TCP (Temporal Chaos Project) are a new US East Coast progressive trio consisting of a vocalist, a bassist doubling on keys and a guitarist doubling on drums, which must make live performance interesting. They mix-and-match styles from across the years on their debut, 2009's The Way, with nods to Gentle Giant, King Crimson (especially the Discipline lineup), with elements of neo-prog and prog metal thrown in for good measure, although they seem to've synthesized their own style out of their influences, which is always welcome. Like so many similar, the album's chief failing is its length: over seventy minutes of music is quite a stretch, especially for a new, untried outfit. I'm sure the band just wanted to record everything they'd written, but a little self-censorship might've made this a better record. The 'Mellotron' is pretty sampled-sounding, to be honest, with strings on most tracks and flutes and choirs appearing here and there (notably on I'm Me), to the point where they could actually have used it rather less and it would've made more impression (a common mistake made by bands suddenly given free reign with a sample set). Overall, then, recommended to progressive fans looking for something new, although bear in mind that TCP have a distinctly American sound to them, not least in the vocal department.
TM Network are mostly known as a J-pop, or synthpop outfit, although their tenth album, 2000's Major Turn-Round, has more of a progressive influence (note Roger Dean-esque lettering), especially in its three-part, half hour-plus title track, a bona-fide prog classic in its own right, although other tracks (notably closer Cube) operate in the same general area. Major Turn-Round itself is fabulous, switching between symphonic, almost prog-metal and synth-heavy sections without losing sight of the piece's overall pattern, and all almost unknown to the prog community at large. Tetsuya Komuro plays 'Mellotron', although the too-even strings and murky, effected choirs on the title track are almost certainly sampled. While the album has some less essential moments, the title track and a couple of others make this well worth a purchase for the discerning prog fan looking for something new.
Taake, who appear to be synonymous with a chap calling himself Hoest, play black metal, although a reviewers' consensus seems to be that they're more 'metal' than 'black'; I mean, you can even hear the bass. What's the world coming to, eh? Actually, 2011's Noregs Vaapen is a surprisingly tuneful effort, much of its content based more on old-school metal than the less listenable varieties that have emanated from Scandinavia over the last decade or three, although Hoest's cookie monster vocals have the standard negative effect on the non-fan. As every other online review has noted, the album's chief surprise is the banjo solo in Myr, but it's far from its only notable feature, the same going for the guest spots awarded to several other 'names' from the genre. Bjoernar E. Nilsen supposedly plays Mellotron on two tracks, although the high-end solo strings part on Fra Vadested Til Vaandesmed is far too smooth to be real, while whatever's meant to be on Myr is entirely inaudible. All in all, then, a surprisingly decent release from a usually deservedly maligned genre, although that very silly sleeve will put off all but the BM faithful.
Craig Taborn is chiefly known as a jazz pianist, although he's dabbled in the ambient and techno fields, amongst others. 2004's Junk Magic is his third solo album in a decade, shifting between his preferred styles, often combining them within tracks; the opening title track is mostly manic piano, violin and beats, Shining Through is rather more relaxed, while Bodies At Rest And In Motion is a smörgåsbord of jazz, avant-garde and electronica elements, the almost rhythmless programmed percussion subverting itself beautifully. Closer The Golden Age features Taborn on very sampled 'underwater' Mellotron strings, but you're hardly going to buy this for their inclusion. Avant-garde jazzers and cut-up merchants should apply, while the rest of us should probably exercise a little caution. Incidentally, I don't know if Taborn's sample use here affects the veracity of his Mellotron work on David Torn's Prezens.
Once upon a long time ago, Andy Tillison helmed Gold, Frankincense + Disk-Drive, a sort of avant-indie-prog band in existence during prog's darkest hour (the late '80s, natch). GFDD morphed into Parallel or 90 Degrees, a more overtly Van Der Graaf/Hammill-orientated outfit, although GFDD's final, cassette-only offering (later reissued as a Po90° album) was entitled No More Travelling Chess, a set of VdGG/Hammill covers, including the cataclysmic Ronceveaux, only ever previously available as a rough VdGG rehearsal recording. The Tangent began as a Po90° side-project, the core being Tillison and Guy Manning, although they seem to consume most of Tillison's energies, with a seven-year gap between Po90° releases.
