After an abortive effort in 1997 to follow their '94 debut, Rubberneck, Texans Toadies finally released a reworked version of the sessions, Hell Below/Stars Above, in 2001, making this listener wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. A desperately unexciting alt.rock effort, it bores and irritates in roughly equal quantities, its one-dimensional songwriting copping elements of several other crummy bands from the era, particularly apparent on punky opener Plane Crash, the vaguely Chilis-esque Little Sin, Sweetness and closer Doll Skin (U2 with a distortion pedal). Someone adds what sounds like background samplotron strings towards the end of Jigsaw Girl, to no great effect, unless it's real, in which case, it's still to no great effect. This is terrible. Avoid. Incidentally, the sainted Elliott Smith guests on piano on the title track. Why?
Brazilian-by-way-of-the-UK Amon Tobin began as a Brighton-based DJ, electronica/remixer-type and trip-hop pioneer under the name Cujo, reverting to his own name in 1996. 2005's Chaos Theory: The Soundtrack to Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell is exactly what it says on the tin and is surprisingly listenable in its own right, given that it's designed to make an unholy racket to soundtrack teenagers' gaming pursuits. It actually features a full band, including the Modugno brothers, who apparently hadn't spoken in some years. What does it sound like? It sounds like a game soundtrack, basically, but those of you who appreciate the further-out realms of electronic music may well go for it. Umberto Modugno is credited with Mellotron (his no-longer estranged brother Massimo plays Hammond, very audibly on one track), but the cello part on Hokkaido sounds little like one.
Toby "TobyMac" McKeehan is that most appalling of things, a Christian rapper and former member of dcTalk, whose Renovating→Diverse City is a remix version of his second solo release, 2004's Welcome to Diverse City. And it's... shit. Is there anything worse than a Christian rap album? Yes, a Christian remix album. To be honest, it sounds like just about every other remix album I've had the displeasure to hear, but with vaguely devotional lyrics, just to add to the pain. Christopher Stevens is credited with Mellotron on the Long Gone remix of Gone, but when you hear what sounds like MkII 'moving strings' and murky M400 choir on the same track, you know you're talking samples. Very, very poor. Avoid.
Mia Doi Todd's Cosmic Ocean Ship is a perfectly 'normal' release, featuring ten quiet, introspective songs, all perfectly good, although none really stand out. Maybe I should concentrate harder on the lyrics? Jonathan Wilson is credited with Mellotron, but the only 'possible' is a faint flute part on the CD-only Gracias A La Vida, so that's a 'no', then.
Stay Awhile is a horrible, mainstream indie/singer-songwriter album, at its least awful on the title track, not that there's much in it. Todd Simko's 'Mellotron': what, the strings on opener Pride? Fuck off.
Sleepy Joe Tomato: band or Joan Ter Maten's nom de plume? His/their second album, A Bumpy Ride, gets off to a bad start with the cheesy soul/blues of Just In Time, but picks up on Bedroom Fights, She Turned Into A Stranger's powerpop and Love On The Side's rock'n'roll, although the album struggles to sustain material of that quality. Marc Capelle plays what sound like various MkII Mellotron samples on Nightmares.
Tomten, named for a variety of Scandinavian folkloric elf, play a variety of indie-influenced powerpop. As a result, Wednesday's Children's better moments are fatally overshadowed by a dreary, well, indie-ness, while Brian Noyes-Watkins' 'Mellotron' flute and cello parts on Lofty sound more like generic samples. The Farewell Party is marginally better, particularly the jaunty Thomasina and the gentle She'll Pass Me By, but Noyes-Watkins sticks to samples, with barely-Mellotronic strings in You Won't Be On My Mind.
David Toop is best-known musically for his membership of The Flying Lizards and journalistically, for his contributions to The Face and The Wire. All of which (OK, not The Face) make it no surprise whatsoever that his tenth solo album (including collaborations), 2003's Black Chamber, is a deeply experimental work, comparable to, say, the weirdest end of the Julian Cope spectrum. I'm not sure that Toop would be particularly happy at the comparison, but who knows? Er, he does, I'd imagine. Most tracks combine fragments of found sound and other samples with largely atonal instrumentation, although Plume, Preceded By Far Off Inside features a relatively normal jazz saxophone solo, while snippets of vocal, guitar and other 'mainstream' elements make themselves apparent every now and again. Toop supposedly plays Mellotron, but the strings on The Slapping Gun, while loosely 'Mellotronic', are most unlikely to emanate from a real instrument, I suspect, while the strings on the title track sound more like regular samples than ones from a Mellotron. So; not one for neo-prog fans, I think it's safe to say.
The Tories (terrible name, given its British political connotations) are an L.A.-based powerpop outfit frequently compared to Jellyfish (and not just by me, for once), their 1997 debut, Wonderful Life, being stuffed with joyous songs of the quality of Gladys Kravitz, Not What It Appears, Greenhill and Don't Be Long. Actually, although the album's rather overlong for the style (yeah, I know: value for money), there isn't a bad track here, just some that are less essential than others. Steve Bertrand and James Guffee are both credited with Mellotron; if the only audible evidence were the brief flute part on Might Be Late and the cellos and strings on Strange, this would be in this site's 'regular' section, but the strings on Gladys Kravitz are the sample giveaway, especially the high notes. Overall, then, a powerpop 'must', if not quite up to the quality of their forebears. Most worthwhile.
La Torre Dell'Alchimista set out their stall on their self-titled debut immediately, as Eclisse starts with the modulated roar of a full-throated Leslie cabinet as its speed races up and down, before they lurch into the track. The rest of the album covers a variety of progressive styles, which, while admirable, can sound a little disjointed at times, although there isn't actually a bad track to be heard, so despite a slight lack of musical cohesion, La Torre Dell'Alchimista is a most worthwhile release. Michele Mutti's 'Mellotron' work can only really be heard on a couple of tracks, although there are several 'possible sightings' that probably aren't, principally the male voices on Eclisse. La Torre Dell'Alchimista itself (their 'theme' song?) opens with a solo samplotron string part (its closing string chord is held just a little too long) and Delirio (In Do Minore) has some more muted strings, but that appears to be it.
Six years on, 2007's Neo isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although the band go for more of a 'multi-part extravaganza' this time round. They also throw little bursts of fusion into the mix here and there, while highlights include Mutti's solo piano piece, Idra and grandiose closer Risveglio, Procreazione E Dubbio Pt. II. More samplotron this time round, with string parts on most tracks, sounding surprisingly real in some places, then the precise opposite in others. Incidentally, is it just me, or are the band's two releases exactly the same length? Odd.
Despite her Italian name, Emilíana Torrini is Icelandic, Tookah being an album of vaguely electro-ish singer-songwriter pop, harmless and occasionally inventive. Dan Carey's 'Mellotron' on Speed Of Dark? Y'wot?
Erik Torsten "Totta" Näslund's eponymous debut is either laid-back or dull, depending on your viewpoint, typified by his cheesy cover of Always On My Mind (Alltid Inom Mig) and probably at its best on closer När Du Kommer Hem Till Mig. I can only assume Dan Hyland's Mellotron credit on opener Det Blåser En Vind is for the vague cello-y sound on the track.
