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Samples
Social Tension
Maria Solheim
Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore
Something Completely Different
Sore
SoulenginE
Sound of Ceres
Wim Soutaer
Sparkler
Speedmarket Avenue
Spice & the RJ Band
Spider
Spiral Stairs
Spirit Nation
Spirits Burning
Spiritual Beggars
Spyra

De Staat
Doru Stănculescu
Chris Stapleton
Star One
Starbelly


Social Tension  (Japan)

Social Tension, 'Macbethia'

Macbethia  (1989,  47.20)  ***½

Go on My Way
Bolero
Inner Vision
Wish for the Time
Macbethia
  Overture
  On the Lake Side
  Macbethia
Social Tension, 'It Remainds Me of Those Days'

It Remainds Me of Those Days  (1990,  35.46)  ***½

Evil Intention
It Remainds Me of Those Days
Childish Concerto
Waltz
Out of March

Current availability:

Social Tension were an ELP-ish Japanese progressive trio, operational in the late '80s, towards the end of that country's strangely decade-late prog period. They only made two albums, the first being 1989's Macbethia, a mostly instrumental effort with a couple of unfortunate vocal tracks; is it an accident that no-one's credited with vocals? Better tracks include opener Go On My Way (subtitled 'Dedicated to Mr. K's Picture', presumably referring to Kazuhiko Kishi's vibrant fantasy cover art), Bolero and the lengthy title track, but there's nothing really horrible here, while the playing's as excellent as you'd expect.

Nobuo "Kodomo" Endoh's full equipment list (thankfully in English) on the sleeve tells me that his Hammond was a later, solid state version, although there's some analogue gear dotted amongst the digital stuff. No Mellotron, though, meaning that the strings on Inner Vision are possibly the earliest example of someone sampling a Mellotron, in this case, presumably onto a Roland S-550 sampler. Surprisingly good samples, all things considered, to the point where they'd almost fool the ear, although I'd imagine a good deal of care was taken over getting them right.

The following year's It Remainds [sic] Me of Those Days is almost as strong as their debut, particularly the side-long title track and closer Out Of March, although the presence of vocals on almost every track is a minor problem, as is the occasional heinous digital synth patch. More of Endoh's sampled Mellotron, with flutes on Purple-esque opener Evil Intention and strings and flutes on the title track, although all other string sounds appear to be generic.

Neither of Social Tension's albums were released outside Japan, although Musea released a compilation in 2000, It Reminds Me of Macbethia, that includes their entire debut plus two tracks from the follow-up, giving you the chance to hear a worthy yet almost-forgotten outfit.

Maria Solheim  (Norway)

Maria Solheim, 'Frail'

Frail  (2004,  36.37)  ***

Too Many Days
The Snow Has Killed
Kissing Me
Take My Heart Away
Mr Iceman
Pain
Natural Silence
Restless Girl
Will You Say
Because I'm Dead

Current availability:

As a Norwegian singer-songwriter, it's no great surprise that Maria Solheim's chief audience is Scandinavian, although her English-language material would easily translate to a wider market. Her third album, 2004's Frail, is a decent enough effort, if lacking any particular individuality, at its best when she drops the alt.rock stylings of the likes of Mr Iceman and Restless Girl and concentrates on more acoustic material (Kissing Me, closer Because I'm Dead), allowing her fragile (frail?) voice to sit more naturally in the mix.

David Wallumrød is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on The Snow Has Killed and Restless Girl and strings on Mr Iceman sound little like a real machine, particularly the strings. Solheim's material is aimed at a fairly specific market, one that probably has little overlap with the average Planet Mellotron reader, but her music is essentially inoffensive and perfectly good within its self-imposed boundaries.

MySpace

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore  (US)

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore, 'Dear Companion'

Dear Companion  (2010,  36.42)  ***

Something, Somewhere, Sometime
My Wealth Comes to Me
Needn't Say a Thing
Wilson Creek
Only a Song
Dear Companion
Flyrock Blues
Try
Flyrock #2
Sweet Marie
It Won't Be Long

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Ben Sollee is that most unusual of rock instrumentalists, a vocalist/cellist, whose second album, 2010's Dear Companion, is a collaboration with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore, produced by a third, My Morning Jacket/Monsters of Folk mainman Jim "Yim Yames" James. Essentially a rather mournful singer-songwriter effort, the duo are at their best when keeping the tempos lethargic, as on My Wealth Comes To Me and Flyrock Blues, although there's nothing here that would've been better off left on the cutting-room floor.