Their first album, 2003's The Music That Died Alone, is essentially a Tillison solo album, guests including Manning, Po90°'s Sam Baine, three of The Flower Kings, including the ridiculously prolific Roine Stolt and none other than (pre-reformation) VdGG sax god David Jackson/Jaxon. The album consists of three 'suites' and a standalone piece, each with a completely different feel: In Darkest Dreams has to be one of the finest retro-prog pieces I've heard in some time, The Canterbury Sequence (unsurprisingly) is a pastiche of/tribute to Hatfield & the North and their ilk, Up-Hill From Here is a rather ordinary 'modern prog' effort, whilst the title track lets Tillison indulge his Van der Graaf fantasies to the full, Jackson blasting away on soprano sax. To be honest, however, the album slumps gently as it progresses (ho ho), despite its not outrageous length, docking it half a star. There's actually very little fakeotron on the album, with naught but choirs on the fourth part of In Darkest Dreams, In Dark Dreams and strings on part seven, A Sax In The Dark, giving it a very low 'virtual 'Tron' rating.
They followed up with 2004's even better The World That We Drive Through (surely The World Through Which We Drive, chaps? Come on, grammar, grammar!), just tipping over into four-star status. The title track's the best thing here; you know those prog tracks that you just know are going to become firm favourites? Yep, one of them, complete with a beautiful 'repeat sequence on several different instruments' bit at one point. Tillison's still overdoing the Hammillisms (particularly on A Gap In The Night), but he's been doing so for so long I doubt if he's going to stop now, so it's really hardly worth mentioning, so I shan't do so again. Speaking of grammar, I think that's quite enough 'so's in one sentence. The samplotron only crops up here and there, its main use on the original release being the flutes on the title track. Oh, and if you get the bonus track version, Exponenzgesetz is a near-quarter hour electronic piece, probably not worth the effort, other than being the repository for the expanded version's chief samplotron use, with frequent choir interjections.
2005's Pyramids & Stars is their first, slightly premature live album, the band tackling some of their best epic material on stage in Germany. As far as I can work out, they stick fairly closely to the studio versions (I don't pretend to be au fait enough with their material to say for sure), deviations including a crafty organ quote from Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on The Winning Game and a jazzy improv section in In Darkest Dreams. As with many such efforts in the prog field, live versions can actually be inferior to studio ones (the reverse tends to be true at the heavier end of the spectrum, I find), so I'd have to say that this one's not your best entrée to The Tangent, the whole not being helped by a largely pointless version of ELP's slushy Lucky Man. Very little samplotron, either, in keeping with their studio work. To be perfectly honest, I found 2006's A Place in the Queue rather less engaging than The Tangents' earlier work, although it definitely has its moments, including chunks of the album's two full-on epics, opener In Earnest and the closing title track. Less sure about the jazzy Lost In London and parts of The Sun In My Eyes, but that's merely one man's opinion. Variable levels of samplotron, although the strings near the beginning and end of Follow Your Leaders are definites, as are the strings and choir drifting in and out of the lengthy title track, with extra parts on some of the contents of the limited bonus disc, not least the choirs on Kartoffelsalat Im Unterseeboot.
2007's double live Going Off on One gives its audience exactly what it expects: a live Tangent album, tracks played pretty much as per studio versions, even if the lineup isn't the same. I would like to point out at this juncture that Tillison reminds me vaguely of Mike Scott of The Waterboys in places; I've no idea whether or not he'll be impressed by that. It's... a decent enough live album, with two encore covers stuck on the end, a too-slow 21st Century Schizoid Man and a superb America (West Side Story/The Nice, not Yes). Plenty of samplotron, sounding to me as if they're replicating all the studio parts. The following year's double-disc (why do all these albums have to be so LONG?) Not as Good as the Book is another curate's egg; mostly excellent lyrics, sometimes very good music, all too often acres of filler. It picks up on disc two's mere two tracks; Four Egos, One War is the best thing here and The Full Gamut probably the second, but (as pretty much always) the whole thing would be improved by some serious editing. Not an awful lot of that ol' samplotron, although it crops up here and there, notably on Four Egos, One War.
2009's Down & Out in Paris & London is, like much of Tillison's hero Peter Hammill's work, possibly stronger lyrically than musically, which isn't to say it's a bad album by a long chalk. Highlights include Perdu Dans Paris and the unsurprisingly Canterbury-esque Ethanol Hat Nail (Canterbury Sequence Vol. 2), although, as ever, there's rather too much music here for the album's own good. Medium levels of samplotron, notably a major flute part on The Wiki Man, but you're most unlikely to buy The Tangent's album for that reason, I'd have said. 2011's COMM is a concept piece on the subject of communication and how technology has aided it immeasurably, which means, once again, shedloads of lyrics supported by a plethora of progressive styles, from classic symphonic through Spock's Beard-esque 'modern prog' to fusion, both American and Canterbury schools. And is it just me, or is this the band's best album since The World That We Drive Through? Somehow, despite its length (their shortest in years, though) and rather clunky lyrics, the album seems to hang together better than their more recent efforts, with plenty of samplotron to boot.
