Starofash are metal gods Peccatum's vocalist Heidi Solberg Tveitan's solo project, whose second album, 2008's The Thread, contains a gothic blend of atmospheric piano work, whispered vocals and muted band performances. Highlights include brief, vibraphone-led opener How To Invent A Heart, the string-laden The World Spins For You and the gentle-yet-slightly-disturbing The Snake Pit, although there's nothing here that should offend those into the darker side of life. EM musician Markus Reuter allegedly plays Mellotron on Him And Her, but given that he already has an album listed in 'samples', it comes as no surprise that the choirs on the track are too smooth by far. Overall, a pretty decent effort, if rarely in danger of being 'groundbreaking'. Definitely no real Mellotron, though.
State Radio have been described as 'alternative rock', but what I hear on their fourth album, Let it Go, is a ska/punk band flirting with reggae (several tracks) or a bargain-basement Clash (Knights Of Bostonia), which isn't really going to recommend it to anyone who reads this site with any degree of regularity. For what it's worth, the band are politically savvy, but then, so are Rage Against the Machine. I rest my case. Bassist Chuck Fay allegedly plays Mellotron, although it's entirely inaudible, which is almost as irritating as Dylanesque opener Sybil III, which is one of those tracks that you can only hear by rewinding the CD from 'zero'.
Steel Prophet have a problem. A big problem. And that problem is, they sound exactly, make that exactly like Queensrÿche. I don't mean, 'influenced by', I don't even mean 'God that's close'. I mean exactly like them, down to the last vocal nuance and twiddly guitar bit. Now, I like Queensrÿche, or rather, I like '80s Queensrÿche, when they still wrote great material and didn't pander to the prevailing 'heavier or lighter' ethos, where the bulk of what would once have been just heavy rock bands had to decide whether to go the Metallica or Bon Jovi route. Talk about the devil or the deep blue sea... Grim days, the '80s; even most of what little prog was being made sucked. Queensrÿche somehow managed to persuade people, not least the cloth-eared record company brigade, that intelligent, thoughtful hard rock was a viable career option and for a while, they were right. It seems to me that hard rock always had two kinds of audience: the blokes who worked in factories and the chemistry students; Queensrÿche managed to capture the latter. All of which is absolutely no excuse for another outfit to rip their signature sound off blind a decade later. I mean, what's the point? I'm not making any great claims of originality on Queensrÿche's behalf (they began as a straight amalgam of Priest and Maiden, the latter themselves influenced by Halford's Heroes), but to churn out a straight copy, minus the great songs, seems wilfully stupid.
Enough bitching about why Steel Prophet are a waste of time. 1999's Dark Hallucinations and 2001's marginally better Book of the Dead have credits for 'Mellotron', to which I say, "You have to be joking". The former has no more than some vague string sounds on a few tracks, although the latter manages a few Mellotronlike string chords on Anger Seething, plus a couple of other possible parts, but this doesn't sound to me like a band who hauled an M400 into their studio because they love the crankiness of an original machine. This sounds like a band who own an eMu Vintage Keys, or at best, Roland's Vintage Synth module and sensibly keep its grotty approximations well in the background most of the time. Saying this, I'll probably get an irate e-mail from the band saying a) the Mellotron's real, and b) why have you slagged us off?
I'll freely admit that I don't listen to a lot of modern metal and Steel Prophet are a perfect illustration as to why. I'm not saying that originality is a must; I listen to stacks of fairly derivative prog, but most bands manage to put at least a little of themselves into what they're doing and not just slavishly ape someone else's sound, hook, line and sinker. I wouldn't mind quite so much if the songs were good, but they're not. I'm sure there's a market for Steel Prophet, but it's not one where I buy my fruit and veg. p.s. Amusingly, guitarist/mainman Steve Kachinsky HAS written to me, chiefly to say that he hates Queensrÿche and they've never been an influence. Strange... He was very gracious about me slagging their albums, too, while confirming that the 'Mellotron' is definitely sampled.