'Yames' is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on closer It Won't Be Long are far too clean for their own good, in my humble opinion, so 'samples' it is until/unless I'm informed otherwise. A good, trad American folk album, then, with the addition of cello to keep things interesting, but almost certainly no real Mellotron.

Official site

Something Completely Different  (Germany)

Something Completely Different, 'Megacatz'

Megacatz  (2001,  53.47)  ***½

Microwaves 1999
Megacatz I
Heavenly Thoughts
Dawn
Languages
El Nino
S.O.S.
Sequenced
Disturbed
Megacatz IV
The End of the World
1948
The Cross
Love

Current availability:

Boele Gerkes has opted to name his EM project Something Completely Different; in homage to Monty Python, perhaps? Stranger things have happened... I believe 2001's Megacatz is his debut, a surprisingly varied effort that shifts through almost Jarre-esque poppy EM (opener Microwaves 1999, Heavenly Thoughts), through quiet, reflective pieces (Dawn, Languages) to dancey material (S.O.S.) and ambient piano work (Megacatz IV, closer Love), not to mention several more 'typical', loosely Tangs-esque things.

Gerkes plays fairly rotten Mellotron string (and flute?) samples on Dawn, Languages and The Cross, of the 'never going to convince you they're real' variety. This is quite a pleasant surprise; properly composed EM that isn't just the usual 'improvise over a sequence' stuff. Recommended.

Official site

Sore  (Indonesia)

Sore, 'Ports of Lima'

Ports of Lima  (2008,  58.30)  **½

Bogor Biru
Senyum Dari Selatan
Merintih Perih
Essensimo
400 Elegi
Layu
Setengah Lima
Ernestito
Vrijeman
Come By Sanjurou
In 1997 the Bullet Was Shy
Apatis Ria
Karolina

Current availability:

I have no idea how Indonesian outfit Sore actually pronounce their name, although strongly suspect it doesn't rhyme with 'more'. Their second release, 2008's Ports of Lima, sounds, more than anything, like an early '60s pre-psych album, incorporating elements of doo-wop, Phil Spector's legendary productions and even The Beach Boys (notably on Ernestito, one of its better tracks). To be honest, this isn't one of the more interesting albums I've heard lately, but it's as difficult to fault as it is for me to like it.

Ramondo Gascaro is credited with a wide range of instrumentation, including, of course, Mellotron, but are those really supposed to be Mellotron strings on Merintih Perih, Essensimo, closer Karolina and (particularly) Vrijeman? They're at their most convincing on the last-named, until we get to hear them duetting with the vocalist, at which point their fakeness becomes apparent. Am I/are you surprised? The chances of there being a real Mellotron in Indonesia (there's a first for this site) is somewhere in the region of zero, although it might've been recorded abroad, I suppose. Anyway, south-east Asian pseudo-early '60s pop, anyone?

MySpace

SoulenginE  (Italy)

SoulenginE, 'Mind Colours'

Mind Colours  (2012,  54.00)  ****

Polheim
Third in Line
Rain Flower
On the Other Side
Down the Street
No Way Out
No Rewarding
Asleep
Challenge to an End

Current availability:

SoulenginE (please ditch that capital 'E', chaps) were formed by Ettore Salati and Fabio Mancini, both ex-The Watch, although their new project has a far wider range of influences than that estimable outfit. It's difficult to pin their sound down to a nice, snappy soundbite, although more tracks fall into the 'instrumental symphonic' category than any other, highlights including opener Polheim, the piano-led Rain Flower and lengthy closer Challenge To An End. Stylistic deviations from the norm include the fusion thing going on in Rain Flower, while one of only two vocal tracks here, Down The Street, has far more of a Watch feel about it, the other (Asleep) being a near-dead ringer for mid-'70s Genesis, as is Challenge To An End.

Mancini is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on most tracks and (especially) the choirs on Asleep just don't have that 'zing' to them, not to mention, where would he source a machine? The Watch's Simone Rossetti? Anyway, they haven't overused the sound (bar the solo strings part in Rain Flower), so buy this because it's a bloody good album, not because of a spurious 'Mellotron' credit.

Official site

See: The Watch

Sound of Ceres  (US)

Sound of Ceres, 'Nostalgia for Infinity'

Nostalgia for Infinity  (2016,  43.43)  **½

Pursuer
Bryn Marina
Ember Age
My Spiral Arm
Hand of Winter
Side A
You're Me
Kingfisher
Antiprism
Dagger Only Run

Current availability:

By all accounts, Karen and Ryan Hover's Sound of Ceres aren't dissimilar to their previous band, Candy Claws, both outfits producing a kind of 'dream pop', full of ghostly synths, half-whispered vocals and soothing percussion, where it's used at all. You'll have to take my word for it that a little of this stuff goes a very long way, unless the thought of drifting, rather unadventurous, indie-derived music floats your boat. Is there a 'best track'? Yes, actually: closer Dagger Only Run, with its strong sequencer line, stands out as something slightly different.

