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Social Tension  (Japan)

Macbethia  (1989,  47.20)  ***½
It Remainds Me of Those Days  (1990,  35.46)  ***½

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)

Frail  (2004,  36.37)  ***
In the Deep  (2012,  37.28)  ***

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 are clearly sampled, particularly the strings. Eight years on and Solheim seems to have discovered her own voice on In the Deep. It's a rather guileless one, her love songs as straightforward as they get, but the end result of her emotional honesty is an album that is better than it has any right to be. Alan Brey's 'Mellotron' credit is for the blatantly sampled strings on Run Away.

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore  (US)

Dear Companion  (2010,  36.42)  ***

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.

Something Completely Different  (Germany)

Megacatz  (2001,  53.47)  ***½

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.

Peter Sommer  (Denmark)

Alt Forladt  (2013,  43.52)  **½

Since his run of albums in the 2000s, singer-songwriter Peter Sommer has taken a turn for the electronic, in a 'shitty vocal and synth effects' kind of way, which does his music no favours at all. Perhaps it was a producer's decision? After his apparently real Mellotron work on previous recordings, Palle Hjorth doesn't so much use samples, as, despite a credit, seemingly uses nothing at all.

Somnambulist  (US)

The Paranormal Humidor  (2001,  54.30)  ****

It took Somnambulist five years to follow their eponymous debut, The Paranormal Humidor, leading many observers to think they'd split up. It's a worthy effort, with just a touch of neo-ism creeping in, notably on Troy Built Helen, though they redeem themselves with the gorgeous melody on Pathos Of Least Resistance (v.droll, chaps). Mellotron use largely as per Somnambulist, almost all strings, although it's sampled this time round; some lengthy notes here and there and is that portamento I hear creeping into the sound on the title track? Not to mention the unfeasibly speedy part on opener In The Mindwarp Pavilion.

Son, Ambulance  (US)

Someone Else's Deja Vu  (2008,  59.51)  **½

Son, Ambulance are led by Joe Knapp, who has also worked with Bright Eyes, his own band's first release being a split LP with that outfit, 2001's Oh Holy Fools. For some reason, I'd expected them to have a modern Americana sound, but I'd forgotten about the Bright Eyes link. 2008's Someone Else's Deja Vu is actually an unholy cross between US indie and '70s soft rock, many of its tracks too long for their musical content (although maybe not the lyrical), while the album, at just under an hour, is quite interminable. Better tracks include the acoustic Constellations and mildly experimental closer Requiem For A Planet, but they're nowhere near enough to rescue this rather dull record. Knapp plays samplotron on Awakening, with a unison flute and cello part.

Sonicflood  (US)

This Generation  (2005,  41.28)  *½

Sonicflood (or, irritatingly, SONICFLOOd) seem to be at the most uncompromising end of the CCM spectrum, often described as a 'praise and worship band', meaning that their lyrics, already one-dimensional in their scope due to their genre, narrow down to 'praise the lord praise the lord praise the...' Entirely tedious to non-believers, but what did you expect? 2005's This Generation is the most appalling piece of shite, frankly; it doesn't start too badly (the opening title track and Prodigal hint at King's X), but the album quickly slumps into a slough of musical despond of the kind that makes, say, Michael W Smith sound relevant. Terrifying. Dan Muckala plays samplotron strings on All I've Failed To Be. This really is a vile album; do myself and yourself a favour and forget that I've even written about it. I wish I could.

Sons of Bill  (US)

Sirens  (2012,  51.25)  ***

Three of Sons of Bill are, indeed, sons of Bill (Wilson), a roots-rock outfit who shift, in classic style, between raucous, country-tinged rock and pretty much pure country. Sirens' best tracks? Storming opener Santa Ana Winds, Angry Eyes, as much for lyrics and music and Turn It Up. Alan Weatherhead may very well be credited with Mellotron on Radio Can't Rewind (is that still the case? You can rewind TV now [irrelevant ed.]), but... it isn't.