Stephanie's Id (originally stephaniesĭd; they've used several spelling variants, largely due to finding themselves mis-spelt as Stephanie's ID) are a 'pop-noir' outfit with a rotating lineup from North Carolina, led by Stephanie Morgan and her husband, Chuck Lichtenberger. Their second full album, 2007's Grus Americanus, starts well, but this listener quickly tired of their schtick, which is probably more due to his failings than theirs; as a result, its best tracks appear to be clustered near the beginning, notably opener Wash Us Down With Sea Saline and the (relatively) raucous Blue. Collaborator Vic Stafford is credited with Mellotron, but the cellos on Blue and Unmistakably Love don't sound especially authentic to these ears. Pre-M-Tron, sample sets were usually limited to the basic strings/flutes/choir, but now you can access pretty much anything (did I hear some brass at one point?); saying all that, it's probably real... Anyway, while mildly diverting in places, I'm afraid this failed to grab me in any meaningful way (so to speak).
Cactus Versus Brezel is an intentionally cheap-sounding electronica/synthpop album, complete with intoned French female vocals and robotic rhythms. File under 'retro synth music'. Brezel Göring's 'Mellotron'? I can only assume they mean the stupendously-obviously sampled strings on closer We Don't Wanna Dance. Top marks for shittiest samples ever.
Frontman for the recently reformed Grammatrain, Pete Stewart (collaborations include TobyMac), released his eponymous debut solo album in 1999. Unsurprisingly, it treads the same Christian alt.rock path as his band, making for an uninspired, yet not completely awful album that largely drifts by without ever really impinging itself on the (or at least, this) listener. Stewart allegedly plays Mellotron on Don't Underestimate, but I'd be amazed if the weedy string part with which the song is blighted emanated from a genuine machine. So; dull, albeit with a thankfully low-key Christian message. Amusingly, it seems that Stewart is now an ex-botherer, so Grammatrain are having to attract a secular audience. Good luck, guys...
After US prog great white hopes Echolyn split in the mid-'90s (what happens when you trust a major label), three members, Brett Kull (vocals/guitar), Paul Ramsey (drums) and Ray Weston (vocals/bass) formed a power trio, Still, releasing one album, 1997's Always Almost. It's barely 'progressive' at all, whatever you might take that to mean, being more a psychedelic heavy blues effort, better tracks including Loveless and Calculated Truth, although nothing here really stands out. Incidentally, the last track, the bizarre, folky drinking ballad Sometimes I Drink Too Much is listed as a 'bonus', but since there wasn't a version without it, I'm not quite sure what's supposed to be 'bonus' about it. John Avarese plays piano, accordion and Mellotron, supposedly, although the strings on Calculated Truth barely even sound like samples, let alone a real one, highlighted by the solo section at the end of the song. Mellotron? Actually, guys, that's taking the piss. Anyway, a reasonable release, though not even remotely as good as Echolyn's work. Incidentally, the band changed their name to Always Almost (confusing, eh?), releasing God Pounds His Nails later the same year, featuring Avarese's samples again.
After reaching the public ear via his membership of State Radio, Chadwick Stokes Urmston kicked off his solo career with Simmerkane II. A kind of indie/Americana/singer-songwriter effort, its main failing is a lack of consistency, although better tracks include opener Adelaide, Back To the Races and Spider And Gioma. Peter Adams plays rather un-Chamberlinic 'Chamberlin' flute lines on Crowbar Hotel and Spider And Gioma.
Kaipa's young guitarist, Roine Stolt, was still only in his late thirties in the early '90s, when he decided to have a second stab at the progressive scene, after years of reputedly dodgy albums. Then again, who didn't release dodgy albums in the '80s? Suggestions on the back of a used banknote to the usual address. The Flower King, on top of naming his new band, was a fine return from one of Sweden's major progressive talents, containing at least one song (its title track) that was to stay in The Flower Kings' set for years. Actually, in retrospect, it's rather less exciting than it seemed at the time, though there's some decent enough material on board, not least the first of many, many epics Stolt was to write over the succeeding decade, Humanizzimo (with its outrageous Yes 'borrowings'), also in early Flower Kings' sets.