Given that members of Apples in Stereo played on the album, it's hardly surprising that the 'Mellotron' is clearly sampled, with flutes all over pretty much everything, plus occasional strings. The trouble is, when it's used merely as part of the wash of sound that characterises the album, it loses its distinctive edge, becoming 'just another sound'. I dunno; perhaps that's all it is.

Official site

See: Apples in Stereo

Wim Soutaer  (Belgium)

Wim Soutaer, 'Een Nieuw Begin'

Een Nieuw Begin  (2003,  47.47)  **

Voor Altijd
Allemaal
Onderweg
Ik Hoor Bij Jou
Volle Maan
Centrum Van Mijn Hart
Nodig
Vogelvrij
Verlangen
Wat Zou Je Doen
Magie
Een Nieuw Begin
Afscheid

Current availability:

After finding a small level of fame with Bodhi, Wim Soutaer went solo in 2000, entering the Belgian version of Pop Idol (American Idol if you're from that side of the pond) in 2003, coming third and gaining a contract as a result. His first album, Een Nieuw Begin (you guessed it: A New Start/Beginning) mostly comprises breezy, Flemish-language pop/rock, with the occasional obligatory ballad thrown in for good (?) measure. As you might expect, it's exactly the kind of bland, mainstream fare that most people 'like' because they've never heard anything more interesting. No, that isn't a plea for more prog on the radio; just something - anything - less faceless than the usual tripe that appears to be served up in any country you care to name.

Alain Van Zeveren plays Mellotron samples on the vaguely Beatles-esque Wat Zou Je Doen, with really obvious fake flutes, barely sounding like a Mellotron at all, frankly. Even (especially?) if you're a Flemish speaker, you're most unlikely to get anything out of this album, unless your taste is so bland that you'd be most unlikely to read this site in the first place.

Sparkler  (US)

Sparkler, 'Wicker Park'

Wicker Park  (1997,  50.45)  ***

Hey Long Hair
I'll Keep You Warm
Discover
What Are You Waiting for
For You
Don't Despair
Hey 17
Motorcycle
You Know Who You Are
Magic Lantern
Another Star
Grand Arrival
Wicker Park

Current availability:

Sparkler's lone release, 1997's Wicker Park, was produced by Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev producer Keith Cleversley, so it comes as no great surprise to learn that their powerpop is infused with a form of indie-influenced melancholy. Better tracks include opener Hey Long Hair, the jangly Discover and Don't Despair, but the whole seems to be slightly less than the sum of its parts, for some reason.

Rick Parker is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Magic Lantern (and possibly a couple of other tracks) sound a lot like late '90s samples to my ears, which, given Mercury Rev's major sample use, also shouldn't come as much of a surprise. This is a decent enough effort, but allowing the band's powerpop tendencies full rein might've made this a better album.

Speedmarket Avenue  (Sweden)

Speedmarket Avenue, 'Way Better Now'

Way Better Now  (2008,  37.21)  **½

Sirens
Accident
Way Better Now
Don't Fall in Love
Tell Me No
The State of Harmony
Enlightened & Left-Wing Indeed
Less Than OK
No Drama
Final Wall

Current availability:

Speedmarket Avenue are a six-piece Swedish indie outfit with joint male/female vocals, which, sadly, doesn't really give them much of an edge over their monosex-vocalled brethren. Way Better Now is their second album, and despite starting vaguely promisingly with lengthyish opener Sirens, quickly peters out into a welter of second-hand indie clichés with a vague mid-'60s pre-psych feel to them.

Sirens is chock-full of 'Mellotron' strings which finally give themselves away as the mystery musician plays a note a good two tones above the 'Tron's top key. Less of the same on closer Final Wall, with a couple of vaguely possible parts elsewhere, but it's all fake, anyway. Do you like half-arsed indie? Then you may well like this. Do you hate half-arsed indie? Me too.