The Toy Hearts hail from Birmingham; that's Birmingham, once in Warwickshire, not Birmingham, Alabama, despite their authentic bluegrass and western swing moves. Fronted by the Johnson sisters, Hannah and Sophia, with their dad Stewart backing them on banjo, the only thing about their third album, 2011's Femme Fatale (recorded in Nashville), that fails to fool the ear is a less-than-total vocal commitment to the correct accent, an omission with which I think we can live. There isn't actually a duff track here, the witty lyrics supported by authentic instrumentation and arrangements, highlights including Tequila And High Heels, Tear Stained Letter (not the Richard Thompson song) and the instrumental Creek Bluff Drive, amongst others. David Mayfield supposedly plays Mellotron, but I'm afraid the flutes, occasional choirs and strings on the title track do little to convince, not least the opening flute note that breaks the eight-second rule. A minor criticism, however, of an otherwise excellent album. One for the more adventurous Americana fan.
4th of July's a pretty decent alt.rock effort, at its best on All Day Long, Tin Star Blues and Disaster Flick, I'd say. Coby Carlucci plays what I think are sampled Mellotron strings on Disaster Flick, although I'm willing to be proven wrong.
The Tractors are essentially a country-rock pick-up band based around the talents of Steve Ripley, whose fifth album, 2002's The Big Night is, amazingly their second release aimed at what Americans quaintly call 'the holiday season'; hey, whad'about calling it 'Christmas', eh? It's nowhere near as bad as many similar, due mainly to a) an appreciation of ye olde art of rock'n'roll and b) a refreshing (relative) lack of gloopy Christian sentiment. Better efforts include I Was A Bad Boy This Year and Bo Diddley Santa Claus, but frankly, I can't imagine why I'd ever want to hear this again. Ripley plays background samplotron string chords on the title track.
Train's Save Me San Francisco starts well, the title track returning to that Counting Crows sound, but it all quickly lapses back into their usual schtick. I have to say, this is particularly notable for the terrible, terrible lyrics, all the more obvious due to the ridiculously high-in-the-mix vocals (a typical pop production, actually). Painful. Claes Björklund plays samplotron, with strings on Parachute and flutes on closer Marry Me which, despite their 'authentic' wobble, don't cut the mustard.
Tram were the British 'slowcore' duo of Paul Anderson and Nick Avery, noted for their, er, 'downbeat' approach; to quote AllMusic's Tim Sendra's dry commentary, "Words like desperation, despair, bleakness, and Radiohead come to mind", although I'd say Tram have got Thom's boys beaten hands-down on the gloom front. A Kind of Closure was their third and last album before they
killed themselves split, full of the kind of wrist-slashing gaiety for which us Brits are well known. Aside from the occasional slightly discordant trumpet part, pretty much everything here sounds like pretty much everything else, although The Hope Has Been Taken Away (now just stop it, lads) stands out, due to its overall intensity. The Cocteau Twins' Simon Raymonde plays piano, Rhodes and samplotron, with flutes on Fools.
Mike "Tramp" Trempenau (or similar; sources vary) is actually Danish and played in a dodgy hard rock act there called Mabel in the late '70s before migrating to the States and forming White Lion. Their brand of commercial hard rock held them in good stead for some years, before falling foul of early '90s grunge, leading Tramp to get himself a couple of armfuls of tattoos and a solo career via the grunge-lite of Freaks of Nature. Capricorn is considerably better than I'd expected, sounding more like a heavier version of Bruce Springsteen crossed with any Americana act you'd care to name than his former band, for which we should all be truly grateful. Don't get me wrong, it's hardly the most exciting stuff you're ever going to hear, but that awful glossy AOR-style production is notable by its absence, with plenty of acoustic guitar and Hammond in its place. Kim Bullard is credited with Hammond/Wurly/Mellotron and cello, although the latter two can only be heard on Love Will Come And Go, with some very overt flutes and what I take to be strings, all sampled.
The aptly-named Transatlantic are a prog 'supergroup' consisting of Spock's Beard main man Neal Morse, Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings, Marillion's Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater and the end results, at least on their debut, were vastly better than might be expected from such a potential clash of egos. The wittily-titled SMPTe (in case you don't know, 'smpte' is a studio MIDI/video conversion protocol, and the four members' initials, of course, pronounced 'simpty') comes across as an amalgam of the 'Beard and various '70s bands, with very little of the other three members' outfits in there at all, although I suppose we should be grateful for that in at least two cases, if not all three.
All Of The Above is an overblown half-hour epic, but you know what? It works really well, although it could probably have been trimmed down a little. It opens with a chord sequence straight out of the Neal Morse songbook and carries on in fine form, moving through all the various twists and turns you'd expect, although it ends up being rather predictable in its unpredictability, or something. However, its saving grace is its strong use of melody, without slipping into the AORisms of which the 'Beard are sometimes guilty and which could be levelled against track two, We All Need Some Light. I personally really like it, but I can see why some critics have lambasted it for its near-'soft rock balladry' approach. Less sure about Mystery Train (not the Elvis number), but My New World's another grand epic and the album closes in fine style with a cover of Procol Harum's In Held Twas In I; the original was named after the first word of the lyric in each of its five parts, and Transatlantic left out the 'Twas' section, thus the brackets, just in case you were wondering. Roine Stolt is credited with 'Mellotron', alongside his usual guitar and vocal duties, but however good it sounds, I know for a fact that The Flower Kings neither own nor use a real 'Tron, relying on high-quality samples taken direct from a real machine, so it seems a fair assumption that these are what are being used here. Shame, really, as a real Mellotron always lifts anything on which it's used (well, usually) and it shouldn't be that difficult to find a working one, especially in Sweden, land of the 'Tron revival, but there you go. 'Trad' prog fans might not like this album, but in my book, it's well worth owning.
In 2001, the band released a double live CD, Live in America, with unseemly haste (can you smell the distinctive pong of a quick buck being made?), seemingly from their first ever gig. Of course, with a mere one album to promote (and they don't even attempt In Held (Twas) in I), much padding is needed, including covers good (a proggy Strawberry Fields Forever) and less good (a slightly pointless Watcher Of The Skies/Firth Of Fifth medley), while the grand finale is a medley of excerpts from material by all four members' parent bands, finishing with a prog take on the stupendous end section of The Beatles' She's So Heavy. As a document of Transatlantic's early live work, Live in America works reasonably well, but as a hundred-minute listening experience, it drags in places; judicious editing would've made for a less complete but more listenable product.
Later the same year, they rattled off what turned out to be their last album for nearly a decade, Bridge Across Forever. To be honest, it captures none of the manic joy of their debut; 26-minute opener Duel With The Devil feels far longer than that and not in a good way, while Suite Charlotte Pike is a bit of a disjointed mess. The title track is a by now typically schlocky Morse ballad and by far the shortest song on the album, leaving Stranger In Your Soul as the most cohesive piece here, though it says a lot that the best track here isn't much better than the worst on SMPTe. With hindsight, Morse's forthcoming breakdown/religious conversion/whatever is quite apparent in his lyrics, too; well, doesn't Duel With The Devil say it all? The 'Mellotron' is used more sparingly this time round, with the only real highlights being an unaccompanied string part in Duel With The Devil and some flutes at the beginning of Stranger In Your Soul. Disappointing, though the album's relative musical failure made their God-induced split less painful. Incidentally, in case you still feel the need to obtain this, don't go out of your way to get the 'Special Edition'; apart from a vaguely interesting take on Floyd's Shine On blah-di-blah and a genuinely good Morse demo of what became Duel With The Devil, most of it consists of tedious studio dicking about. Pointless.