2013's Le Sacre du Travail is a five-part concept based around Western capitalism's obsession with wage-slavery, replete with multiple British cultural references from the '70s and '80s (the Rush bit's a favourite 'round these parts), all wrapped up in some of the best music the band have yet written. The 'bonus' tracks consist of a radio edit of part five of the concept, a short, unrelated track and a minute-long punk blast titled Hat, from a school gig by some of the members from 1979. Purpose? Dunno, but it amused me, at least. Not that much samplotron this time round, with various string and flute parts scattered unobtrusively across the album and a major string part on Muffled Epiphany.
Taras Bulba (named for the Gogol novel and/or its 1962 film) were the German ambient duo of Tom Redecker and Robin Carrs, the latter seemingly a pseudonym for the now sadly late Volker Kahrs, better known (at least around these parts) as keys man "Mist" from Grobschnitt. To my knowledge, 1993's Sketches of Babel was their debut, a partially intriguing mix of prog, electronic, ambient and dance-lite (that's the less intriguing bit), better tracks including gentle, proggy opener Span Holovand, the orchestralish The Time Has Come (the brief first part of The Moonblood Suite) and Dance Of The Fisherman's Wife, which bears faint comparison with what The Enid were doing at the same time. Carrs/Kahrs is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Span Holovand and Barune (Mystic Fog) and vaguely Mellotronic strings here and there all sound sampled to my ears, despite the lack of easily-available samples in the early '90s. Are those flutes from Grobschnitt's old Novatron? Possible, but I doubt it. Overall, an album of two halves, really, the quieter stuff working better to my ears.
The two Chip Taylor albums I've heard from the '70s are hokey, mainstream country of the period, making 2014's three-disc The Little Prayers Trilogy an absolute revelation. Taylor's careworn voice and sparse arrangements, allied to superb songwriting, make this the kind of country it's OK to like. Unable to decide whether to release the original demos or the full band (I use the phrase loosely) versions of the songs, all concerned decided to release everything, making for a three-disc, near-two hour set. The only downside to this manoeuvre is that nearly two hours of such mournful (if brilliant) material has a curiously depressing effect if listened to in one go, so; don't listen to it in one go. Goran Grini is credited with 'Mellotrons' (note the plural) on all three discs, but Ontario Crimes' high string note, sustained well past the eight-second limit, gives the sample game away. Strangely, some of the chordal string work sounds quite authentic, but I really doubt whether a genuine machine was used.
The Tea Party's second (but first widely available) album, 1993's Splendor Solis (****) and its follow-up, '95's The Edges of Twilight (*****) are masterclasses in how to produce gripping, original, epic-yet-tuneful hard rock in the '90s, avoiding the era's clichés (grunge, bands who forgot how to riff). At its best, their early material can probably be described as Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin playing Kashmir on a loop, Jeff Martin's basso profundo vocals riding over Arabesque riffs, the band's consummate musicianship and multi-instrumentality causing them to blow many a more popular act off stage (Queensrÿche spring to mind). 2001's The Interzone Mantras is the band's fifth widely-available album, following the rock/electronica of Transmission and Triptych, generally regarded as a successful cross between their two previous styles. As with everything the band ever did, there are no bad tracks, but The Master & Margarita, Lullaby, Cathartik and epic closer Mantra particularly stand out.
Although bassist/keyboardist Stuart Chatwood isn't specifically credited with Mellotron, there was a mention of one in an 'instruments used' list on one version of the band's ever-changing website, although the Mellotronic strings on The Master & Margarita and White Water Siren (and elsewhere?) sound sampled to my ears, sadly. Well, much as I hate to stick this in the effective quarantine of the 'samples' section, unless I'm given any definite information to the contrary... Great album, though, as is everything (to one extent or another) by the band. The good news is that after splitting in 2005, they're playing some Canadian dates this summer (2011). Come on, chaps, new album please...