Official site

Spice & the RJ Band  (Sweden)

Spice & the RJ Band, 'The Will'

The Will  (2007,  47.40)  ***½

Pick a Rose
See Ya
Parallel
As We Lie
Don't Tell Me
Fat Snakes and Robots
Hold on
All I Know
The Fake
Like a Rose
I'll Be Alright
The Will

Current availability:

Spiritual Beggars' Christian "Spice" Sjöstrand played in The Mushroom River Band at the end of the '90s, who mutated into Spice & the RJ Band by the mid-'00s. 2007's The Will is their debut, a retro/stoner hard rock effort where every track actually sounds different from every other; remember when albums used to do that? Amongst its highlights are See Ya, the gentler Don't Tell Me and the fab jammed-out eight-minute closing title track, but truth be told, there isn't a bad track here.

Olle Blomström is credited with Mellotron, but I'd be amazed if the smooth, distant strings on Hold On were anything other than samples, especially given the Beggars' sampledelic history. So; another entrant in the 'good retro hard rock' stakes, as against the 'generic, Sabbath-channelling doom stakes'. Worth hearing.

MySpace

Spider  (US)

Spider, 'The Way to Bitter Lake'

The Way to Bitter Lake  (2006,  33.47)  ***

The Clearing
Don't Be Afraid, I've Just Come to Say Goodbye, "The Ballad of Clementine Jones"
I Don't Know if She Had Any Teeth Because She Never Smiled
The Bitter One
Cold Eyes
Maggie's Song for Alice
Midnight on the Nile
End Song

Current availability:

I'm not sure what possessed Jane "Spider" Herships to adopt that particular nom de plume; does she not realise what a ubiquitous band/artist name it is? Discogs.com lists over forty alone, not least the early '80s Status Quo copyists and sole exponents of 'Merseyboogie'. Ahem. Anyway, her choice. Her debut, The Way to Bitter Lake, was originally privately released in 2006, gaining a 'proper' issue on Storyboard the following year. It's a sparse, haunted half-hour or so of intimate, personal material that transcends the usual 'boring singer-songwriter' effect, not to mention one of the quietest albums I've heard in a while, making it all the more shocking when a squall of feedback introduces the album's first electric guitar part (of all of two) several minutes into Maggie's Song For Alice. That isn't to say that I find it particularly engaging, but that's probably more my fault than hers.

Matt Boynton is credited with Mellotron, but if those thick string notes under the real violin on The Bitter One are a genuine Mellotron then I'll be etc. etc. So; an album sounding as though it's sitting on the edge of desperation, whether or not it actually is. Probably a grower.

MySpace

Spiral Stairs  (US)

Spiral Stairs, 'The Real Feel'

The Real Feel  (2009,  46.13)  ***

Call the Ceasefire
Maltese T
A Mighty Mighty Fall
Subiaco Shuffle
Stolen Pills
Cold Change
Wharf-Hand Blues
True Love
The Real Feel
Blood Money

Current availability:

Spiral Stairs are/is Pavement's Scott Kannberg's solo project, named for his original Pavement nom de plume. They/he released The Real Feel in 2009, possibly best described as indie Americana, which is less bad than it sounds, at its best on the rip-roaring Subiaco Shuffle, although some of the slower material drags somewhat.

The Posies' Jon Auer supposedly plays Mellotron, just as he did on his own Songs From the Year of Our Demise, in other words, whatever's here is sampled. To be honest, I'm not even sure what is supposed to be here: vague choirs? Even vaguer flutes? No honest-to-goodness Mellotron, that's for sure. Not bad then, but no classic.

Official site

See: Pavement

Spirit Nation  [a.k.a. Era]  (US)

Spirit Nation, 'Spirit Nation' Era, 'Sacredness'

Spirit Nation  [a.k.a. Sacredness]  (1998,  56.50/71.50)  **½

Wankatakiya
Celebration
Earth Walk
Spirit Path
It is a Good Day
Children Are Sacred
Prayer to the Four Directions
Sacredness
I am Water
The Thunder Beings
She Sleeps Beside the Moon
Spirit Nation
[Expanded version adds:
Journey to Shambala
Tara Shahti Mantra
Sancha's Love for Amitabha]
Spirit Nation, 'Winter Moons'

Winter Moons  (2001,  59.01)  **½

Ododaymiwan (Animal Clans)
All My Relations
We Are Still Here
Pishaan (Come to Me)
Spirit Medicine
Iroquoian Sky Woman
Seven Gifts
Now and Always
Winter Moons
Ahsayma (Tobacco)
Tipikan (Lullaby)

Current availability:

Spirit Nation's eponymous album appeared in 1998, but seems to have been reissued as Sacredness, expanded and slightly resequenced, with the artist name changed to Era. Dodgy small label reselling? I think so. They actually seem to be the duo of guitarist Steve Rosen and keyboard player Jimmy Waldo (New England, Alcatrazz), who combine Native American rhythms and chants with electronica and new age synth washes, which is almost exactly as dull as it sounds. I'm sure there's a huge market for this kind of stuff, but it's soporific in the extreme, especially when the expanded version runs over an hour. Waldo supposedly plays Mellotron on several tracks, although it's fairly obviously sampled, as on his work with his old cohort Hirsh Gardner. Anyway, we get strings on Earth Walk, Spirit Path, It Is A Good Day, The Thunder Beings and the title track, with very clear flutes opening I Am Water, for what it's worth.