Transatlantic were stunningly dull the one time I saw them live, insisting on playing just about all of Bridge Across Forever and then, for some unknown reason, the whole of side two of The Beatles' Abbey Road, boring many of us into a bad prog-induced stupor, while Morse had the gall to berate us for not enjoying it! They then misjudged the audience enough to encore with All Of The Above, rather than something a little snappier, all this on top of lining all four members up along the front of the stage, Portnoy included. Egomania. The tour is documented on 2003's Live in Europe, recorded in November '01 in the Netherlands, the band augmented by Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw, who stood at the back; what I remember as 'the whole of side two of Abbey Road' is actually some (all?) of it intercut with the Suite Charlotte Pike Medley (or probably vice versa), but it's no more interesting on a second listen, ditto most of the rest of the set, the honourable exception being We All Need Some Light, still a great song.
The following year, of course, Morse got God, leaving both the 'Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on his Christian solo career. Yawn. The original version of the band bowed out with one of the most pointless releases it's been my displeasure to plough through for a while: SMPTe (The Roine Stolt Mixes). Er... why? I believe that this is actually the original mix, but was the released version that bad, Roine? Without exhaustively listening to both versions, minute by minute, all I can tell you is that the odd intro/outro has been left in and there's more guitar (big surprise there). Do you need to hear this? No, you do not. If anyone thinks they can convince me that this is any more than Stolt's total vanity project, good luck to you.
As the late 2000s approached, Morse obviously decided that his Christian principles (barf) would allow him to work with Transatlantic again. The other three (and Gildenlöw live) all came along for the ride, the end result being 2009's The Whirlwind. Were you expecting something as good as SMPTe? Dream on, dude... Essentially one near-eighty minute track, this is every bit as utterly overblown as you could wish for/feared (delete according to taste), stretched out to that unfeasible length by vast acres of musical padding and remarkably light on real ideas. Surprised? Nor me. The best twenty minutes would make a decent Spock's piece (once again, Morse is clearly the main writer), but this just goes on and on and on... I know some of you love it that way, but since when did quantity outweigh quality? Oh, hang on, one of these guys is in Dream Theater... Actually, Portnoy left his band around this time, then had the gall to berate them for carrying on (in fairness, he'd apparently suggested a hiatus, then found himself replaced), but given that Transatlantic are just one of many side-projects with which he's been involved over the years, I doubt whether he'll find himself at a loose end any time soon. The inevitable special edition's bonus disc contains another four yawnsome Transatlantic pieces (none wholly by Morse) and four covers, three of which (Genesis' Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Procol Harum's A Salty Dog and Santana's Soul Sacrifice) are worth hearing. Actually, the best track on the entire set is the hidden ukelele/barber shop ditty stuck on the end of disc two. Well, I think so, anyway. Er, samplotron? Here and there throughout the title piece, here and there on disc two, notably extra parts on Hogweed and the strings on A Salty Dog.
The best thing about the following year's three-CD/two-DVD Whirld Tour 2010: Live From Shepherd's Bush Empire, London is the tour name; very witty, chaps. Now, a quick piece of disarming honesty from yours truly. I didn't listen to this all the way through. There. I've said it. Why not? Couldn't bloody face it, frankly. I mean, three bloody hours of this overblown drivel? It's actually getting to the point where hearing multiple versions of their first album material is beginning to put me off it, which would be a shame. Never mind the band's exhaustion at the end of a marathon like that, what about the audience? Oh, I'm sure they loved it. I wasn't there, as you might've guessed and after hearing (well, skimming) this, I'm extremely glad I was somewhere (anywhere!) else. Now, you think this is bad? 2011 brought another fucking three-CD/two-DVD live set, More Never is Enough: Live in Manchester & Tilburg 2010. Holy Mary, Mother of God, spare us. For the first time on this site, I actually point-blank refuse to attempt to review this. The Manchester audio's essentially the same as the Shepherd's Bush gig and no, I'm not interested in minor variations which I wouldn't spot anyway. So; I'm on strike. OK, back off strike, but I'm still not reviewing it. Yes, more really is more than fucking enough. Now just stop it.
To my great surprise, 2014's Kaleidoscope, while quite clearly a Transatlantic album, raises the bar somewhat after its tiresome predecessor, opening epic Into The Blue actually being, well, not bad, if nowhere near 'classic'. Black As The Sky and the even more epic title track are quite listenable, all things considered, although both ballads, Shine and Beyond The Sun are eminently disposable. Disc two's by now usual covers are a mixed bag, ELO and Elton tracks somewhat giving the game away on Morse's soft rock influences, although decent takes on The Small Faces' Tin Soldier, Focus' immortal Sylvia and (startlingly) King Crimson's skronky Indiscipline redeem matters slightly. Samplotron? All over the shop, of course, even finding its way onto several disc two tracks, although I remain unconvinced by the choirs on their otherwise excellent take on Yes's And You And I.
The most shocking thing about Transatlantic is that they market their grotesque excess as a plus point. Then again, it's what they unashamedly do, so they're hardly going to apologise for it, are they? Not with two (possibly three) major egos on board, anyway (I'm assuming Pete's 'the quiet one'). Anyway, ignore albums two and three and everything live, but buy SMPTe, even with fake Mellotron.
As you may have just read above, TransChamps are one of two Trans Am/Fucking Champs collaborations, the other superbly named (you guessed it) The Fucking Am. Their Double Exposure EP combines the two bands' sounds with aplomb, mixing heavy synths and heavy guitars in equal measures in what seems to be more a send-up of/homage to their different influences, with the arena metal of Give It To You contrasting sharply with The Big Machine's synths and clattering drums, while Then Comes Saturday Night coming across as more of an Allmans/Bad Co. cross. Tim Green plays samplotron, but not a lot, with nowt but a string part (under real violin) in The Big Machine.
Transience are (or, more likely, were) Lands End keys man Fred Hunter's occasional side-project, collaborators including Brazilian guitarist Francisco "Kiko" Neto and vocalist Jeff McFarland. Unfortunately, 1999's Sliding is a thorough bore of an album, insipid, dreary neo-prog with only the occasional 'symphonic' section to leaven the tedium, McFarland's wispy vocals being particularly deserving of criticism. It's also (here's a surprise) vastly overlong, the nineteen-minute The Seven Pools being entirely unnecessary. I suppose hardened neo- fans might describe this album as having 'a quiet beauty', or somesuch; 'very boring' seems a more appropriate description. For what it's worth, Hunter plays fairly obviously sampled Mellotron strings on the Latin/prog (no, really) title track, Desert Falls, Captiva Island and The Seven Pools.
Hunter began work on what ended up as 2003's Primordial after the release of Sliding, but for various personal reasons, it took him over three years to finish it. Was it worth it? Well, it's a better album, the 'insipid' factor being slightly reduced, although McFarland's vocal contributions are just as irritating. As for the actual material, piano-and-synths piece Hollow Gardens is genuinely excellent, although nothing else stands out in any way. Unusually, Hunter has filled some of the disc's empty space with half a dozen MP3 tracks of material that didn't make the cut, for one reason or another, including the absurdly overlong Aquadream (half an hour) and the eighteen-minute original mix of the dullsville A Stones Throw From Nowhere, bringing the album's total length to over two hours; a great idea for actual fans, but rather gruelling for the rest of us. Hunter plays samplotron strings on opener Heaven & Earth and possibly one or two tracks elsewhere, but this isn't even a major player on the sample front, frankly.