Susan Tedeschi (hard 'ch') plays a blues/soul mix that clearly appeals to many people, although this particular reviewer is, sadly, not among them. I have to say, she's extremely good at what she does, but you really have to be into the style... For those who aren't, the Americana-tinged In The Garden might be considered the best track on 2002's Wait for Me, unless you're a Dylan fan, keen to hear another version of Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Noah Simon plays supposed Mellotron strings on 'Til I Found You, but only just, with naught but a few chords that could probably have been produced by almost anything, frankly. OK, not a kazoo. 2008's Back to the River is, essentially, more of the same, but with more of a spark to much of it, at least to my ears, tracks like opener Talking About and the title track working particularly well. Matt Slocum is credited with Mellotron on 700 Houses, but I can't imagine how it might be used, as it's totally inaudible. Why bother, eh?
Teeth of the Hydra (presumably named for a scene in Jason & the Argonauts, rather than the original Greek legend) are an American stoner/doom outfit who, in my opinion, would sound a great deal better if Matt Miner stopped growling and started singing. Their debut, 2006's Greenland, is a decent enough effort, the eleven-minute The Garden Of Rotten Teeth probably being its standout moment, although a shorter, tighter record might've got their message across more clearly. Adam Smith is credited with Mellotron, but I sincerely doubt that those distant, repeated string notes on Narsaq have anything to do with a real one. Overall, then, one for stoner metal types who don't object to the vocal style to which Teeth of the Hydra subject us. And I didn't mention Black Sabbath once.
Telestrion are a psychedelic hard rock outfit from Atlanta, GA, whose eponymous 2007 debut proves that while originality may be in short supply these days, the ability to take a handful of influences (Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, many long-forgotten early '70s bands) and turn them into something undeniably their own is alive and well. Telestrion opens with what has to be a tribute to The Wall, The One To Go's riff being, er 'heavily influenced' by In The Flesh, although any other direct cops are more subtle. The overall effect is of something you might've heard before, but never really listened to properly, highlights including Blue Sunshine, Middle Of Something and thirteen-minute epic Lost In The Sky (for sheer overkill value), while their version of Astronomy Domine is only beaten in the rock stakes by Voivod's cataclysmic reading. Andy Samford plays credited M-Tron (at last! An honest band!), with strings on Hiding From Knowing, a strings/brass mix on Half and flutes on Lost In The Sky, all to reasonable effect. Somehow, Telestrion's absurd length actually works to its advantage, unlike most overlong efforts, the riffs and solos flowing past like a particularly murky, polluted river. In a good kind of way, of course.
After a long wait (partially filled by several solo Samford releases), 2012's Molecule doesn't disappoint. Although it's (just) over thirty minutes long, the band are promoting it as an EP, which shows how much things have changed; Rainbow Rising is only a minute longer. Its six tracks all conspire to sound different to each other, certainly not always the case in this genre. The opening title track's pretty much what you'd expect (also the album's possible highlight), Tunnel In The Sky and Slightly Sideways are Hawkwind-esque instrumentals, the gently stoned Time And Space is nearly as good as Molecule itself and closer The Sacred Relics is a trippy jam, although the album's most unexpected track is their cover of oft-neglected Sabbath classic A National Acrobat. Not that much samplotron, to be honest, with strings on Slightly Sideways and Time And Space, Samford showing considerable restraint, all things considered.
Sébastien Tellier is a young French singer who approaches the concept of musical styles with a fluidity from which many hidebound artists could learn. 2001's L'Incroyable Vérité (The Incredible Truth) skips between genres at will, often within songs, throwing in bizarre touches like the super-distorted guitar on Kissed By You or the blood-curdling female screams on the last part of Trilogie Femme, Face Au Miroir (I'm not even going to bother translating that). Although there's 'Mellotron' strings and flutes (and a smattering of choirs) to be heard on Universe and Fantino, not only does it all sound a little too perfect, but Universe has a string note that holds not so much over the eight-second mark as nearer the minute mark. I think not. Anyway, a decent enough album at what it does, but all a bit Gallic for me, sadly.
In 2006, two young musicians met Stefano "Lupo" Galifi, vocalist with the legendary Museo Rosenbach, naming themselves Il Tempio delle Clessidre after the final section of the side-long title track from that band's 1973 release, Zarathustra. Unsurprisingly, 2010's Il Tempio delle Clessidre isn't as good as that jaw-dropper, but what is? It's actually a very good, '70s Italian prog-influenced release, stronger tracks including Insolita Parte Di Me, the dynamic L'Attesa and the excellent, lengthy Il Centro Sottile, my only (vague) complaint being that nearly an hour of such relatively complex music is slightly exhausting. Minor editing, please? Elisa Montaldo plays keys, including fairly poor Mellotron string and/or choir samples on most tracks (and flutes on Il Centro Sottile), although they do give a more '70s air to the proceedings, so yes, they work. Overall, then, an album that only missed getting four stars by the inclusion of a couple of weak tracks. Let's hope Il Tempio delle Clessidre (who, incidentally, also have an Ianva connection) get back in the studio soon for the second round. Well worth hearing.