I didn't know for a while whether or not the 'Mellotron' on the album was real, although after lending the band my own machine for a UK gig back in '99, I was assured that they'd never used anything but samples, so the same is very likely to be true for solo Stolt. Strings and/or choirs on most tracks, with some flutes, tastefully used, unlike some other sample users I could name, who just slap the things all over their records like (to quote my friend Doug) 'an ill-fitting wig'. If you want to know what all the fuss is about with Stolt/The Flower Kings. this isn't a bad place to start, though don't go expecting anything like the other early-'90s Swedish prog explosion outfits (Änglagård/Anekdoten/Landberk). Nice (fake) 'Tron, too.
Stolt spent the next few years spitting out huge chunks of Flower Kings music, not finding the time to record another solo album until '98's Hydrophonia. Given that The Flower Kings' work was already on the slide by this point, I'm amazed to find that much of the album is wonderful, uplifting instrumental prog, especially closer Seafood Kitchen Thing. In fact, apart from a couple of slightly dull pieces around the middle of the album, this is actually very good indeed, although possibly not consistent enough to grab a full four stars. Plenty of 'Tron samples on the album; not just the standard strings, flutes and choirs, but also brass on Wreck of HMS Nemesis, so worth it if you want to hear more of The Beast without caring whether or not it's real. Roine concentrated on the Flower Kings (oh, and Transatlantic...) for the next few years, finally releasing his third solo album proper, Wall Street Voodoo, in 2005. And it... sucks. A horrendously overlong double-disc set, it largely consists of long, boring blues-rock jams with the odd progressive styling thrown in to keep his regular audience happy, with the occasional bit of pseudo-'Tron on most tracks. This really is an album you want to avoid, having none of the charm of Stolt's earlier work. Run away, fast.
Kelley Stoltz is a lo-fi San Francisco-based singer-songwriter with an environmental bent - he 'offset' the electricity used to record his first Sub Pop release, 2006's Below the Branches. Said album is reminiscent, in places, of Brian Wilson and other pre-psych '60s songwriters, the Bowie-esque The Sun Comes Through probably being the most interesting thing here, although he gets the phrase 'barometric pressure' into Winter Girl. We get faux-Mellotron strings on Memory Collector, although that seems to be it on the fake 'Tron front. Not a bad effort, then, although Stoltz's lo-fi approach may deter some listeners.
Although Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt have worked together on several projects since 2001, Storm Corrosion are their first full-blown musical collaboration. Recorded in 2011 and released the following year, Storm Corrosion caught many fans of the pair on the hop, its dark orchestrations having more in common with Scott Walker and Talk Talk than any of their previous work, even Opeth's all-acoustic Damnation. Attempting to isolate highpoints is fairly futile, as not only are there no real dips, but the album is clearly intended to be listened to as a whole, although Lock Howl might be fans' first port of call. On the samplotron front, we get distinctly sampled-sounding choirs on Drag Ropes and strings on Hag and (particularly overtly, with inauthentic pitchbend) Lock Howl. Unsurprisingly, a little sampled Mellotron is no reason to buy this album; its invention and breadth of vision, however, are.
Will Stratton was all of eighteen when he recorded What the Night Said in 2005, although it didn't gain a release for another two years. I hate to say this, as he seems extremely sincere, but it's a terribly dull modern singer-songwriter effort, better (i.e. less irritating) tracks including Oh Quiet Night and the harmonium-fuelled Sunol, but nothing here's likely to excite fans of, say, Nick Drake, of whom Stratton is quite the fan. Stratton is credited with Mellotron, but did he really have access to one? The chordal flute parts on opener Katydid and Sonnet suggest not, frankly, being too clean for their own good. I've actually heard a lot worse than What the Night Said; Stratton lacks that appalling habit of suddenly breaking into a 'heartfelt' falsetto, which has gained this a good half star, but it's still somewhat on the wet side.