Transmissionary Six are yet another alt.country/slowcore crossover outfit, although the lack of variety on their third album, the ironically-titled Get Down, makes for a rather monotonous listening experience, if truth be told. Terri Moeller's voice is great for a few tracks, but her relentless melancholy ends up depressing rather than uplifting, as it can for true masters of misery (see: Richard Thompson). The duo (completed by guitarist Paul Austin) have put two instrumentals on the album, one of which (Johnny & Waldo) is probably the most interesting thing here, but I'm afraid the bulk of the album just... drags. Samplotron on one track, from Steve Moore, with a beautiful string part on My New Namethat almost had me fooled, until the low notes at the end of the song. Cosmonautical is, I'm afraid, not just more of the same, but less, not only in its length, but its interest value. I'm sure the band have legions of fans who swoon over their every utterance, but this bored me stupid, not helped one jot by the country feel on a few tracks. Graig Markel plays background samplotron strings on Landslide and I Want To Deprogram You, but they're as bland as the rest of the album.
Traumhaus (Dream House/House of Dreams) are a superior German-language neo-prog outfit, whose eponymous 2001 release mixes'n'matches from various progressive eras, coming up with an amalgam of early '80s neo- (they cop some IQ moves in several places), prog metal and '70s symphonic. Sounds appalling? This could so easily be terrible, but the band's knack with a melody carries them through a potential musical train-wreck, examples being the album's Saga-esque opener, Aufwärts, parts of the lengthy Ausgeliefert, the bit that rips off '80s Yes (specifically 90125's Changes) in Peter Und Der Wolf and the triumphal major-key round that ends closer Am Abgrund. Most of the album's string sounds are either string synth copies or generic, leaving the only actual Mellotron samples as the strings on Am Abgrund.
I don't know why it's taken the band seven years to follow their debut, although I'd hazard a guess that an almost complete lineup change could have been involved. Sadly, the end result is that 2008's Die Andere Seite is a far more generic, mainstream prog metal album, far less appealing than its predecessor. The instrumental work is frantic, should you be into that kind of thing, not least the ridiculously busy drummer; calm down, man, calm down! Stacks of Mellotron samples this time round, with strings, watery choirs and flutes all over opener Die Andere Seite (Part 1), carrying on in similar fashion throughout, in a 'don't know when we're overusing it' kind of way.
Traumpfad are a German prog-metal outfit who, at least on 2011's Aufbruch, also appear to have been listening to not only the more recent variety of neo-prog (Arena and their ilk), but also their own countrymen from the '70s, distinct hints of the likes of Novalis and Ramses cropping up here and there. Unfortunately, in Planet Mellotron's humble opinion, neither of these influences are particularly welcome ones, the best thing here being 'bonus' track (what makes it a 'bonus', if it's on every edition?) Octopussy Äther, a lengthy instrumental that largely sidesteps the album's shortcomings. Keys man Matthias Unterhuber adds samplotron to several tracks, with strings on opener Sol, a major string part on Auf Unserer Reise and here and there elsewhere, plus choirs on Octopussy Äther. I hate to be so negative - no, really - but this album not only says nothing new, but takes an awfully long time to do so.
Travis really have to be one of the nastiest things to happen to British music in a couple of decades, and I don't say that lightly. Their utterly insipid stadium-MOR is fantastically popular, picking up the kind of fan that Simply Red got in the '80s; "Music for people who don't like music", as a friend of mine once put it. Their mainman is called Fran Healy; now I'm sorry, maybe Fran is an acceptable male abbreviation in Scotland, but where I come from, it's a girl's name. What's wrong with Frank? Anyway... The Invisible Band (though sadly not inaudible) was their third album, and if anything, was even blander than its predecessor, 1999's fairly nasty The Man Who (*½), although it lacks the true horror of that album's chief hit, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? Because God hates you, Frannie, that's why. God hates you, and so do I. I've been told this horrible, turgid mess has some Mellotron on it, but close listening only reveals one potential track, Dear Diary. The high strings are far too 'clean' to be a real Mellotron, but a few notes towards the end of the song have that 'Tronness about them, although I'm certain they're samples. I paid 50p for this abortion of an album (and the same for its predecessor), and I feel ripped off. I won't even be able to flog them to one of London's handful of remaining second-hand shops, as they're flooded with the fucking things. Down the chazza, then, and wave goodbye to a quid.
Chandler Travis' Ivan in Paris is a kind of indie/singer-songwriter album with occasional jazzy touches, songs such as opener (You & Me) Pushin' Up Daisies and Haircut like a less quirky They Might Be Giants, maybe. Although Gregory Wachter's credited with Mellotron on Something Right About It, all I can hear is sampled flutes on the following track, Ball The Wall. You Must Come Over To-Night is an improvement, highlights including breezy opener When She Smiles At Me and Workin' Weekends, the latter as much for lyrics as music, although Travis retains his unfortunate on/off propensity for jazz. Wachter may very well be credited with Mellotron again, but I've no idea why.
New York's Travis Pickle, fronted by Carla Capretto, were a pop-end-of-indie outfit on their eponymous (sole?) album, notwithstanding the occasional punchier track, not least Cheesehead, contender for 'best track' award You Always and One More Time. Sadly, most of its material is as bland as it comes, to the point where I almost wish opener Motorcycle Man were a cover of Saxon's gumby metal anthem. But only almost. This seems to be yet another entrant in the 'used to be an online reference to Mellotron use' albums, even listing a track, Mr. Boyfriend, pretty good flute samples presumably played by Capretto.
Glaswegians Trembling Bells collaborated with Will "Bonnie Prince Billy" on New Trip On The Old Wine, a suitably Americana-esque effort, although Joe Kane's Mellotron... isn't.
The Barcelona-based Très Bien Ensemble are clearly total Francophiles, most of their members having French names, although whether they're culturally French Spaniards or émigrés Françoise is uncertain. Anyway, the combo coalesced out of a related group, Los Fresones Rebeldes, releasing Doux-Amer in 2005, immediately drawing comparisons with all the classic chansonniers, not least Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot and, of course, the ubiquitous Serge Gainsbourg. For most English-speaking listeners, however, their sound will conjure up images of that strain of 'we're so French' British bands that appeared at the beginning of the '90s, delighting and infuriating the general public in equal measures with their lightweight faux-Gallic pop. Yes, Stereolab, I blame you. Oh, and Saint Etienne. As far as the album's material goes, it's largely as you'd expect; cheesy attempts to sound Parisienne, accordions, muted trumpet and male/female vocals to the fore, the only let-ups being the slightly more energetic (though rather out of place) Des Mysteres and the almost-psych-lite of Toi Et Moi. Lucien Bulles plays samplotron, though not a lot, with flutes on Sous Le Soleil, seemingly combined with a real one.
Gloria Trevi's Spanish-language Latin-flavoured pop/rock seems to be pretty typical of the Mexican mainstream, going by what I've heard. Harmless enough, but nothing that's going to do a lot for anyone much outside her home market. Good old Armando Avila is credited with Mellotron on both releases, but, as with all his other credits, the best we get is occasional samples on Una Rosa Blu and nothing obvious at all on Gloria.
Rick Treviño (Trevino for his English-language releases) is a Texan singer-songwriter, who has found himself manoeuvred into the Spanish-language Tejano bracket for much of his career, despite not being a native speaker. 2001's Mi Son is his fifth solo release, apparently seen as almost a side-project of the supergroup with which he was involved, Los Super Seven, with many of the same musicians participating. As you'd expect, it mostly consists of upbeat Tex-Mex material, highlights including the gentle, jazzy Vuelvo Al Sur, perhaps surprisingly and English-language closer Long Goodbye. Steve Berlin and Alberto Salas are both credited with Mellotron, but I'm mystified as to where. I've picked up the information from some long-forgotten-and-now-untraceable source that Berlin plays it on Ojos, but apart from the brass on the track, I genuinely can't imagine what it might be doing. Vague background flutes? Certainly not the vibes...