Sons of Hippies  (US)

Griffons at the Gates of Heaven  (2013,  40.51)  ***½

Floridians Sons of Hippies (not to mention a daughter) are apparently 'neo-psych', which seems to mean psychedelic, but current, making it quite a large sub-genre, I reckon. Their fourth album (depending on how you're counting), 2013's Griffons at the Gates of Heaven, powers along nicely, highlights including Dark Daisies, the punky Blood In The Water and the propulsive Minute × Minute. Billy Sherwood (Yes) guests on Moog and samplotron, with strings all over opener Forward, Rose, Spaceship Ride and Magnets, flutes on Mirrorball and flutes and strings on Whatever We Spend.

Sore  (Indonesia)

Ports of Lima  (2008,  58.30)  **½

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?

Soul Asylum  (US)

Candy From a Stranger  (1998,  45.18)  ***

Soul Asylum's Candy From a Stranger manages to be less tedious than its predecessor, Let Your Dim Light Shine, which isn't saying much. What's more, Jon Carin's credited Mellotron appears to be entirely inaudible.

Soul P  (US)

The Premiere  (2006,  58.47)  **

What happens when you combine two of my least favourite genres in one album? Soul P is that unholiest (ho ho) of genre mash-ups, a Christian rapper, although it doesn't seem to be that obvious from his 'rhymes', as I believe they're known. He found his way to the proverbial mythical deity through a dysfunctional childhood and several spells in chokey, 'giving his life to The Lord' a mere twenty-four hours after attending a Bible group, which has to make the sceptical reader wonder what was going on in the guy's head. Anyway, 2006's The Premiere is, unsurprisingly, his debut album and the one thing I can say in its favour is that the lyrics aren't about ho's (excuse the apostrophe - otherwise it's spelled hos, which looks ridiculous), bling and the like, which isn't to say it was a pleasant listening experience, being the usual collection of musically tedious efforts with him blathering on about something or other over the top. Funniest track? I'm The Street, with its heavenly choirs (a sampled one, by the sound of it) and a rap about how he Got God. Jeff Roach plays samplotron, with a few skronky-sounding string notes in the album's first proper track, I'm Here.

SoulenginE  (Italy)

Mind Colours  (2012,  54.00)  ****

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.

Souls of Mischief  (US)

There is Only Now  (2014,  40.17)  **

Souls of Mischief are an Oakland-based hip-hop crew whose sixth album (in over twenty years), 2014's There is Only Now, eschews the musical violence of many of their contemporaries for a more soul-based approach, aided by producer Adrian Younge. Is it any good? I have no idea; try as I might, the appeal of this stuff continues to elude me, although I note, to my amusement, that Miriam Got A Mickey samples (appropriately) the sample-and-hold synth from ELP's Karn Evil 9. Allow me to quote Younge on the Mellotron strings all over Narrow Escape: "I sought to produce a track that King Crimson would have made...to create a Mellotron-based tale depicting an epic life journey". Fail.

Sound of Ceres  (US)

Nostalgia for Infinity  (2016,  43.43)  **½

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.

Wim Soutaer  (Belgium)

Een Nieuw Begin  (2003,  47.47)  **

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.

South  (UK)

From Here on in  (2001,  70.12)  ***
With the Tides  (2003,  42.45)  **½

To quote from South's website: "Rock, dance, electronica, folksy acoustics, orchestral soundscapes, South have always been impossible to pin down". Y'reckon? Going by their 2001 album, From Here on in, I'd say 'indie-schmindie' covers it fairly well. OK, it's not a bad album, as such, but it does nothing new or exciting, at least to my ears. Maybe I'm the wrong generation to appreciate it. It's also overlong; I mean, what is this obsession with filling a CD, just because you can? Seventy minutes is ridiculous; once upon a time this would've been called a 'double album' and a band may have (just possibly) made one in their entire career. OK, so bands don't spit albums out one a year any more, so it could easily be argued that they're actually producing less material by releasing a long CD every two or three years. That doesn't make these behemoths any easier to listen to, though... Anyway, there's loads of samplotron on offer here, which is one bonus, played by any or all of the trio: Joel Cadbury, Brett Shaw or Jamie McDonald. The album opens with the huge fuck-off strings of Broken Head I, with a flute melody riding over the top, with strings and cellos on Paint The Silence, cellos on Keep Close, strings on All In For Nothing (Reprise), flutes on Here On In... Basically, it's all over the place, although only a handful of tracks use it to any great effect, to be honest, chiefly the first and third versions of Broken Head that bookend the album.