Strawbs (UK) see:
Einar Stray Orchestra's third album, 2014's Politricks, is a largely unappealing halfway house between post-rock and modern indie, combining the worst features of both genres. Is there a best track? Possibly the a capella For The Country, chiefly due to its total lack of droning instrumentation. Mellotron? Hasse Rosbach is credited on Montreal and Qualia, but I can't even hear samples.
Stroppy remind me of The Dresden Dolls in general and Amanda (Gaiman) Palmer specifically, in their twisted cabaret approach to music-making. Well, you just knew that something called Pipi & Margo Go to the Graveyard wasn't going to be your average singer-songwriter effort, didn't you? In a burst of honesty, Margo Lauritzen credits herself with M-Tron, sticking mournful strings all over opener Helicopter.
Memphis session man Mark Edgar Stuart writes intensely personal songs which he then records in a style I'd describe as 'old-school Americana'. His second, 2015's Trinity My Dear, covers several bases, from oddball, baritone sax-driven opener Ms. America through the pedal-steel country of Wasted to the electric Myra Gale, complete with slightly misplaced Clavinet. Best track? Maybe Joe Is Enough, although I Was So Crazy runs it a close second. Al Gamble is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on We Were In Bloom don't convince, I'm afraid. This is a pretty decent record, if perhaps slightly too eccentric for the mass market. Then again, I doubt whether Stuart really has his eye on a mainstream audience, although I can't imagine that he (or any of us, for that matter) would object to the sales.
In their eponymous debut, Submarine Silence have made what must be the most heavily Genesis-influenced album I've heard in a very long time; the opening solo piano piece, The Door, is played on a Banksian Yamaha CP70, and David Cremoni's acoustic work is Hackett to a T, although his electric playing has unfortunate elements of Marillion's Steve Rothery in places. Even the cover's painted by sometime Genesis sleeve designer Paul Whitehead. Submarine Silence is entirely instrumental, which neatly sidesteps 'dodgy vocalist syndrome', not to mention the language problem, as in 'which one to sing in?'. Despite its all-too obvious influences, this really is rather good, although it's not really what you'd call a challenging listen. Cristiano Roversi (better known as keyboard man with Moongarden) is credited with 'Mellotron', though I've now had it confirmed that it's samples from EMU's Vintage Keys; they're too smooth and consistent, and some of those hanging notes are held way past the eight-second limit. Loads of it, anyway, with several lush string intros, and bits of flute and choir work scattered throughout for good measure. Actually, I think 'lush' is the watchword here, so don't go expecting any dissonance; hey, the reformed Van der Graaf have just put an album out if you want that... So; very nice indeed, if a tad unoriginal. Given that the band were apparently put together by Mellow's boss to record tracks for their Genesis tribute album, should we be surprised?
Adrian "Nikki Sudden" Godfrey formed legendary post-punk crew The Swell Maps in the '70s with his brother Kevin ("Epic Soundtracks"), going on to work with a slew of other artists, not least members of The Waterboys, The Barracudas, R.E.M. and even the Stones. He also released the better part of twenty albums in around as many years during his prolific solo career, before his untimely death in early 2006, a few months before his fiftieth birthday. 2004's Treasure Island appears to be his last album released during his lifetime, a collection of rock'n'roll and country-influenced material recorded over an eighteen-month period over the preceding two years, highlights including the raucous rock'n'roll of opener Looking For A Friend, the balladic Stay Bruised and the title track. Although John A. Rivers is credited with Mellotron on Sanctified, the string line on the track (heard unaccompanied at the end) is quite clearly nothing of the sort, so scratch this one.