Tribe of Gypsies describe themselves as a 'heavy rock band with Latin influences', although their general lack of heaviosity with extra added percussion reminds me of Santana more than anyone, although the band must be getting sick of the comparison. 1998's Revolucion 13 was their second album and, while it's a more than pleasant listen, it does little you haven't already heard on those early Santana records, two extra percussionists and all. There's certainly very little of the riffing guitar work that you'd expect of an outfit describing themselves as 'heavy', particularly given that guitarist/mainman Roy Z has worked on several Bruce Dickinson albums, although the odd ripping solo is unlike anything old Carlos would've come out with back then. Greg Schultz is one of three guest keyboard players, adding background samplotron strings to Summer Rain and more upfront ones to Collapse and Mother's Cry.
Tribe of Gypsies III was apparently released in Japan under the title Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, but before it came out around the world, the useless Oasis announced their rather singularly misquoted Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, forcing the Tribe guys to find a quick'n'easy replacement. There are a couple of heavier tracks than on its predecessor, chiefly What Cha Want, which sounds like Santana crossed with Thin Lizzy, but we're not exactly talking Metallica territory here, but then, the band don't describe themselves as 'metal', anyway. It's actually a very pleasant album, little like I'd expected; I suspect it'll take a few plays for the better tracks to make themselves known, although the guitar line in Puro Party has probably lodged itself in my brain for the foreseeable future. For a guitarist's band, Tribe of Gypsies have a remarkably cohesive sound, with no one instrument dominating, making a welcome change from the serried ranks of guitar wank outfits plaguing the scene. Z (no, I don't know his full name) plays samplotron on a couple of tracks, with cellos and strings on Better Days and strings on Dreams.
Although Tribulation are generally thought of as a death metal band, their third album, 2015's The Children of the Night, features a considerably broader influence base than that description might suggest. Yes, Johannes Andersson's vocals are the fairly standard throaty growl, but the music, while still very much metal, is a great deal more melodic than the uninformed listener might expect, early (pre-leather'n'studs) Judas Priest being invoked in places, along with a loose 'goth' feel to much of the rhythm guitar work and even elements of psychedelia. Best tracks? Opener Strange Gateways Beckon, er, opens with a splendid keyboard intro, followed by some neat octave-guitar work, In The Dreams Of The Dead takes the pace down a little, while losing none of the band's power, while Själaflykt is barely metal at all throughout much of its length. Incidentally, bonus track One Hundred Years gives the goth game away fairly comprehensively, being a Cure cover. Gotcha! Martin Borgh guests on Mellotron, with cellos on the album intro, before it all kicks off, and strings on quiet, doomy instrumental Cauda Pavonis, plus other background parts here and there. However, I'd be most surprised if it turned out to be genuine, frankly. Given that most modern metal is indescribably awful, this is a very pleasant surprise.
Canadian Tim Karr moved to LA at some point, releasing a solo album as far back as 1989, although I've no idea what he's done in the interim before forming Triggerdaddy. They're something of an LA supergroup, featuring not only our old friend Gilby Clarke, but members of Guns N'Roses (and associated outfits), Alice Cooper's band and Love/Hate, amongst others. What I believe is their sole album to date, 2005's Stereosonic Meltdown, is a neat amalgam of '70s glam (notably T.Rex, who they cover) and the glam/powerpop crossover of some years earlier, typified by the storming pop/punk of Gimme Sum Skin and Can't Get High, although their pointless take on 20th Century Boy and a handful of lesser tracks (on an album barely over half an hour long) whisper, "Lack of material" in my shell-like. Clarke is credited with Mellotron on Shape Of Things 2 Come, but are we seriously supposed to believe that the vaguely flutey sound on the track has anything to do with a real Mellotron? Just because Clarke's used one on several of his own albums doesn't mean that this one's necessarily real and indeed, it isn't. This actually isn't a bad effort at all - Gimme Sum Skin is a minor classic of the genre - but with too much filler, it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this.
Trinket's second album is one of those irritating efforts that appeared under one title (Trinket, in this case, in 1999), only to be reissued, sometimes in amended form/retitled (Set to Explode, 2000), usually due to commercial failure first time round. I'm reviewing the reissue here (beggars can't be choosers, eh?), which drops two tracks from the original (Bruise-Violet Days and Draw The Line) and adds three (opener/hit Boom, Shedding My Skin and Superhuman), although I can't say the additions exactly make the album. The awful Matchbox Twenty are a common comparison, which seems pretty harsh; oh, it's a compliment? It's all a bit academic, anyway; this is the worst kind of 'alt.' rubbish, typified by the breezy Unbehaved and the flaccid Haunt Pallenberg. Less bad (as against 'better') tracks include poppy opener Boom (apparently used on a film soundtrack) and the brassy To Be A Star, but they're unable to rescue this album from complete mediocrity. J. Christopher Arrison plays samplotron, with murky flute and cello parts on Burgundy Shine that do little (read: nothing) to improve a pretty crummy ballad, although, shockingly, it's by no means the worst thing here.
There's been quite a bit of fuss about Netherlanders Trion ever since the release of their 2003 debut, Tortoise. The band (Their name is a conglomeration of 'trio' and 'Tron') is actually a side project (guitarist Eddie Mulder and keyboardist Edo Spanninga usually play in Flamborough Head, while drummer Menno Boomsma hails from Odyssice), formed as a deliberate attempt to play 'seventies' styled progressive music', according to their site, in which they're largely successful. The trouble is, it all seems a bit... ersatz. The all-instrumental material's perfectly good, within its limitations, but the band have no obvious character of their own; the opening title track has a two-chord 'Mellotron' sequence that is one note away from ripping Watcher Of The Skies, before shifting into a solo Hackett feel, although the rest of the album is less openly derivative. The sleeve art is even more derivative than most of the music, unless it's a deliberate joke? It's a dead-ringer for Gentle Giant's Octopus, only with a... tortoise. Oh, it's got to be a joke. Please.
In fairness, the band are perfectly open about their use of samples; their website credits Spanninga with "Flute, Oboe, Strings, Organ, Cello, Vibe and Choir Mellotron samples". See, told you. I like to think I'd have spotted it without help; the chief giveaway is the overly-smooth strings, often shoved right to the front of the mix, although the flutes almost convince, except when they're played slightly faster. No key-click, no hiss, no... grit. Hey, that's Mellotron samples for you. Spanninga oddly chooses to use 'Tron organ samples rather than an actual fake ('actual fake?') Hammond, giving the sounds a rather dull uniformity, to no particular purpose, as they're not even from an actual 'Tron. Anyway, massive use of all seven sounds, particularly the strings and flute, although he holds back on the choirs, making a nice change for a modern prog outfit.
Although Trion had never been intended as anything more than a one-off project, the trio recorded and released Pilgrim in 2007. To be searingly honest, it's not as good as their debut, too many of its tracks veering towards the insipid end of the progressive spectrum, the rather cheesy Reveal The Mystery being an obvious example. Originality isn't at the forefront of the band's concerns, either; a couple of tracks have a distinct 'Canterbury' feel to them, while Blue Shadows sounds like Führs & Fröhling with a hint of The Doors' Riders On The Storm thrown in for good measure. Spanninga expands his sound palette to encompass pseudo-versions of several other vintage 'boards this time round, although those Mellotron samples (chiefly strings with a smattering of flute) still crop up on most tracks, with particularly bad strings on Reveal The Mystery.