In direct contrast, there's very little Mellotron (credited, this time) on With the Tides, two years later. The album's even less interesting than its predecessor, wussing along like a good'un for most of its length, making listening to it a most joyous experience. It's almost as if the band have no idea how to write a song. Er... OK, Silver Sun's not bad, but it's pretty much on its own here. Anyway, producer Dave Eringa allegedly plays Mellotron on Colours In Waves, but the distant, high strings on the track could come from anywhere, frankly, although the uncredited strings and cellos in Straight Lines To Badlands are rather more obvious. Samples, then.

South Normal  (US)

No More Songs About Girls  (2006,  42.46)  ***½

South Normal play a kind of punk-end-of-powerpop on No More Songs About Girls, highlights including the opening title track, Ashamed, Tattoo, Gift That Gives... It's more a case of, what isn't a highlight? Excellent, powerful-yet-melodic stuff, quite certainly a killer live act. Kurt Wolak's 'Mellotron'? What, the string line on King & Queen?

South San Gabriel  (US)

Welcome, Convalescence  (2003,  44.15)  ***

South San Gabriel (helmed by Will Johnson) are the alter-egos of Texan outfit Centro-matic, formed to play their quieter material, leaving their noisier stuff for the parent band. 2003's Welcome, Convalescence was their debut album, following a split single with Okkervil River and begins by fooling the listener into thinking it's going to be straightforward Americana. It's not long, however, before the weird electronica kicks in, juxtaposed neatly with the downbeat, country-influenced material that actually constitutes the band's raison d'être. Joe Butcher plays samplotron, amongst other things, though not that much, with what I take to be high-end cellos on Everglades and definite flutes on Evangeline.

Southern All Stars  (Japan)

Young Love  (1996,  64.49)  **

The hugely successful Southern All Stars have been active since the mid-'70s, although Young Love is only their eleventh release. This is a 'something for everyone' album, incorporating rock'n'roll, dance pop, electronica, gloopy ballads... As a result, while no doubt appealing to their devoted fanbase, it leaves the rest of us mildly bemused, while its hour-plus running length only serves to bore the casual listener. Any best tracks? Possibly Soul Bomber. Yuko Hara plays blatantly fake Hammond here and there, so it's no great surprise that his 'Mellotron' strings on Before The Storm are obviously sampled.

Southern Backtones  (US)

Southern Backtones  (2006,  59.22)  **½

Southern Backtones claim influences from The Doors through Dick Dale, Pulp and The Cult, so make of that what you will. Their overlong eponymous third album has more of a millennial alt.rock vibe about it, frankly, at its best on energetic opener Forever and odd little interlude Lanugo. Kevin Ryan is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin, but the strings on Here's Looking At You Now and others sound bogus to my ears.

Spain Colored Orange  (US)

Sneaky Like a Villain  (2008,  39.59)  **½

I suppose Sneaky Like a Villain falls into the vast, poorly-defined arena of 'indie rock', combining indie, electronica, psychedelia, jazz and other genres into, well, a bit of a mess, frankly, less irritating material including the vaudeville-esque Cheap Trills [sic.] and the Clavinet-driven You Think You Know. The album blots its Mellotronic copybook immediately, opening the album with Justin Peak's samplotron flutes on The Radio's On Again, other use including the strings on Who Am I and choirs on I Remember It Was Christmas Time.

Sparklehorse  (US)

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot  (1995,  47.30)  ****
It's a Wonderful Life  (2001,  60.33)  ****
Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain  (2006,  53.10)  ***½

Sparklehorse were essentially Mark Linkous plus friends, playing a melancholy kind of fucked-up Americana/alt.country/whatyouwannacallit. They debuted with '95's Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (no, I don't know) and you know what? It's really rather excellent. Mix equal parts ('real') country, indie guitar-thrash, American folk and probably a few other things, the end result being a very listenable blend of Linkous' influences, with some damn' good songwriting into the bargain. Although not that long, the album probably outstays its welcome slightly towards the end, but the first half is something I can see myself playing repeatedly if I let myself. Linkous plays samplotron on a couple of tracks, notably the weird little FX-laden Little Bastard Choo Choo, where a cheap chord organ vies with strings (and flutes?), possibly even FX tapes, although the flutes (?) on Heart Of Darkness are next to inaudible.