Temples are a new British band from that centre of the rock'n'roll universe, Kettering, Northants. Their debut, 2014's Sun Structures, contains a sort-of indie/psych crossover; while far from classic, it's a vastly better proposition than the swathes of landfill indie that clog up the nation's charity shops. Starting well with the Byrdsian Shelter Song and the title track (straight out of 1966), the album takes a dip a few tracks in, becoming more of an indie record with psych influences than vice versa, sadly. Stronger tracks include Shelter Song, Colours To Life and gentle closer Fragment's Light, all wispy, late '60s vocals and strings, but, as with so many similar, the album could do with a good edit and a little tightening up all round. Adam Smith adds pretty ropey Mellotron samples to several tracks, not least the flutes on the title track and properly rubbish strings on The Golden Throne and Keep In The Dark. Y'know, chaps, if you want to use the sound, there are enough places that'll hire a real machine out for a couple of days... These crummy samples rather let the side down, although I realise that they're only one facet of the overall sound. So; not a bad effort, even if Noel Gallagher rates them. In fairness, he probably has more taste than talent.
Ariadna Thalía Sodi Miranda is a Mexican actress, Latin pop singer and former child star, whose 2013 release Viva Kids, Volumen 1, seems to be a kids' album. Its rock/pop moves are far less unpleasant than expected, although Amore Mio is your typical 'Latin pop for grownups' record. Our old buddy Armando Avila is credited with Mellotron on both, although the former's vaguely Mellotronic strings on El Piojo Y La Pulga and the latter's flutes on Sólo Parecía Amor are clearly nothing of the sort.
Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider, also the public face of the Elephant 6 collective (Ladybug Transistor, Of Montreal, etc.), has put together a completely non-psych, rocking outfit, Thee American Revolution, who seem to specialise in a kind of garage rock with, oh yeah, a slightly psychedelic edge. So I was wrong. Live with it. The chief impression you get while listening to Buddha Electrostorm is of a highly competent band playing deliberately way below their collective abilities for effect, although I'm sure the end result is the desired one, so what's the problem? Best tracks? Probably the raw feedback blast of Saturn Daze and Neil Young-ish closer In Your Dream/Japanese Clone, recounting Schneider's lonely adolescence and his first guitar (the 'Japanese clone'), which certainly struck a chord (ho ho) here. But what's with Grit Magazine and its Smoke On The Water rip, eh? Schneider's credited with Mellotron, but seemingly as with all Elephant 6 bands, fakery seems to be the order of the day; I mean, are those really supposed to be Mellotron strings on opener She's Coming Down, Blow My Mind and In Your Dream/Japanese Clone? Yeah, right. Anyway, garage rock from psych sophisticates, for what it's worth. Heard better, heard worse.
Based around founder John Dwyer, Thee Oh Sees (formerly The Oh Sees, so perhaps they should file under 'O') are a Bay Area garage outfit, although elements of punk and psychedelia, amongst other genres, are clearly present in their music. 2008's The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night in is the first album released under that exact nomenclature, although their seventh overall, a raucous effort, typified by opener Block Of Ice, the twisted rockabilly of Visit Colonel and Ghost In The Trees. Any highlights? Not as such; the album's pretty homogeneous, nothing standing out (at least to the non-fan) from anything else. Despite Dave Sitek's Mellotron credit, the flutes on Graveyard Drug Party are clearly sampled, if not merely flutes samples that have nothing to do with a Mellotron whatsoever.
Their thirteenth album in under a decade, 2011's Castlemania, is apparently their least freakout offering yet, actually consisting of recognisable songs, rather than jams with track markers inserted. Their overriding influence seems to be Syd's Floyd, their offbeat ditties to who-knows-what-or-whom sounding like Piper... outtakes, albeit without Barrett's genius, dragging on for what seems like far too long, despite the album's relative brevity. Despite a considerable Mellotron presence, I'd be amazed if it were real, to be honest. We get flutes on opener I Need Seed and Pleasure Blimp, tubular bells on Corprophagist (A Bath Perhaps), strings and cellos on Stinking Cloud, strings on Blood On The Deck, overt strings on Idea For Rubber Dog and similarly upfront flutes on The Horse Was Lost, so plenty of samplotron, if you're unbothered about the fakery. I'm sure there's a great album in Thee Oh Sees: unfortunately, this isn't it.