Incidentally, I feel I must quote a section from Spanninga's sleevenotes on the subject of Mellotron samples:
|"Proggers expressed their doubts about our use of mellotron samples (instead of using the original mellotron tapes) which is quite hilarious as the mellotron itself is a sampler".|
Er... Isn't that missing the point by a country mile? Or is it just me? No, the Mellotron (note capitalised 'M') is not a sampler; at best it's a sample player (a very different beast). An A/B comparison between a real machine and perfect samples made from that same machine will be pretty much indistinguishable while playing single notes, but as soon as two or more are played together, the samples suddenly sound flat and lifeless, as the sampler reproduces them exactly, rather than with the unintentional imperfections of a real Mellotron that give the machine its 'character'. So no, Edo, it's not the same at all. Also incidentally, the album 'proper' is actually just under fifty minutes long, but the band have included two 'bonus tracks': Out There Somewhere, from The Cyclops Sampler No.6 and Frank, seemingly a new version of their contribution to Musea/Colossus's The Spaghetti Epic: Six Modern Prog Bands for Six '70s Prog Suites and the best thing here by some way.
After an even longer wait, 2013's Funfair Fantasy is an improvement on its predecessor, although, despite being over twenty minutes shorter than that release, still slightly outstays its welcome. Nothing here offends, although rather too many of its ten pieces have something of that strange beast, the neo-prog instrumental, about them, while Pilgrim's Canterbury influence rears its head on a few tracks, too. Best material? Opener Ampelmännchen, parts of the eleven-minute Scotland, acoustic guitar piece Wandering and the gentle Sealth, perhaps. The samplotron turns up on pretty much every track except Wandering, mostly strings and flutes, although it's possible the considerable vibraphone use is pseudo-Mellotronic, too.
Triosphere started as a three-piece (there's a surprise), releasing their debut, Onwards, in 2006. They're very clearly in thrall to Queensrÿche, despite the occasional bursts of rather needless double-kick work, copying that outfit's patented riffage perfectly. You really can't tell they've got a female vocalist most of the time; Ida Haukland's contralto sounds like your typical prog-metal male tenor for the bulk of the album, thankfully steering well clear of the more typical shrieky female metal vocal clichés, or, indeed, that tedious mock-operatic thing that seems to be so inexplicably popular at the moment. Lumsk's Espen (W.) Godø is credited with Mellotron, but even more than on that band's Det Vilde Kor, its couple of brief appearances here sound fake. Incidentally, I know they've supported them, but covering W.A.S.P.'s Mean Man as a bonus track was a mistake.
Three years on and the band have expanded to a quartet for The Road Less Travelled (UK spelling! Yes!), adding another guitarist to perfect their Queensrÿche twin-lead-and-harmony moves. The material's slightly more mature than before, but at the end of the day, it's a prog metal album and is never going to sound particularly innovative, although there's no denying it's a highly competent recording within its genre. More of Godø's 'Mellotron', particularly the strings on opening instrumental Ignition and at the end of the title track, although it doesn't really sound any more real than before.
Jeff Trott's Dig Up the Astroturf is a rather unexciting singer-songwriter album, 'featuring' various hideously dated production tricks of the looped-rhythm variety, at its least dull on Atomic Halo. Trott is credited with Chamberlin, with vague orchestral sounds here and there and what sounds more like Mellotron choirs on Dalai Lama, while the strings on The Few That Remain aren't striking me as especially authentic.
Troya's sole album is a very typical German progressive release of its time, competent, yet uninspired, with a dearth of either memorable melodies or any great level of complexity. Opener She might be the best thing here, if only for its unusual approach to vocal melodies. Peter Savelsberg is credited with 'Melotron', which is quite clearly a cheap string synth, heard in all its solo glory on Chromatik and Festival, amongst others.
Sérgio Benchimol is one of Brazil's more active progressive musicians, releasing albums as True Illusion and Semente, as well as under his own name. 2000's True Illusion II is a passable release, switching between a rather laid-back progressive feel (opener Maré, Indispensável) and a slightly more aggressive jazz approach (everything else), although I'm afraid to say that it all palls somewhat after half an hour or so. Benchimol adds very obviously sampled 'Mellotron' strings to Indispensável; on the offchance that the word translates as 'indispensible', I can fully assure you it's not. I've heard vastly worse albums than True Illusion II, but then, I've heard vastly better ones, too. It has its moments and as it's available for free, there's nothing to stop you having a listen for yourself, but unless you're big on jazz, you may not wish to bother.
Although most of Americana outfit The Truth & Salvage Co. hail from the East Coast, they coalesced in LA in 2005, releasing their eponymous debut five years later. Truth & Salvage Co. is a good, if not outstanding album, top tracks including Old Piano (perfectly straddling the sincerity/corn divide), Jump The Ship and Rise Up, although nothing here appals. Adam Grace supposedly plays Mellotron, but the overly-smooth strings on Jump The Ship really aren't convincing me, I'm afraid. A good album, then, but not one obviously sporting any real Mellotron.
What to make of Tsuki no Wa (who appear to be almost synonymous with Japanese improv artist Natsume)'s debut, 2000's Ninth Elegy? Its overall feel is sparse and jazzy, typified by opener On Mother's Day and Oka No Ue De (although the two pieces have little else in common), although Yoake No Coffee's ethno-fusion and Festive In Borotanyo's creaky strings rather buck the trend. Best tracks? Hard to say, frankly; closer Going Home's layered vocals are possibly one of the album's most successful experiments, but approaching this record expecting to hear anything even remotely close to the mainstream, even in the jazz world, is to precipitate disappointment. Tetuzi Akiyama allegedly plays Mellotron strings on Festive In Borotanyo, but the samples are so poor (wildly obvious looping and all) that I'm wondering whether they're being ironic. So; not one for R&B fans, then. In fact, not one for non-fans of the avant-garde, end of.
White Horses is the kind of Americana album that starts well, then quickly becomes bogged down in overlong material and turgid arrangements, not helped by Kate Tucker's pleasant, yet rather wispy voice. Any highlights? Possibly opener Blue December and the title track, but it's all so relentlessly mid-paced that attention quickly wanders. Blake Wescott is credited with Mellotron, by which I presume they mean the sampled flutes on Where Are You (I Am Already Gone), as the strings on New Orleans and elsewhere couldn't even realistically be described as Mellotron samples.
Named for the 1930s film, Tugboat Annie were yer typical '90s indie band, upbeat, major-key songs with a hint of jangle, heartfelt, lovelorn lyrics... Horrible. Actually, although they don't appear to've had any obvious links with Christianity, their last album (hurrah!), 2000's The Space Around You, sounds like one of those vile, 'transcendent' CCM albums I've felt compelled to play for review rather too often. It has no, make that NO good points. Jon Sulkow plays samplotron, with a string part on Tell Me.
Ronan "Emmanuel Tugny" Prigent is probably better-known for his writing than his music, although he's released several albums over the last few years. Une Fille Pop is the third of these; it isn't hard to see Tugny's literature background, many of its unassuming pop/rock tracks being spoken, rather than sung. I can't say it interested me overmuch; it's probably at its best on the gentle, medieval-flavoured Rusalka (Mermaid). Fred Woff is credited with Mellotron on around half the album, but the strings and occasional flutes are obviously sampled.