They followed up, three years later, with Winter Moons, essentially more of the same, making it almost unreviewable; if you've heard their debut, you're heard this and vice versa. More is it?/isn't it? samplotron from Waldo, with strings on Spirit Medicine and a chordal flute part on the title track, although it's possible one or two other string parts are sample-generated. Overall, then, albums more new age than anything, leaving you quite certain what you're getting should you splash out. Samplotron on several tracks on their debut, less on its follow up, little of it particularly overt, making these a bit of a 'don't bother', I think.

Spirits Burning  (US)

Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart, 'Earth Born'

Earth Born  [as Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart]  (2008,  64.06)  ***

Earth Born
One Way Trip
Always
Sarah's Surprise
Hit the Moon
Two Friends
Behind the Veil
Crafted From Wood
Child Growing
Candles
Storm Shelter
Evening
Dancers at the End of...

Current availability:

Spirits Burning were originally formed in 1986, although the 'current' version of the band, whatever you take that to mean, has only been in existence since the late '90s. Led by Don Falcone, the San Franciscan outfit have taken on collaborators from across the space-rock scene, not least Daevid Allen and numerous members of Hawkwind, past and present.

2008's Earth Born is a straight collaboration between the band (essentially Falcone) and Hawkwind's Bridget Wishart, the latter singing on most tracks. As with all the band's albums, moments of sublime, er, sublimeness are scattered amongst long stretches of trippy, jammed-out space-rock, mostly at the gentler end of the spectrum. On the site set up for the collaboration, Falcone gives the sample game away for all their recent releases, mentioning the M-Tron plug-in by name. He adds it to a handful of tracks, with a near-inaudible Genesis 'Watcher' strings/brass mix on the opening title track, upfront strings on Hit The Moon, backwards strings on Child Growing and a drifting string part on Candles.

So; space-rock par excellence, especially for Gong fans, the band Spirits Burning resembles more than any other. There is genuine Mellotron to be heard on several other albums, which isn't to lessen the impact of the above release.

Official Spirits Burning site

Official Spirits Burning/Bridget Wishart site

See: Spirits Burning | Michael Moorcock | Daevid Allen | Hawkwind

Spiritual Beggars  (Sweden)

Spiritual Beggars, 'Mantra III'

Mantra III  (1998,  53.37)  ***½

Homage to the Betrayed
Monster Astronauts
Euphoria
Broken Morning
Lack of Prozac
Superbossanova
Bad Karma
Send Me a Smile
Cosmic Romance
Sad Queen Boogie
Mushroom Tea Girl
Spiritual Beggars, 'Ad Astra'

Ad Astra  (2000,  54.17)  ***½

Left Brain Ambassadors
Wonderful World
Sedated
Angel of Betrayal
Blessed
Per Aspera Ad Astra
Save Your Soul
Until the Morning
Escaping the Fools
On Dark Rivers
The Goddess
Mantra
Spiritual Beggars, 'On Fire'

On Fire  (2002,  45.54)  ****

Street Fighting Saviours
Young Man, Old Soul
Killing Time
Fools Gold
Black Feathers
Beneath the Skin
Fejee Mermaid
Dance of the Dragon King
Tall Tales
The Lunatic Fringe
Look Back
Spiritual Beggars, 'Demons'

Demons  (2005,  49.00)  ***½

Inner Strength
Throwing Your Life Away
Salt in Your Wounds
One Man Army
Through the Halls
Treading Water
Dying Every Day
Born to Die
Born to Die (Reprise)
In My Blood
Elusive
Sleeping With One Eye Open
No One Heard
Spiritual Beggars, 'Return to Zero'

Return to Zero  (2010,  52.44/56.59)  ***½

Return to Zero (Intro)
Lost in Yesterday
Star Born
The Chaos of Rebirth
We Are Free
Spirit of the Wind
Coming Home
Concrete Horizon
A New Dawn Rising
Believe in Me
Dead Weight
The Road Less Travelled
[Japanese bonus track:
Time to Live]

Current availability:

Spiritual Beggars are a Swedish retro hard rock outfit, thus combining several of this site's favourite things (Sweden, the '70s, hard rock, Mellotrons), only really missing full-on prog to complete the set. 1998's Mantra III was their third album and, I believe, the first to feature keyboards, with Per Wiberg guesting on Hammond, Rhodes and (fake) Mellotron on several tracks. The music is that sort of pseudo-retro metal thing, with too many modern influences to be really full-on '70s; it works in places, but a lot of it's a bit too much for me at times. Can't really pinpoint standout tracks, although Superbossanova surprises as the band suddenly go all Santana on us. Not much 'Mellotron', as it happens, although the strings on Euphoria and flutes on Inside Charmer are very upfront and sound real, even though they're not. Shame about the 'Mellotron overdubs recorded at' credit, all things considered...

by 2000's Ad Astra, Wiberg had become a full member, adding digitised Hammond and Mellotron to their early-'70s smorgasbord. The only thing about their sound that really gives the game away is the raw-as-fuck vocals and the occasional guitar line, which simply don't ring true for their chosen era, but at least add a smidgeon of modernity to the mix. Wiberg sticks mostly to the organ, although there's a couple of 'Tron' tracks of varying intensity. Wonderful World has some background strings, to the point where you have to listen closely to make sure they're there at all, but Mantra has some quite full-on strings and flutes, before the inevitable heaviosity kicks in again.

The band changed vocalists for 2002's On Fire, and for some reason, I find the end result far more listenable than its predecessor, although I suspect that's partly to do with the more sympathetic production. The riffs are even more '70s than those on Ad Astra, with one shocking Black Sabbath cop on Fool's Gold (a subsidiary riff from Killing Yourself To Live, from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, for what it's worth), but with a concomitant reduction in '90s doom stylings, this really doesn't present a problem. Wiberg expands his sonic palette slightly here, with some (mono)synth on a couple of tracks, and a little more 'Tron'than before, with string parts on several tracks, and flutes on the short instrumental Fejee Mermaid.

Three years on, Demons is as listenable as its predecessor, giving the impression that this is where Spiritual Beggars' collective hearts really lie. Standouts include the Queensrÿche-esque Salt In Your Wounds and the funky (!) wah pedal-driven Dying Every Day, but in truth, there ain't a bad track here. On the 'Mellotron' front, Wiberg plays choirs on instrumental opener Inner Strength, with flutes and strings on another short instrumental, Born To Die (Reprise) with a background flute part on closer No One Heard, rounding things up nicely. For some reason (everyone's very busy?), it's taken the band another five years to produce 2010's Return to Zero, with another new vocalist and all to prove that nothing much has changed. Another good album, never in any danger of being considered 'great', better tracks including Star Born, Coming Home, Dead Weight and the Japanese bonus version of Uriah Heep's Time To Live, Wiberg adding 'Mellotron' strings to Lost In Yesterday, The Chaos Of Rebirth, Dead Weight and The Road Less Travelled.

So; I found Mantra III and Ad Astra a tad too full-on for my personal taste (they remind me slightly of UK doomsters Cathedral in places), but On Fire, Demons and Return to Zero are a great improvement, with more 'Tron' to boot. Incidentally, there's a 14-track version of Ad Astra, but having only heard the shorter one, I've no idea if there's any 'Tron samples on the extra tracks.

Official site

See: Opeth

Spock's Beard  (US)  see:

Spock's Beard

Spyra  (Germany)

Spyra, 'Etherlands'

Etherlands  (1999,  73.57)  ***

The Synthesizer Experience
Radio Noordzee
Monotonous Stereo part I
Birds on the Wire
Six Miles South of Hastings
Monotonous Stereo part II
Etherlands part I
Etherlands part II
Mellotron Etude

Current availability:

Wolfram "DER" Spyra has been releasing albums since the mid-'90s, '99's Etherlands (ho ho) being something like his seventh in four years. His particular brand of EM borders 'Berlin School', but with a heavy trance influence, giving it a (not necessarily welcome) contemporary edge many other current artists in the field lack. Nothing wrong with listening to what's around you, but it can sound terribly dated a few years down the line... Or not. Highlights include the reflective Birds On A Wire and brief closer Mellotron Etude, but too much of the album sounds like the plinky Radio Noordzee or the rather dull Etherlands Part II for its own good.

The odd Mellotron sample crops up across the album, principally cellos (unusually) and choirs, although closer Mellotron Etude is, unsurprisingly, the major 'Mellotron' track, featuring cellos and particularly unconvincing flutes. Etherlands is for the trance fan looking to broaden their horizons, rather than the hardened EM fan, I suspect; it has its moments, but too much of it sounds like late '90s TV background music for it to really convince.