2014's Drop stays in psych territory, the band's garage past largely forgotten, it would seem. Better tracks include near-space rock opener Penetrating Eye, the lysergic King's Nose and Transparent World, overall, a definite step up from Castlemania. Dwyer and Chris Woodhouse are credited with Mellotron, but although the samples are better, they're still samples, with strings on Savage Victory, King's Nose and Transparent World and cellos on The Lens. The following year's Mutilator Defeated at Last seems to backslide somewhat, being similar to its immediate predecessor, yet also less interesting. In fairness, Withered Hand isn't bad, ditto Poor Queen and the acoustic Holy Smoke, but the bulk of the (admittedly very short) album seems to be retreading old ground, without adding to it in any meaningful way. Dwyer and Woodhouse's 'Mellotron', once again, isn't, being limited this time round to strings on Poor Queen and flutes on Holy Smoke.
Thieves Kitchen are a newish UK prog outfit, sadly cursed with the Modern Prog Syndrome, at least on their 2000 debut, Head, a.k.a. overly heavy guitar across the board, when a more subtle approach might make for a more varied and listenable end result. Spock's Beard are not the be-all and end-all of the genre, chaps... The only member of the band with any obvious track-record is drummer Mark Robotham, previously of the not-very-good Grey Lady Down, but to be fair, Thieves Kitchen sound little like them, although there are a few unfortunate musical neo- references here and there, particularly in the vocal department. Much of Thieves Kitchen's music has a fusionesque feel about it, giving them more in common with fellow Brits Sphere³ than anyone else, although Simon Boys', er, 'emotive' vocals (why?) change the emphasis considerably. There are some sublime moments on the album, not least one of the instrumental sections in The Return Of The Ultragravy, although it's overlong (again...), with far too much pointless noodling. Speaking of that track, what's with the crapola 'humour' plastered all over the CD? At least there's only one stupid 'joke' title (although I'm not sure I want to know what T.A.N.U.S. actually stands for...), but a couple of pictures in the booklet are completely unnecessary (put your tongue away, Robotham) and the album's title could be read as a tedious example of toilet humour at its worst, too. Good prog doesn't need bad jokes, gentlemen, so if that's what you aspire to...
German keys man Wolfgang Kindl does a pretty good job on the album, playing those jazzy chord inversions like a good'un, although it's quite clear that all his 'vintage' sounds are no more than that: sounds. OK, so he doesn't own any vintage kit, but the band must know owners of the real thing, not least Sphere³. Sad to say, all too many current bands, especially prog ones, seem to feel that samples and/or synth replications are perfectly acceptable recording tools. Live's another matter, but in the studio, use the best you can afford... Anyway, Kindl rather overuses his Mellotron string samples (source unknown) on all tracks, which is one of the biggest giveaways on the sample use front. They still sound more authentic than his 'Hammond', mind...
It would be easy to accuse the band of trying too hard on the following year's Argot and indeed, some of the instrumental sections (notably on closer Call To Whoever) are both endless and mildly pointless, but many of the band's fusion-informed chord and key changes can only bring a smile to the face of the jaded progressive fan. I have to say, despite the return on the unnecessary vocal front, this is a distinct improvement on the band's debut. Samplotron strings on all four tracks, but this time round, the sound isn't a major component of the band's keyboard arsenal, ironically making it sound more authentic. Two years on and Shibboleth sees a change at the mic, Amy Darby taking the lead vocal role and improving things all round. Musically, it's similar to its predecessor; the end of track five (of six), Chovihani Rise, sounds like the end of the album and probably should be. Why so long, guys? Too much of a good thing, I can tell you. We all love instrumental interplay, but not quite this much... Samplotron strings all round, excepting the piano-and-vocal Spiral Bound, the overly-sustained sound on De Profundis giving the sample game away.