Michelle Tumes' debut album was called Listen. Listen. Yes, listen. Listen to me. Do. Not. Buy. This. Album. There, was that clear enough? Imagine an overtly Christian Enya. From Australia. Get the picture? This is really pretty horrible, though it would be less offensive without all the usual God-bothering claptrap. And she's wearing virginal white on the sleeve. Yuck. So why am I even listening to the bloody thing? Usual reason, of course. Supposed Mellotron from Charlie Peacock and guess what? Nope, not 'Strawberry Fields' flutes. Nothing. Nothing audible, anyway. And I sat through this drivel for nothing? Piss off.
KT Tunstall's second album, the appallingly-titled Drastic Fantastic (also let down by its terrible sleeve design) is an acceptable, if rather dull, indie singer-songwriter effort, currently available at a charity shop near you. It's passable for a few tracks, but quickly palls, despite its relatively short length. Best tracks? Probably Beauty Of Uncertainty and closer Paper Aeroplane. Steve Osborne's credited with Mellotron on closer Paper Aeroplane, but I smell samples.
Turin Brakes are sometimes referred to as 'folk', which makes me wonder: just what kind of 'folk' do said referrers listen to themselves? 2007's Dark on Fire is the worst kind of dreary, self-obsessed, whiny British indie you can imagine, wussing along on a road of wuss, emoting frantically, just in case no-one had noticed how sensitive they are. Ugh. Although Gale Paridjanian (one of the band's two full-time members) is credited with Mellotron, although the short flute part at the end of Bye Pod clearly isn't. This is the kind of song that's so achingly contemporary that it'll sound obscenely dated in about two years. Oh, hang on, it's already two years since the album's release, isn't it? Point proven. This is unmitigated shite. Just don't. We Were Here is less offensive, merely very dull, which has to count as an improvement, I suppose. Lyrically, however... "It takes me a light year to move half a mile". D'OH! Ali Staton's 'Mellotron'? What, the flutish sound on Erase Everything?
Old Etonian (on a scholarship, though, so that's OK, apparently) Frank Turner made his name as vocalist with London-based hardcore crew Million Dead before going solo in 2005. 2011's England Keep My Bones is his fourth release, deserving Turner's 'punk/folk' appellation, his shouty vocals reminding me of a vastly better version of the awful New Model Army's more acoustic material. Best tracks? Opener Eulogy sets Turner's stall out with aplomb, the a capella English Curse, followed directly by the punky One Foot Before The Other, while 'secular hymn' Glory Hallelujah succeeds despite featuring the determinedly-ungrammatical line, "There never was no God". Matt Nasir plays supposed Mellotron flutes on Peggy Sang The Blues, but I seriously doubt their veracity. Tape Deck Heart is more of the same, basically; irritatingly, Turner's songs largely revolve around a single subject: how he fucks up relationships (his words, not mine), except when he's writing about his tattoos (yawn). Trouble is, they all merge into each other, like a musical monoculture, although Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons and the one where he namechecks Mötley Crüe are at least amusing. Nasir's credited with Mellotron again, but the background flutes and strings on The Way I Tend To Be and the same, plus cellos, on Oh Brother really aren't doing it for me. Be warned, kids: this is what happens when you grow up listening to The Levellers.
Nik Turner really shouldn't need any introduction: an original member of Hawkwind (he allegedly named them), he flitted in and out of the lineup for years before a catastrophic falling-out with chief Hawk Dave Brock, leading to some tiresome legal action regarding band monikers. Hawkwind aside, Nik's already appeared on this site with his other project, the Hawkalike Space Ritual, but his latest solo effort, 2013's Space Gypsy, goes all-out on the space rock front, coming across as a lost Hawkwind album from the mid-'80s. Unfortunately, most of its tracks fall into the 'like Hawkwind, but not as good' category (see: any number of second-rate space rock outfits, not to mention, er, modern Hawkwind), better contributions including opener (and single) Fallen Angel STS-51-L, complete with a bonkers Turner sax solo and Joker's Song. On the acoustic front, Galaxy Rise and Eternity are Demented Man-style offerings, the former featuring a rather odd flute solo that seems to be in a different key to the rest of the song, while The Visitor is more of a Hurry On Sundown-type busk; nothing startling, but at least they break up the potential monotony.
Jurgen Engler and Chris Leitz are credited with Mellotron, with Litmus-style slow, single-note or octave runs on pretty much every track, but I'm having trouble believing that the overly-smooth strings actually emanate from a real machine, to be honest. Whatever produced the sound, it's rather overused, too; less really CAN be more, chaps. All in all, an album for Hawkwind stalwarts who can't get enough psychedelic biker boogie, but with little standout material, it's unlikely to challenge the original band's ten-year run of great albums in many people's opinions.
Despite being a Texan, Steve Turner was intimately involved in the formation of various Seattle-area bands, notably Mudhoney. 2003's disingenuously-titled Searching for Melody sounds nothing like any of them, being Turner's take on traditional folk, unsurprisingly with a punk edge, particularly in the vocal department; think: 'modern Seattle Bob Dylan'. A very listenable album, its best tracks include Living Through The Mistakes, the title track, Smart Operator and a capella closer Last Call. Johnny Sangster plays samplotron on Instro #1, with a reverbed flute part dipping in and out of the mix.
I'm not sure how to describe Tussilago (named for the plant better known as coltsfoot): maudlin indie? Updated goth? Whatever you call it, we get very little harmonic movement within tracks, making five-minute opener Lovesong #1 quite interminable. Samuel Lundin is credited with Mellotron on closer Farewell, but the vague flutes clearly have little to do with a real machine.
On the Mend is a dull, Americana-tinged singer-songwriter effort, with no obvious highlights. Evan Brubaker's Mellotron credit? No idea.
Toronto's Max "Slim Twig" Turnbull apparently recorded A Hound at the Hem in 2010, but sidelined it until 2014. It's a frequently exhilarating ride through decades of pop history, not least ELO's very particular take on the genre, sadly almost ruined by its programmed percussion. Turnbull's occasional not-that-Mellotronic strings and flutes (the latter clearly audible at the end of All The Wanting) consign this to samples, however.
After a 2004 release under their own names, Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury became Twilight Hotel, 2008's Highway Prayer being their second album under their joint moniker. It artfully combines traditional folk with a modern sensibility, particularly in the lyric department, better tracks including rock'n'roll opener Viva La Vinyl, the title track, Shadow Of A Man and The Critic. Richard Bell on supposotron, with more Chamberlin-sounding (mixed?) string parts on If It Won't Kill You and an instrumental take on the same track, closer Best Buds.
The oddly-named Twilight Singers, led by ex-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli, specialise in laid-back melancholia, although, to my ears, they're too 'indie' to be especially interesting. I've seen a reference to trip-hop in a review of Twilight as Played By the Twilight Singers and I can see where the reviewer's coming from, although I'll stick with 'slightly miserablist indie', I think. I'm finding it difficult to come up with anything constructive to say about this album and I'm sure there's plenty of online reviews from people who know what they're talking about, so maybe I'll just stick to commenting on its alleged Mellotron use. Dulli plays it here, with strings all round, pretty upfront on The Twilite Kid and a short part at the end of Love that slips into the next track. More strings on Last Temptation and Railroad Lullaby, all sampled. The Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair EP appeared the week before their next album, featuring a reworking of the old folk tune via Nina Simone. The EP's other two tracks, Domani and Son Of The Morning Star both have a reasonable samplotronic presence, presumably from Dulli, with string parts on both. It's also definitely on said album, Blackberry Belle, which isn't dissimilar to its predecessor, although the songs seem more... focussed, somehow. Less irritating, anyway. Better samplotron use, too, from Dulli and Mathias Schneeberger this time, with pretty upfront strings on The Killer, Decatur St. and Papillon, although not so much on Fat City (Slight Return).