Official site

De Staat  (Netherlands)

De Staat, 'Machinery'

Machinery  (2011,  40.54)  **½

Ah, I See
Sweatshop
I'll Never Marry You
Old MacDonald Don't Have No Farm No More
I'm a Rat
Keep Me Home
Tumbling Down
Psycho Disco
Rooster-Man
Serial Killer
Back to the Grind

Current availability:

De Staat fall fairly and squarely into the 'alt.rock' bracket, I think, their second release, 2011's Machinery, pointing towards the American scene of the late '80s and early '90s, with maybe a hint of Beefheart, only, er, not as original. OK, I've heard a lot worse (no, a lot worse), but tracks like Old MacDonald Don't Have No Farm No More could've been left off without harming the overall effect.

Vocalist/mainman Torre Florim plays 'Mellotron' on two tracks, with nothing obvious (distant choirs?) on opener Ah, I See and distorted choirs on Rooster-Man, but I can't say it sounds particularly authentic. Anyway, catchy yet underwhelming alt.rock, anyone? Thought not.

Official site

Stackridge  (UK)  see:

Stackridge

Doru Stănculescu  (Romania)

Doru Stănculescu, 'De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol.II'

De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol. II  (2005,  44.31)  ***

Ioan Voda Cumplitul
Avram Iancu
Balada de Copilarie
Scrisoarea Soldatului de Oriciunde
Copiii Pedepsiti
Cum Se Naste-un Mit
Epifanie
Fara Petale
Maria Si Marea
Ei Bine, DA!
Cafeaua de Dimineata

Current availability:

I'm having trouble locating any useful biographical information regarding Doru Stănculescu; pretty much everything online is in Romanian. For all I know, he's recorded thirty albums, but the only thing of which we can be reasonably certain is that 2005's De-Alaltăieri... Şi Până Ieri Vol. II, which seems to translate as From the Day Before Yesterday Until Yesterday, isn't his debut. It's a strange album, combining central European folk stylings and mediæval tonalities, amongst other influences, mostly done very well indeed. It isn't all good, mind; the brief Copiii Pedepsiti is an uncharacteristically jaunty effort and the material tails off towards the end of the album, notably on the countryish Maria Si Marea, docking the album half a star.

I'm sorry, but I really don't believe that Dan Andrei Aldea actually played Mellotron; all we get is a too-clean-by-far flute part on Epifanie, anyway. I actually doubt whether there's ever been a real Mellotron in Romania; I know that the one that used to reside in Bulgaria, at Studio Balkanton, now lives in Norway, owned by Wobbler's Lars Fredrik Frøislie, but that doesn't count. So; modern Romanian folk: don't knock it until you've tried it. No actual Mellotron, though.

MySpace

Chris Stapleton  (US)

Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

Traveller  (2015,  63.07)  ***½

Traveller
Fire Away
Tennessee Whiskey
Parachute
Whiskey and You
Nobody to Blame
More of You
When the Stars Come Out
Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore
Might as Well Get Stoned
Was it
The Devil Named Music
Outlaw State of Mind
Sometimes I Cry

Current availability:

Although I've never previously heard of him, it seems Chris Stapleton is a big name in the country world, albeit chiefly as a songwriter. Had I read that before listening to his first solo release, 2015's Traveller, I'd probably have dreaded putting it on, but it's actually a very pleasant surprise, much of the album being rockier and/or bluesier than expected. Best tracks? Parachute powers along nicely, as does Might As Well Get Stoned, while many of the lyrics are superb. Try this couplet from Whiskey And You: "I drink because I'm lonesome and I'm lonesome 'cause I drink". Pure country, maybe, but his faultless delivery lifts what could've been very ordinary country songs into another league altogether.

Mike (or Michael) Webb is credited with Mellotron, while producer Dave Cobb is apparently keen on using a real machine, so... where is it? It's not even as if there's anything I can point at and say, 'real or not?' There's nothing. As a result, rightly or wrongly, I'm sticking this in samples, as I find the idea of recording a real Mellotron, then dropping it out of the mix, entirely bizarre. But that's me. Anyway, good album, no obvious Mellotron.