Around 2007, the band hooked up with no lesser a Prog God than Thomas Johnson (hi, Thomas) from the mighty Änglagård, then studying in the UK, the resulting album, 2008's The Water Road, being their only genuine Mellotron album to date. After another lengthy disappearing act, the band reappeared in 2013 as the trio of Amy, Thomas and guitarist Phil Mercy, plus guests, including Änglagård's Anna Holmgren. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is another superb fusionesque effort, if less... Änglagårdesque than The Water Road, centred around two lengthy tracks, Germander Speedwell and Of Sparks And Spires. My only (minor) complaint is that I sometimes feel the multiple fusionesque key-changes actually over-complicate matters slightly, although lovely acoustic-and-vocal number The Weaver acts as an antidote of sorts. I'm assured that Thomas uses samples this time round (mainly the Mike Pinder set), although the perpetually-sustaining string chord at the end of Hypatia and the sounds' overall smoothness had pretty much given it away for me already.
2015's The Clockwork Universe continues the band's Brit-prog/fusion journey, now employing no fewer than half of Änglagård's classic line-up, Anna and bassist Johan Brand guesting alongside regular member Thomas Johnson. Stylistically, while opener Library Song is pure fusion, Railway Time and Prodigy have more of a Canterbury-via-Yes feel about them, although my personal favourites are the album's two instrumentals, the piano-and-acoustic guitar Astrolabe and the beautiful piano-and-'Mellotron' closer Orrery (a physical model of the solar system, FYI). Just one real epic this time round, the near-twenty-minute The Scientist's Wife, which does pretty much everything you'd require of a Thieves' Kitchen piece. Thomas' Pinder samplotron strings turn up on every track except Astrolabe, although they're only particularly upfront on Orrery.
Justin Scott Gray's This is Esophagus project is based around an attempt to record an experimental classical album using naught but Mellotron (sounds). The end result, Mellotron Quartet: Ends No Ends, is a complex, difficult work, frequently referencing serialism and Glass and Reich's minimalism (notably on lengthy closer Reverse), although several of its shorter tracks tend towards the melodic end of the spectrum. Sadly, Gray's Mellotron (cellos, strings, choirs, flutes) is clearly nothing of the sort, unless he's found a way to play one accurately, at speed, without key-click. Doubtful. His samples are top-notch, though, so recommended for those less bothered about the source of the sounds.
Sandi Thom is a Scottish singer-songwriter-cum-pop star, whose debut, 2006's Smile... it Confuses People, is a lightweight piece of folk/pop fluff, although at least it sounds nothing like the ruling R&B hegemony, I suppose. As for the album's hit, I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair), er, whaaat? Thom sings wistfully about a past she never knew in this bizarre historical mish-mash, making a brave (but failed) attempt to make a correlation between 1969 and 1977. Maybe she should've spoken to people who were there. Frighteningly, maybe she did. Jake Field is credited with Mellotron on Lonely Girl, but you'd have to be deaf as a post not to spot the song's flutes as a poor sample, possibly not even actually from a Mellotron. This album has one major plus point: it's only 32 minutes long. OK, I've heard worse, but I've also heard a great deal better, so with one poorly-faked 'Mellotron' track, I think you know what I'm going to say, so I shan't even bother.
Despite releasing an eponymous EP in 2010, it's taken A Thousand Horses five years to produce a full-lengther, 2015's Southernality. It falls somewhere between the southern rock and country rock camps, like The Black Crowes duking it out with the country end of Lynyrd Skynyrd, in Nashville. The album actually deteriorates as it progresses, unfortunately, best tracks including opener First Time, Travelin' Man and the title track, while we could possibly have done without the likes of Back To Me and closer Where I'm Going. Brian Purwin guests on keys, including Mellotron, but the strings on Smoke, Back To Me and Where I'm Going sound like low-grade samples to my ears. (Cue: someone involved writes and tells me I've got cloth ears). Not a bad effort, then, though more of the rock end of their sound would be welcome next time round, at least to this listener.
Although she hails from an old-school country background, Cortney Tidwell (née Williamson)'s second full album, 2009's Boys, is more indie/shoegaze/electronica than Grand Ole Opry (with which, oddly, her parents were heavily involved); I believe the term 'country goth' was coined in direct response to her debut. While the record has its moments (opener Solid State, Bad News), too much of it falls into the 'overly simplistic indie' backwater to make very much impact, I'm afraid. Although Ryan Norris is credited with Mellotron, the ultra-compressed choirs and strings on several tracks (least bad example: the strings on Bad News. Worst: all the choir parts) are quite clearly nothing of the sort, although they are, at least, actual Mellotron samples. I'm not entirely convinced that the world needs another mournful, post-goth chanteuse, but then, no-one's making me, or anyone else, listen to her. Are they?