Nothing on '98's Good Morning Spider, but the samplotron's on several tracks on 2001's It's a Wonderful Life, along with alleged Chamberlin. To confuse the issue, Dave Fridmann from Mercury Rev plays on the latter, a man known for his not-entirely-honest approach to what constitutes a 'Mellotron'. Clue: you can't play one from a MIDI keyboard. Then there's a quote from Linkous about 'the only decent Mellotron's the new Mark VI', so who knows if any of it's real? Anyway, the album is beautiful in its melancholy, downbeat without being miserable for the sake of it; this is what Americana should sound like. Mind you, Dog Door channels Tom Waits, with a truly bonkers vocal, so it's not all 3 m.p.h. stuff [n.b. Upon checking the liner notes, it becomes apparent that it IS Tom Waits. That explains that one, then...]. As for the fake-replay, Linkous plays ghostly Chamby flutes and cellos on the opening title track, with more overt versions of both on Gold Day. He's on Mellotron flutes on Sea Of Teeth, with drummer Scott Minor on Chamby, then nothing until Alan Weatherhead's distant Mellotron and Chamby strings and woodwinds (oboe?) on More Yellow Birds. Dave Fridmann plays Chamby flutes and choir on Comfort Me and, finally, some very wobbly strings on closer Babies On The Sun, with Fridmann on 'Chamby' and Linkous on Mellotron.

It took Linkous five years to release another Sparklehorse album, 2006's (deep breath) Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (yup; another mis-use of the term 'light year'). And it's... another Sparklehorse album, you'll probably be pleased to hear. Nothing startling, nothing particularly new, but a solid, dependable Linkous record, despite difficult-to-ignore clunkers like the flat top guitar string on Return To Me. Said track is the first of a mere two credited tape-replay efforts here, with distant Chamberlin flutes from Linkous. The other is the lengthy closing title track, with Linkous on Chamby again and Dave Fridmann on Chamby and Mellotron, although none are that obvious, with (Mellotron?) flute melodies and (presumably Chamby) strings throughout, clearly sampled. Tragically, Linkous, a long-term sufferer from depression, killed himself in 2010, robbing us of any more of his work.

Sparkler  (US)

Wicker Park  (1997,  50.45)  ***

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.

Jimmy Sparks  (US)

Jimmy Sparks & The Blizzard  (2005,  46.57)  **½

Illinois native Jimmy Sparks (his real name?) plays a kind of offbeat, largely acoustic indie on Jimmy Sparks & The Blizzard, at its least irritating on grungy opener This World and Snow. Someone (Sparks?) plays samplotron strings on closer Dear Majesty.

Speedmarket Avenue  (Sweden)

Way Better Now  (2008,  37.21)  **½

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.

Spice & the RJ Band  (Sweden)

The Will  (2007,  47.40)  ***½

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.

Spider  (US)

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

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.

Malka Spigel  (UK)

Every Day is Like the First Day  (2012,  53.32)  **½

A couple of tracks, at random, of Every Day is Like the First Day, would be fine, but the better part of an hour of Malka Spigel's monotonous voice set this listener's teeth on edge, as did the dreary, indie/post-rock instrumentation and arrangements. The album's probably at its best on the propulsive Two Dimensions In A Single Frame, but I think it's fair to say that this is aimed at people other than myself. Colin Newman (as in Wire?) is credited with Mellotron, but the vague strings and choirs on opener Ammonite and the slightly more upfront strings on Back In The Old City refuse to ring true.

Spinnerette  (US)

Spinnerette  (2009,  53.00)  ***

Bree Leslie "Brody Dalle" Pucilowski was a founding member of The Distillers after moving to the States from Australia, forming Spinnerette in 2007 following the dissolution of her original band. Their eponymous 2009 debut is a modern punk album, I suppose, although it bears little relation to the class of '77, or, apparently, Dalle's earlier work. It sounds like Queens of the Stone Age in places (turns out Dalle is married to Josh Homme), with the occasional burst of programmed pop making itself heard, but its overriding influence has to be Nirvana, a touchstone for many of her generation. The album's chief fault is its length; this is the kind of music best heard in short, amphetamine-fuelled bursts, not records the better part of an hour long. Alain Johannes allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's entirely inaudible.