2006's The Truth Doesn't Matter was completed shortly before Sudden's death (which was, with excruciating irony, quite sudden), written and performed in a decidedly similar vein to its predecessor. Best tracks? Opener (again) Seven Miles, the marvellous Green Shield Stamps' very British nostalgia, Jet Star Groove and the acoustic The Price Of Nails, amongst others. Sudden is credited with Mellotron on The Ballad Of Johnny And Marianne, but, once again, it's clearly fake. It comes as no surprise (to myself, at least) that a Nikki Sudden collaborator, Dave Kusworth, has also played with the 'none more rock'n'roll' Dogs D'Amour, although, going by these two albums, Sudden was more about the song than the bandanna/eyeliner/attitude. Or, it would seem, the Mellotron. R.I.P., Nikki.
At nigh-on seventy-five minutes, Sugarfoot's Big Sky Country is actually two albums thrown together, a lightweight country record and a country-rock one, the tracks sequenced to display their versatility. It doesn't start well, but Safe As Houses is vastly better than the first two tracks, a kind of country/powerpop crossover with hints of prog (!) about it, while Dolphins [sic] Hotel channels Neil Young, other better material including A Horse Called Your Love and Byrdsian closer My Friend. Motorpsycho's Bent Sæther is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Lady Waltz really aren't. An album of two halves, then.
Sula Bassana are yet another of Dave Schmidt's psychedelic projects (Liquid Visions, Zone Six), this one sailing closer to the trippier end of Hawkwind than the others. Sula Bassana is actually the nom de plume Schmidt goes under for the project, but it seems to make more sense to file them under 'S' than 'B', so here they are. Dreamer appears to be his/their first album under this name and is a pleasing amalgam of tripped-out jams and the 'rock' part of 'space rock', mixed with a little electronica. Top track? Probably the lengthy Ananda, but there's no slackers here. Schmidt allegedly plays Mellotron, but the major string part on the title track with the suspiciously long choir chord at the end and the strings on Baby Blue Shuffle In D Major sound a bit forced, shall we say. Samples so heavily suspected that this goes here until/if I should find out otherwise.
2006's Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band Vol. 1 is quite possibly actually Vol. 1 by Sula Bassana & the Nasoni Pop Art Experimental Band; it's hard to tell. Anyway, a rather lesser album than Dreamer, at least to my ears, droning on for ages without ever really going anywhere. Doubtless the point. Anyway, the credited 'Tron strings on The Terrascrew and phased strings and choir on Daydreams both sound fake as hell, particularly the former, hurling this into this section without passing 'Go' or receiving £200. Many years on and Disappear/Waves appears in 2014, split with 3AM, so actually only twenty minutes of Sula Bassana. Their contributions aren't bad, but 3AM's Waves is the most original piece here, drum-free, based around the rhythm supplied by a delay unit. Samplotron on one Bassana track, with choirs and cellos (spot the double bass note) on Smoof. 2015's Live at Roadburn Festival 2014 chronicles a blistering set, showing the band at their coruscating best over a fifty-minute set. Not a lot of samplotron, only upfront strings on Dark Days. Best SB album yet?
Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want hail from the same set of home recording sessions, so can, essentially, be viewed as a double album. Home recording? No shit. Thankfully, Sultan can (just about) play the drums, but the playing, production (such as it is) and overall vibe are determiedly low-fi, for better or (probably) worse. There's definitely an audience for this stuff, but it doesn't include me. Cole Alexander's credited with Mellotron on both releases, but there's precisely jack shit on the first, with no more than obvious samplotron strings on Party Crasher on the second, which also, amusingly, opens exactly like (The) Status Quo's 1968 hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men, the song for which, bemusingly, they're still best-known in the States.