Tiles are a highly-rated newish Canadian progressive band, operating at the heavier end of the spectrum without actually breaking out into full-blown prog metal. Thankfully. 2008's Fly Paper, produced by legendary Rushmeister Terry "Broon" Brown, is their fifth album in over a decade and is surprisingly varied, although you wouldn't exactly call most of its contents original; opener Hide In My Shadow is almost a straight cross between Rush and Dream Theater, while Queensrÿche and King's X are channelled in several songs, particularly in the vocal department. The band go full-throttle on the 'famous guests' front, notably Max Webster's Kim Mitchell on Dragons, Dreams & Daring Deeds and Rush's Alex Lifeson on Sacred & Mundane, but to be honest, they don't need the patronage, being more than capable in their own right. Matthew Parmenter (Discipline) plays guest keyboards, including supposed Mellotron on two tracks, with flutes on Markers and strings on closer Hide & Seek. However, I'm quite sure they're sampled, not least given that the Hammond on Markers is horribly fake, unless they've discovered a Leslie that changes speed like a drunken calliope. Still, nice to hear the sounds being used in a modern prog context, especially when the album concerned is actually not at all bad. Cautiously recommended.
Tilion formed at the end of the '90s from the ashes of Prowlers, recording a demo, Suoni, in 2001. Their debut album proper, 2003's Insolitariamente, alerts us to yet another good modern Italian outfit, top tracks including the ten-minute Buio, Torpore Celebrale and the gorgeous Epilogo, the whole falling only very slightly short of a four-star rating. I have a small problem with the riffing guitars and screaming solos (from Flavio Costa) on several tracks slightly spoil the effect, as does the rather unnecessary slap bass on a couple of tracks (notably Dietro I Ricordi), but these are minor quibbles. Keys man Alfio Costa (Flavio's elder brother) was yet to buy his M400 at this stage, so the rather squashy-sounding strings on Buio, Il Custode and Dietro I Ricordi are all Roland samples, apparently. The band were to attain greater heights with their next release, 2008's A.M.I.G.D.A.L.A., also featuring real Mellotron, but Insolitariamente is certainly worth hearing, occasional instrumental issues aside.
Time's Forgotten should probably be applauded for being one of the first (the first?) Costa Rican acts to make any impression outside their small Central American country, but their generic progressive metal causes the seasoned listener's spirits to droop within the first few minutes of their second album, 2009's Dandelion. The hammering riffs, screaming solos, Queensrÿche clone vocals, digital keyboard interludes... It's all here, folks. The last two tracks are slightly less generic and therefore better, but it's not exactly what you'd call a breakthrough. It's hard to say just how many of the keyboard string and choir parts are definitely sampled Mellotron, but the strings on Second Time, The Tale Of The Sun And Moon (Dandelion) and closer I Welcome You My Night seem pretty certain. If you love Dream Theater and their ilk, you stand a good chance of liking Time's Forgotten (is that apostrophe deliberate, or just poor grammar?). I don't and I don't. Sorry.
Ethereal Norwegian folkie Tirill Mohn took eight years to follow her debut, 2003's A Dance With the Shadows (reissued as Tales From Tranquil August Gardens) with 2011's Nine & Fifty Swans. To coin a phrase, it's an album of quiet beauty, its lyrics based on W.B. Yeats' poetry, Tirill's vocals and guitar enhanced by male vocals, violin and sundry other instrumentation. Best tracks? Difficult to say, since nothing here lowers the overall standard in any meaningful way, but opener O Do Not Love Too Long, He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven and string-driven closer The Wild Swans At Coole particularly caught this listener's ear. Tirill is credited with Mellotron, although the distant flutes on Parting, The Song Of The Old Mother and The Wild Swans At Coole are, I'm afraid to say, quite clearly sampled. When push comes to shove, though, does it really matter? A real Mellotron might (OK, would) sound better, but this is a lovely album, whose charms are reduced not a jot by some minor sample use. Beautiful.
Liam Titcomb's second album, 2007's Can't Let Go, merges indie, pop, Americana and electronica in unequal measures, with different styles taking precedence on different tracks. To be brutally honest, the rather good, mournful, closing title track aside, this is pretty tedious fare; given that Titcomb grew up playing folk, couldn't he include a little more of it in his work? Please? Giles Reaves is credited with Mellotron; what the strings on Love Can? Really? I mean, REALLY? No, not really, eh? If Liam Titcomb made an album full of material like Can't Let Go itself, I'd buy it, but this is nine-tenths dullsville, I'm afraid.