Spiral Stairs  (US)

The Real Feel  (2009,  46.13)  ***

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.

Spirit Nation  [a.k.a. Era]  (US)

Spirit Nation  [a.k.a. Sacredness]  (1998,  56.50)  **½
Winter Moons  (2001,  59.01)  **½

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)  see:

Spirits Burning

Spiritual Beggars  (Sweden)

Mantra III  (1998,  53.37)  ***½
Ad Astra  (2000,  54.17)  ***½
On Fire  (2002,  45.54)  ****
Demons  (2005,  49.00)  ***½
Return to Zero  (2010,  52.44)  ***½

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.

Splendor Mystic Solis  (Japan)

Mystic Part 1 & 2  (2000,  37.21)  ***

Splendor Mystic Solis play a form of drone/noise/psych, akin to Blue Cheer after ingesting the brown acid, perhaps. Mystic Part 1 & 2 does exactly what it says on the tin, two side-long tracks that move through a variety of feels, from crushingly loud to exploratory drone-fest. Hisashi Sasaki plays Mellotron cello samples on both tracks, dipping in and out of the mix, seemingly at random.

Spock's Beard  (US)  see:

Spock's Beard

Spoon  (US)

Kill the Moonlight  (2002,  34.52)  **½
Gimme Fiction  (2005,  43.48)  **½

Reviewers seem not to rate Spoon's Kill the Moonlight, but it sounds like their other albums to me. One song actually stands out from the morass of boredom; Someone Something sounds slightly like an Aladdin Sane outtake, admittedly without most of what made that record so good, but at least it didn't send me to sleep. Samplotron from an unknown player, possibly Eggo Johanson, on Back To The Life, with what sounds like reversed, pitchbent strings. 2005's Gimme Fiction sounds just like Spoon, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. I think it's bad. Anyway, usual old stuff, one samplotron track, with a building string part in They Never Got You from Britt Daniel.

Sportfreunde Stiller  (Germany)

MTV Unplugged in New York  (2009,  109.00)  ***

Sportfreunde Stiller? Nope, never 'eard of 'em. Seems they're a well-known German indie band, though surely not well-enough known to record an unplugged show for MTV in the States? Correct: it was actually recorded in Munich. This is effectively above criticism; a competent band who can clearly write songs playing a semi-acoustic set to a home crowd. Meaningless to us; presumably heaven sent to their fans. I'd guess that's a Memotron providing the nice polyphonic flute part on Wie Lange Sollen Wir Noch Warten.

Spotlight, Floodlight  (US)

Polarized  (2010,  40.10)  ***

Spotlight, Floodlight appear to be keyboard player Peter Adams' solo project, a kind of ambient/post-rock/electronica mashup, possibly at its best on May and closer Ending. Adams is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes and strings across the album really aren't; listen for the flute notes in Ending that drop below the Mellotron's range.

Bruce Springsteen  (US)

The Rising  (2002,  72.51)  ***

The Rising was Bruce Springsteen's first album to feature the full E-Street Band since the huge-selling Born in the USA, nearly twenty years earlier and, I'm glad to say, it's far more down to earth, with a noticeable lack of the cheesy synths that made Born... so painful. The Rising relies far more on good 'ol Hammond and piano, with orchestral backing on some tracks and sounds like... a Bruce Springsteen album. I'm not quite sure what else I can say about it, really; if it's by Bruce Springsteen and it sounds like Bruce Springsteen, I suppose it has to be Bruce Springsteen, really. Songs about injustice, songs about ordinary, hard-working people - business as usual, then. That isn't meant to sound negative, either - Bruce is exceptionally good at what he does; it just doesn't grab me. Roy Bittan is, oddly, credited with playing Mellotron, although Springsteen's never been known to use one before. Well, he doesn't appear to've used one again, going by the audio evidence; I've heard rumours of distant strings on Countin' On A Miracle, but I'll be buggered if I can hear them, just a regular string section.

Spyra  (Germany)

Etherlands  (1999,  73.57)  ***

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.