Sum 41 are possibly Canada's top entry in the pop/punk stakes, releasing their first album in 2001, '04's Chuck being their third. I suppose it does what it does well enough, but it's pretty derivative; Some Say sounds like an Oasis outtake, while The Bitter End rips Metallica something rotten, never mind all the ones I didn't spot. Are there any 'best tracks? Possibly 88, but the bulk of the album falls a bit flat, I'm afraid. Vocalist/guitarist Deryck "Biz" Whibley is credited with Mellotron, but if the faint, time-stretched strings on Pieces and 88 come from a real machine, I'll be stunned. So, not so much a disappointment, as a 'what I expected', both on the musical and (non-)Mellotronic fronts.
Going by Bewildered, Terry O'Hara's dark indie/folk project Summer-Winter make the kind of records where the first two or three tracks are quite a tonic, until boredom sets in. This has its moments, notably Americana opener Yer Dead and Drink Till The Drinking, but its overly-downbeat approach ground this listener down well before the end. O'Hara's credited with Mellotron, but the solo flutes that open Out Of Reach really give the sample game away, also heard on TV Glare, Drink Till The Drinking and others.
Sun City are an Australian powerpop outfit, occasionally crossing over into a more mainstream pop/rock thing on their eponymous 2013 album, at its best on New World and People In The Seventies, maybe. Casey Diiorio plays samplotron flutes on None Of This Is Happening and People In The Seventies.
Den Lyckliges is your standard wet singer-songwriter guff, Swedish division, at its least bad on Ett Enda Ord Är Mitt. Fredrik Jonsson's 'Mellotron'? Inaudible.
Irish/American (as against Irish-American) duo Sunflow's remit is to make 'music for parents and children to enjoy together', the end result being a sweet singer-songwriter album, typified by the deeply McCartney-esque Eve's Lullaby (My Little One). What could've been no more than a twee experiment is actually oddly affecting. Job done. Duncan Maitland plays Chamberlin samples, with strings and cellos on Daisies And Orchids, with more cello on Goodnight.
Sunny Day Real Estate are apparently 'Emo', which is nothing to do with legendary weirdo Emo Phillips, although it might be a lot more fun if it was. 2000's The Rising Tide was their last album (of four), and is a properly insipid piece of bilge, I have to say. I can't really find anything nice to say about this wuss-fest, so I won't even bother trying. Maybe it's that I've heard worse. Mind you, haven't you always heard worse? Bassist/frontman Jeremy Enigk allegedly plays Mellotron, although aside from the two tracks with credited strings, all I can hear is the odd not-very-Mellotronic string part that could, at a pinch, be samples. I suppose it could, technically, be a real Mellotron, but I rather doubt it. Please don't bother buying this record either way.
Rather appropriately, Sunshine Collective play cheery sunshine pop, clearly designed for 'family listening', if not exclusively for kids. Not my bag in the slightest, but they do it well. Brian Arbuckle is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with vaguely Mellotronic brass here and there, notably on Fun Fun Fun (not that one, sadly), plus definite strings, with more of the same on A Thousand Notable Things and flutes on Interlude and is that Mellotron piano on Together? All obviously sampled, to no-one's surprise.
Sunshine Fix are ex-Olivia Tremor Controller Bill Doss' new band, although he used the name prior to the formation of the OTC. It would be fair to say they have a distinctly psychedelic sound, although they're far from purist sixties-heads, with more than a nod towards the OTC's Atlanta, Georgia scene, alongside Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo et al. Their first 'proper' album (ignoring a pre-OTC cassette, later reissued on CD), Age of the Sun, is a charming pot-pourri of psychedelia from various eras, top tracks including the title track, Everything Is Waking and Digging To China, although the only really irritating track is the strange, 20-minute disc filler Le Roi-Soleil, which seems a rather pointless way to finish the album. Doss plays what I take to be samplotron, with flutes on Hide In The Light, Sail Beyond The Sunset and Cycles Of Time, although the mess of instrumentation on 72 Years makes its credited 'Tron' not obviously audible. Their follow-up, Green Imagination, is perfectly good, but unlike some other contemporary psych acts, it somehow failed to really grab me, although maybe it will several plays down the line? Only one obvious 'Tron' track (from Doss), with somewhat background flutes on Rx, although it's possible that the background sounds on a couple of other tracks are also 'Tron-generated. Overall then, not bad, not great, not much 'Mellotron'.
