it fails to combine them so successfully, although the rhythmic, dreamlike Waiting For Something To Begin and Drinks And Dancing are both more than worthy of your attention. The 'Mellotron' is credited simply to 'The Smoke Fairies' this time round, with flute samples on Your Own Silent Movie and closer Are You Crazy and possible strings on Want It Forever.

Smokie  (UK)

Take a Minute  (2010,  42.30)  **½

Most Brits of a certain age will remember Smokie; mid-'70s chart regulars, their long(ish) hair and denim-shirted image promised something considerably more 'rock' than they actually delivered, which was, er, mainstream pop of the era. Unbelievably, the band have never really gone away, although iconically throaty-voiced frontman Chris Norman has long gone (don't worry; replacement Mike Craft is a vocal dead ringer), 2010's Take a Minute being something like their twenty-first studio release. It's a country/pop/rock album of the type guaranteed to appeal to a certain kind of middle-aged record buyer, vaguely akin to Rod Stewart's early '70s work; professional to a fault, 'rootsy' enough to avoid accusations of (complete) blandness, most of its material being catchy enough to stick after a few listens, while never challenging their heyday in any meaningful way. Keys man Martin Bullard allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's utterly inaudible, all violin parts being real, unless they're referring to the clearly sampled strings on Nothing Hurts (Like A Broken Heart)? If so, I can barely even call them 'Mellotron samples', as they sound entirely generic. The band's website modestly states, "great music, great band", but all I hear is something that can only aspire to be middle-aged dadrock. Harmless, yet ultimately unsatisfying.

Smoking Trees  (US)

TST  (2015,  39.52)  ***
The Archer & the Bull  (2016,  37.24)  **½

The Smoking Trees have contracted to the duo of Martin "Sir Psych" Nunez and Al "L.A. AL" Rivera, whose second album, 2015's TST, is a mildly infuriating combination of West Coast '60s-esque psych and a more contemporary indie feel, often on alternate tracks. Highlights? Home In The Morning, She Takes Flight With Me and Victoria's Garden. Samplotron flutes on It's Only Natural and Through Your Reflection, plus flutes and vibes on Victoria's Garden. Unfortunately, their follow-up, 2016's The Archer & the Bull, dispenses with the bits that made its predecessor reasonably good, ending up sounding like an indie outfit trying to be a psych band. Only one obvious samplotron track, with flutes on Lifetime Experience from Sir Psych.

Snow Patrol  (UK)

When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up  (2001,  47.34)  *½

Maybe surprisingly, Snow Patrol formed as far back as 1994 and while usually referred to as Scottish, are actually comprised of Northern Irish guys who were at university in Dundee at the time. They fit neatly into the Coldplay/Travis area of 'insipid indie', characterised by ineffectual vocals and rhythmically- and harmonically-poor music, all infused with a kind of low-level misery that's no doubt a hangover from the inexplicably massively influential Smiths. Oh dear, I seem to have come down on one side of the fence, haven't I? Again. That isn't to say that everything they do lacks energy; they frequently pick up the pace, but still manage to sound like complete wusses while doing so.

When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up is their second album and their last pre-major label release, and you can see why Polydor went for them. Dull, lifeless, stuffed full of fake 'emotion'... A surefire success in what passes for the UK's crummy music scene. I'm sure the label execs could already see the stadiums full of confused teenagers of the 'arty' variety sobbing into their plastic cups of piss-weak beer over Gary Lightbody's over-emoting voice and 'sensitive' lyrics, and that's just the boys. Believe me, AC/DC they are not.

"But what about the Mellotron?", I hear you cry. Well, both Lightbody and now ex-member Mark McClelland are credited with playing it, but I'll be buggered if I can hear where. An Olive Grove Facing The Sea, the title track and Firelight could all possibly have some secreted away, but then, they could be actual strings (there appear to be some on the album) or synths - who knows? Anyway, nothing obvious, so it gets a big fat zero on the 'Tronometer. It should probably get one for the music, too, but I've been generous and given it a whole *½; count yourself lucky, boys, it's more than it deserves.

Snowglobe  (US)

Doing the Distance  (2004,  44.23)  ***

Snowglobe's second album, 2004's Doing the Distance, contains an intriguing mix of powerpop, mainstream '70s rock and Americana, plus elements of mariachi, of all things (it's all in the brass), their eclecticism actually recalling the experimental mindset of the mid-'60s Beatles. I imagine they'd be quite pleased by the comparison... Highlights? Ms. June, the brief, gentle Calculating Fades and the is it?/isn't it? joyous Rock Song, although the six-minute Medium goes on a bit. Actually, although it isn't that long, as albums go, they could've lost a few tracks and improved the overall feel, albeit possibly at the expense of the aforementioned eclecticism. Tim Regan is credited with Mellotron, but the dodgy strings on Ms. June and upfront choirs on Changes are fooling no-one. (Cue outraged e-mail from band etc.) Can I recommend this to powerpop fans? Cautiously, yes, but don't expect to immediately like the whole record. One to dip into, perhaps.

Social Code  (Canada)

A Year at the Movies  (2004,  35.42)  *½

Social Code's first album under that name (they released their debut while still known as Fifth Season), 2004's A Year at the Movies, is a painfully mainstream 'alternative' (to what?) effort, post-punk without being, y'know, post-punk. The nearest the album comes to 'good' is Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly), because... it is, of course, a cover of Ian McNabb's Icicle Works' classic, while particular horrors include the awful Miss You and I Was Wrong, although, if truth be told, there's little (read: nothing) about this album that makes me want to revisit it at any time in the near (or even distant) future. If Greg Collins' 'Mellotron' consists of the vague, background strings on Everything's Fine, all I can say is: don't take the piss; that's nothing like a Mellotron. This album's one saving grace is its brevity, but that's not saying much.