I'm afraid to say that after two plays, 2006's Powder Burns just ended up irritating me. I really don't get this 'overwrought indie' thing, I suppose, which describes the Twilight Singers to a T. Speaking of Ts, the samplotron's only actually properly audible on half its credited tracks, with Dulli playing strings on brief opening instrumental Toward The Waves, strings that could have come from almost anything on Bonnie Brae, possible flutes on The Conversation (not very audible here) and strings (alongside real ones) on the title track. Pete Adams plays the album's most audible samplotron part on My Time (Has Come), with a string part that actually stands out from the morass of instrumentation, but nothing here makes you go, "Wow! Mellotron!" (should you be prone to making such announcements). Funnily enough, the same year's A Stitch in Time EP is a far more listenable proposition all round, condensing everything the band do best into twenty-odd minutes, particularly on the incandescent They Ride. One samplotron track, with a rather unexciting background string part on closer The Lure Would Prove Too Much, proving that actually, you can't have it all. After a lengthy break, 2011's Dynamite Steps is their best album since Blackberry Belle, with the proviso that if you can't enter Greg Dulli's world, you're probably not going to get it. Like me. Anyway, better material than on Powder Burns, if less samplotron, with a mere two tracks this time round. Opener Last Night In Town builds up to a crescendo, strings bursting in at the peak, while On The Corner features background string stabs, both from Dulli.
Twin Age produced three albums in the mid- to late '90s, but seem to have gone very quiet lately. Going by the second, Lialim High, unlike several other Swedish bands of that era, they're quite firmly members of the neo-prog camp, with relatively simple song structures, few key changes and a vocalist who seems to aspire to be IQ's Peter Nicholls (who in turn, of course, aspires to be Peter Gabriel...). 1996's Month of the Year (***½), funnily enough, is slightly more adventurous than its follow-up, although there aren't even any Mellotron samples on board, never mind the real thing. The material on Lialim High's not actually bad, better than several similar I've heard lately, but its lack of musical challenge wears me down after a while. Not that I've got a 'thing' about it; I'll quite happily listen to any number of more straightforward acts, but if one aspires to be 'prog', then please BE prog, and don't sit on the fence. Jörgen Hanson plays 'Mellotron', although I strongly suspect he's using samples. It's slathered all over every track, although Hanson's use is far from innovative, to be honest; loads of string pads, while the choirs sound strangely muted. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it's samples; the album opens with stately solo Mellotron strings, but it all sounds too... clean. Anyway, if you haven't got a problem with 'neo' stuff, or the possibility that the Mellotron may be fake, you may well like this more than I did.
Wild Onion is Twin Peaks' first full-lengther (their twenty-minute debut really isn't an album, is it?), veering between a kind of heartfelt indie/powerpop hybrid and a punkier version of the style, at its peak (sorry) on Fade Away. Colin Croom and Cadien James are both credited with Mellotron, but the extremely dodgy flutes that open Mirror Of Time and the indifferent cellos and choirs on Ordinary People are clearly nothing of the sort.
Twinklehead's second, eponymous album has a distinct '70s pop vibe to it, with progressive touches in places, surprisingly, highlights including Avenue, Above The Sky and epic closer Forensic Detectives. Vidar Ersfjord (and Henrik Moy Askildsen?) play samplotron strings and flutes across much of the album, particularly upfront on opener After and Above The Sky.
Two Fires. What kind of band would use a name like that? I genuinely didn't have a clue until I pressed 'play', only to hear a '70s-ish hard rock guitar intro that didn't sound too unpleasant. Until... thirty seconds in, the drums kick in and... it's AOR. No! Not a modern AOR album! Please! Not another grab-bag collection of glossy 'commercial' rock clichés thrown together willy-nilly! Please! What is the fascination with this stuff? Given that Aussie AOR god Jimmy Barnes (wasn't he good in the '70s? Maybe not) made an album called Two Fires in 1990, I think we have to assume that this lot are named in honour of. To recap for a moment... As I'm sure you know, the once-behemoth of AOR has contracted to a worldwide huddle of enthusiasts, tied together by the proverbial World Wide Web. The genre always had a plethora of small-time bands hoping to break through from the mid-'70s on, the difference now being that, apart from the handful of giants still left touring the world's arenas, the little guys are all that's left. Sound familiar? Exactly the same thing as progressive rock, of course, although that genre's era was over a decade earlier. Despite the glut of pointless copycat prog (South Americans are particularly culpable here), there is one important difference between the genres: prog was always supposed to be about innovation and at least some modern practitioners still adhere to this principle; AOR was about producing the most commercial rock possible, without tipping over into pop, although, of course, there was always a huge crossover. So; some modern prog still strives to do something new. No AOR, new or otherwise, does anything but copy its predecessors, leaving new AOR albums sounding like nothing more than a pale copy of Foreigner, Journey, et al. and, believe me, Two Fires are no exception.
It turns out they actually have a Journey connection, although the band that springs to mind first is the underrated New England, without their high points. The sense of despair that crept over me as the album progressed (term used very loosely) would have been palpable had anyone else been unlucky enough to be in the room at the same time; this is glossy, superficial fluff of the highest/lowest order. And these qualities are highly regarded in the genre? It's a sick world, brothers and sisters... As if their forbears' albums weren't bad enough, this drivel also goes on seemingly forever, as the band attempts to fill the entire disc up with aural candyfloss, finally grinding to a halt at slightly over an hour. But is there any Mellotron, I hear you cry? (Finally). Joe Marquez is credited and, indeed, there are some distant flutes to be heard on I Believe In You, one of the album's slushier ballads, clearly sampled.
Matthew Tyas? No idea, squire. What I can tell you is that Tribute to Mellotron [sic] is precisely that, an album seemingly recorded using nothing but Mellotron sounds, presumably (given its release date) from the M-Tron. Rhythmically, this is all a bit hard to take, frankly, Folkloric Stuff and Shame On Shame's cha-cha-cha being particularly nasty, the end result sounding like a warped version of something that might've exuded from a sleazy nightclub in 1962. Tyas' MO is to construct a backing track using the rhythm 'tapes', then solo over it using the 'lead' sounds, as you would've done on an actual MkII at the time, more notable parts including the vibes and strings all over Early Night, mandolins and sax on Easy Way Out and flutes and church bell FX on Goths Day Out (OK, the guy's got a sense of humour), while Spotty's Drink ends with the legendary Bill Fransen "Yeah!" and the clunky Mellotron piano turns up on The Man who Walks. Do you need to hear this? Obsessives only, I'd say.
I've always had a bit of a soft (rock) spot for Judie Tzuke; she had quite a way with a tune on her first several albums and her first live release, Road Noise, is well worth hearing. I have to admit, however, that I'd lost interest some years before her tenth studio release, 1996's Under the Angels... Hearing it over fifteen years on and a rather scary thirty since I first saw her live, I can say that it's a very pleasant, inoffensive album of, well, soft rock, I suppose, similar to her early work, although without its obvious highs. Better tracks include typically Tzukian opener Two Mountains, the title track, which could easily be an outtake from one of her early releases, Without Love and mini-epic Joan Of Arc, although the record as a whole bears a distinct air of treading water. Someone plays a murky Mellotron string sample solo on the title track, but it's hardly anything to write home about. Those who, like me, lost faith in Judie over the years will, in Under the Angels, find an album that's probably best described as 'another Judie Tzuke record'; you know what you're going to get, up to you whether you want it.