Susanna Karolina Wallumrød is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, whose debut album, 2007's Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, has a certain quiet beauty about it, while simultaneously being so relentlessly downbeat that, after the first few songs, listening to it actually becomes a bit of a chore. I really don't like to say this, as her transparent, open-hearted honesty should be applauded, but when an album becomes hard work... I'm not asking her to suddenly throw a polka into the mix, but after a while, a dozen very similar tracks begin to sound... very similar. Motorpsycho's Helge Sten plays 'Mellotron' on Better Days, but if the background flutes and strings on the track have anything to do with a real machine, I'll be stunned. So; an album to bring out your inner depressive, although a track or two at a time can be quite uplifting, in a strange kind of way.
Michael Gira reformed New York noiseniks Swans in 2010, 2014's To Be Kind being the second coming's third release. As a non-fan, I find it difficult to even attempt to describe the two-hour album. Ambient punk? Psychedelic post-rock? Quiet noise? Some of the material (opener Screen Shot, A Little God In My Hands) make at least some kind of musical sense, but the 34-minute Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture really is only for hardened fans of Gira's unique worldview, I feel, which isn't to denigrate the music, merely to state that I don't understand it. Since Gira collaborator and supposed Mellotron player Bill Rieflin plays keys on the album, it seems likely that he provides the Mellotronic choirs to be heard on the closing title track. However... Not only are Rieflin's previous 'Mellotron' credits potentially bogus, but it really doesn't sound like a real machine's been employed here. Correct me if I'm wrong... Anyway, one for Swans fans of the old school, but probably few others.
Nothing to do with ex-Stryper buffoon Michael Sweet, Mikey Sweet's The North King is a very acceptable country-rock release, probably at its best on the breezy Americana of Bethany and closer Guitar Mike Robenson. Paul McNamara plays obvious samplotron flutes on opener Let It Go.
Speaking as A Man Of A Certain Age, Taylor Swift means very little to me, unsurprisingly. Turns out she began as a country singer, quickly shifting into a country-inflected R&B/pop area, which, combined with her 'confessional' lyrics, has made her a superstar, largely amongst young women. Red (is she aware of King Crimson, I wonder?) is her fourth album, a typical mainstream pop release, with occasional oddities thrown in, chiefly the ukulele-driven Stay Stay Stay; super-pro, yet near-unlistenable to anyone used to music with more substance. Still, it isn't aimed at us, is it? Once again (see: The Starfolk), someone else called Andy Thompson is credited with Mellotron. Unlike my good self, however, he's clearly happy to use samples, particularly shitty flute ones in this case, on the Ed Sheeran (aargh!) collaboration Everything Has Changed.
Swirlies are apparently often compared to the UK's My Bloody Valentine, but going by their first full album, 1993's Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, they're nothing more exciting than rowdy indie, occasionally descending into noise. I know this kind of stuff's popular in certain quarters, but they're not the quarters I inhabit, so I don't mind saying, 'I don't get it'. Although both the band's guitarists, Damon Tutunjian and Seana Carmody, are credited with 'Moog synthesizer and Mellotron', I can quite honestly say that I didn't hear a note of 'Tron across the entire album. I'm not saying it isn't there, only that I couldn't hear it. It may well be buried in some of the album's washes of noise, but it could just be Moog, feedback or something else entirely.