Official site

Star One  (Netherlands)

Star One, 'Space Metal'

Space Metal  (2002,  55.47/96.38)  **

Lift-Off
Set Your Controls
High Moon
Songs of the Ocean
Master of Darkness
The Eye of Ra
Sandrider
Perfect Survivor
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
Starchild
[2-disc ed. adds:
Hawkwind Medley
Spaced Out
Inseparable Enemies
Space Oddity
Starchild (Dolby Pro-Logic mix)
Spaced Out (alternative version)
The Intergalactic Laxative]
Star One, 'Live on Earth'

Live on Earth  (2003,  113.55)  **½

Lift-Off
Set Your Controls
High Moon
Dreamtime
Eyes of Time
Songs of the Ocean
Dawn of a Million Souls
The Dream Sequencer
Into the Black Hole
Actual Fantasy
Valley of the Queens
Isis and Osiris
Amazing Flight in Space
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
Castle Hall
The Eye of Ra
Starchild
The Two Gates
Star One, 'Victims of the Modern Age'

Victims of the Modern Age  (2010,  53.09)  **½

Down the Rabbit Hole
Digital Rain
Earth That Was
Victim of the Modern Age
Human See, Human Do
24 Hours
Cassandra Complex
It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive
It All Ends Here

Current availability:

Arjen Anthony "Ayreon" Lucassen's Star One, to give them their full name, are one of the titular Lucassen's many projects, apparently originally a proposed collaboration with Bruce Dickinson, until Lucassen mentioned it in an online interview and Bruce pulled out (so to speak). Well, that's what happens when you mess with the Dickster, innit? 2002's Space Metal isn't actually very good, frankly; imagine an off-Broadway prog-metal album, not helped by the dodgy female vocals that dog several tracks and the gratuitous synth solos (including a couple from Rocket Scientists mainman Erik Norlander) that sound like something instrumentally contemporary, although Lucassen infamously owns a pristine MiniMoog. Samplotron on several tracks, unsurprisingly, with choirs on Lift-Off (which sounds suspiciously similar to Colin Towns' Second Sight, from Gillan's debut, Mr Universe), also heard on High Moon, along with pretty crummy strings, both sounds cropping up elsewhere, to no great effect. The bonus disc's Hawkwind Medley, despite being co-vocalled by Dave Brock, is terrible, ditto the drastic rearrangement of Bowie's Space Oddity and the untitled final track, which turns out to be an awful version of Donovan's awful Intergalactic Laxative.

The following year's double Live on Earth is an onstage recreation of most of the album, with a large chunk of Ayreon material thrown in for good measure; given that the two bands are so similar in concept and sound, it's hardly a huge leap of faith for the audience. Although every bit as pompous (and rather longer) than Space Metal, it somehow pulls the trick of being slightly less tedious, although any prospective listeners should ensure that they are already aficionados of Mr Lucassen's work. I would guess it's Joost Van Den Broek who plays the Mellotron samples scattered across the two discs, but it hardly matters, does it?

After a considerable break, Lucassen resurrected the Star One project and released their second studio album in 2010, Victims of the Modern Age. Unfortunately, although I can report that it's better than its predecessor, that's because it's a less individual record, not more, disposing of the bulk of the sub-Lloyd-Webber stuff and ending up sounding like just about any other prog-metal band you could name. Yes, this is an improvement. The formula goes something like this: guitars riff like mad, strident vocalist sings in an epic manner, keyboard player adds synth solo played on a modern instrument. Repeat. Marvellous. The first sound you hear on the album is the samplotron choir on Down The Rabbit Hole, with strings on Digital Rain and bits of choir elsewhere, but you were never, never going to mistake it for the real thing.

Star One have improved by dint of becoming less individual. Is this really the sort of example we'd like to set our children? Eh? Maybe they're following some weird kind of Dutch governmental diktat regarding 'the inadvisability of individual approaches in the prog-metal genre and their practical applications'. Maybe.

Official site

See: Ayreon | Erik Norlander

Starbelly  (US)

Starbelly, 'Everyday & Then Some'

Everyday & Then Some  (2002,  43.11)  ****

Hello, Hello
Everyday
Mother of Pearl
Beauty Mark
Broken Hearts in Stereo
Baby's Eyes
Plateau
Near Me
Beautiful
Ordinary Now
Doubt
Goodbye Now

Current availability:

Produced by Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp, Starbelly's second album, 2002's Everyday & Then Some, is a gorgeous powerpop release featuring all the 'right' influences and actually outdoing Bopp's mob in the process. Top tracks? Beauty Mark is particularly ripping, not least its superb backwards guitar solo, while Plateau, Ordinary Now and Doubt are all top-notch. Your task, should you choose to accept it: find a bad track on this album.

Greg Schroeder is credited with Mellotron, but the only vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Plateau really don't convince; it's no surprise that The Myracle Brah's contemporaneous Bleeder also features samples. Alleged Mellotron use is pretty much irrelevant here, though; the quality of the music is the reason you should own this album.

MySpace


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