De Staat  (Netherlands)

Machinery  (2011,  40.54)  **½
I_Con  (2013,  47.21)  ***

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. 2013's I_Con (or I_CON) carries on the good work, the band's aggressive indie/electronica crossover doing what it does faultlessly. Samplotron? Hard to tell. Strings here and there? Anyway, catchy yet underwhelming alt.rock, anyone? Thought not.

Stackridge  (UK)  see:

Stackridge

Anna Stadling  (Sweden)

Det Känns  (1999,  43.46)  **½

Det Känns is an album of rather undistinguished Swedish-language pop/rock, possibly at its best on Regnet. Staffan Hellstrand (himself a major name in Sweden) and Esbjörn Öhrwall are credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but all we get are seemingly sampled strings on opener Nu Är Jag Ung and Håll Mig Hårt, while the uncredited strings on Ingen Lust Att Stanna Kvar seem to replace the credited ones on Tömda På Varann.

Dave Stafford  (US)

Sky Full of Stars  (2011,  64.40)  **½

This must be the most ambient 'ambient' album I've ever heard: eight tracks of drifting keyboard chording with other things drifting over the top. The most startling thing about it is Stafford's assertion that, "[it] was recorded using the remarkable m-tron pro mellotron software - an entire ambient record made with a mellotron". ??? Are ANY of the sounds here Mellotronic? Just shows what can be done with studio manipulation, I suppose.

Renee Stahl  (US)

Hopeful. Romantic  (2007,  48.04)  *½

L.A. native Renee Stahl's Hopeful. Romantic site somewhere in between slushy singer-songwriter and mainstream pop; not a combo designed to appeal to Planet Mellotron, it has to be said. Bill Lefler plays samplotron strings on opener Run and Hidden Soul and flutes on Different Roads and Daydreamers Dream.

Doru Stănculescu  (Romania)

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

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.

Stands  (UK)

All Years Leaving  (2004,  40.56)  ***

The Stands were an unashamedly retro Liverpudlian act, sounding more Byrds than The Byrds, although other '60s influences crop up on 2004's All Years Leaving, not least Dylan on Outside Your Door. About the nearest they get to a modern influence is the legendary La's, with Here She Comes Again bearing more than a passing resemblance to that outfit's heroin anthem There She Goes, sounding more 'authentic' than Lee Mavers ever managed. Maybe they used the right kind of dust. While it's difficult to fault their melodies, song construction etc., the album's far too derivative to excite anyone who's heard their influences and cheeky nods to The Beatles like The Love You Give only serve to accentuate their unoriginality. The unknown samplotronist sticks it on one track, with flutes and cellos on The Big Parade, sounding like they might have been put through a Leslie.

Chris Stapleton  (US)

Traveller  (2015,  63.07)  ***½

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.

Star One  (Netherlands)

Space Metal  (2002,  55.47)  **
Live on Earth  (2003,  113.55)  **½
Victims of the Modern Age  (2010,  53.09)  **½

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' (in Dutch). Maybe.

Starbelly  (US)

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

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.

Starflyer 59  (US)

Old  (2003,  39.08)  ***

Starflyer 59 get reviewed on Christian music websites, but unlike the other dreck I've seen described as 'Christian music', Old is a perfectly acceptable, if rather unexciting album of indie-flavoured middle-ground rock, although its averageness wears the discerning listener down after a while. The quality of the material varies somewhat, with closer First Heart Attack being a highlight, but there's nothing here that made me want to reach for the 'off' button, which has to be a bonus. Although Richard Swift is credited with Mellotron, the male voices on opener Underneath sound more like Chamberlin to me, while the strings on Major Awards could be either, the title track's flutes are definitely Mellotronic, with more of those voices on First Heart Attack. Samples, then.

The Starfolk  (US)

The Starfolk  (2013,  36.07)  **½

The Starfolk play 'adult-oriented indie pop', according to iTunes, so who am I to argue? Their eponymous LP is certainly unimaginative enough to be classified as 'indie', even having something of the Coldplays about them, which isn't any kind of recommendation. Now, someone called Andy Thompson is credited with Mellotron on the album. Nothing to do with me, squire! Ah, the perils of a common name... Anyway, he doesn't appear to be using a real one, giving us an upfront string part in Sow The Seed.