Which comes first, chicken or egg? David T. Dewdney is best known 'round these parts for running an EM label and for kindly reviewing Edgar Froese's Mellotronic output for this site some years ago. However, it turns out that he's a renowned synthesist himself, releasing albums as Syn (ho ho), mostly solidly in the 'Berlin School' style (i.e. heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream), the first of which is 2002's Soundwave Traveller. And it sounds like... a Berlin School album. Sorry, Dave, but I think I've exceeded my limit with mainstream EM; it's almost all good, but except to the hardcore fan, it's essentially all the same, which is why I give most albums ***½. Good, but entirely generic. As the sole musician, Dewdney plays (or sequences) the clearly sampled Mellotron himself, with the usual heavily echoed and/or reverbed strings, choirs and flutes across all three tracks, a choir chord on Freefall holding for a rather unfeasible several minutes, but there you go. The only 'unusual' (if unMellotronic) sound on the album comes nineteen minutes into Sonus (Part 3), where he suddenly uses the 'Leslied piano' effect from Pink Floyd's Echoes (you know the one), the difference being that it's s sampled piano and a Leslie emulator. Oh, and Pink Floyd did it first.
The following year's Thru the Syngate (Syngate being his new label) is, er, another Berlin School EM album, its one 'non-standard' track being Heart Of Orion (Edit), complete with ungeneric, quite startling crashes and overwhelming synth leads. Plenty of samplotron, natch, some of the choir chords again held forever, nice to hear but exceedingly inauthentic. Later the same year, however, Synphära is a minor revelation, plus points including the programmed percussion, the ghostly, spectral voices on Utopia Planitia and the Yamaha CP70 piano (or reasonable facsimile) on Olympus Mons, plus the usual samplotron. Very listenable indeed, sir. 2004's Sonus is a more reflective six-part single track, not actually rhythmless but never really breaking sweat, much of it sounding a little like the intro to Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond extended to full-disc length. Surprisingly little samplotron, too, the most overt part being the strings on the relatively short Part 6.
2005's Skyline is, essentially, another EM album, albeit one absolutely stuffed with sampled Mellotron. It'll come as no surprise that lengthy opener Mellotropica is a total sample-fest, led by strings - certainly Dewdney's most samplotron-heavy piece - while the other four tracks are no slackers, either. Nothing particularly new on the musical front, then, but an awful lot of samplotron. The following year's The Glass Bridge is an album of quiet beauty, at least on two of its three tracks. The title track is the most rhythmic thing here (also the track with the most samplotron use), while the half-hour Shadowfall is, as you might expect from its title, a dark, reflective piece (although never tipping over into discord), leaving the drifting Heart Of Orion as the album's best evocation of the interstellar reaches. Why is this man not soundtracking SF films, I ask?
I haven't heard Syn's 2007 offering, 61 Cygnus-Alpha (and any subsequent releases?), but Dewdney refuses to disappoint on the pure Berlin School front. Although I've rated two of his albums slightly more highly than the rest, they're all quality releases. Worth hearing.
The Syn were originally the otherwise little-known '60s outfit who gifted Chris Squire to Yes. They reformed in the early 2000s, initially with Squire, although, by their third release, 2009's Big Sky, they had, bizarrely, teamed up with Francis Dunnery. I hate to say this, but this is no more than mainstream pop/rock of a couple of decades back, like, I dunno, something by Sting? Or all the filler tracks from a modern Yes album, fittingly? A good (or, at least, representative) example is New Reality, which drags on for an excruciating seven minutes-plus, having outstayed its welcome after three. With three keyboard players credited, no idea who plays the samplotron. Tom Brislin? Anyway, background strings all over the opening title track, possible ones on Devils And Demons, flutes and strings on Mile and string section on the title track's closing reprise.
Danny Budts, a.k.a. Syndromeda, is a Belgian EM artist who crosses over into the New Age realm at time; his website has a section entitled 'relaxation with crystal singing bowls'. Hmmm. 2006's Last Days on Earth, is something like his tenth album (well, you know how it is with EM artists), mostly rhythm-free, although the sequencers kick in during closer Too Hot In Hell and do I detect a techno influence here and there? Budts adds a powerful fakeotron string part to The Sense and more background ones to Too Hot In Hell, but, as usual with samples, it's just another sound source, rather than a timbre that really stands out. One for genre fans then, but nothing that's likely to convert the unbeliever.