U I Blue
Songbird's Cry (2004, 71.35) **½
|The Songbird's Cry - part 1
I Can't Help Myself
When You Call
Thoughts in an Hourglass
Roses Artificially Made
The Songbird's Cry - part 2
U I Blue are the personal and professional duo of vocalist Laura Lindstrom and multi-instrumentalist Jon Paul (Davis), whose sole album to date, 2004's Songbird's Cry, combines folk, rock and trance influences into a not especially pleasing stew, particularly on its two opening tracks. The album has its moments (generally the folkier ones), not least When You Call and Monologue, but with too many insipid songs of the likes of Tomorrow, they're onto a bit of a loser, I'm afraid. Overall, I think this could've been improved by slicing about half an hour from its length, namely the weaker tracks and removing all the sampled beats and bloops, but that's merely one man's opinion, of course...
Fred Schendel from Glass Hammer is credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, but that means about as much as the 'Mellotron' on his own band's releases. Anyway, we get strings and choirs on When You Call and Roses Artificially Made, flutes, strings and choir on Thoughts In An Hourglass, flutes on Monologue, strings on the grungy No One, Mad Keys and The Songbird's Cry - Part 2 and strings and flute on My Dove, which do their best to improve the frequently substandard material. All in all, I'm afraid to say I really can't recommend this, as all concerned seem to've put a great deal of work into it, but then, isn't that usually the case? I'd stick with Glass Hammer, if I were you.
See: Glass Hammer
All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000, 49.36/53.19) **½
Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of
In a Little While
Peace on Earth
|When I Look at the World
[European editions add:
The Ground Beneath Her Feet]
I discovered U2 in mid-1983, mere moments too late to see them play small(ish) venues, the nearest I've come to so doing being their 1987 Wembley Stadium 'club warm-up' at, er, the 10,000 capacity Wembley Arena. I've had to put up with all manner of insults over the years for owning up to liking their first few albums - yes, even The Joshua Tree - but I stand resolute: to my ears, they invented a new way of playing hoary old rock'n'roll, already in the doldrums even in 1980, utilising their relatively limited talents effectively and coming up with something fresh and new. Unfortunately, after surviving one reinvention (the Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire and the aforementioned Joshua Tree), Rattle & Hum's faux-rootsy approach stuck in my craw, although the band just carried on getting bigger and bigger, so what do I know?
2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind was seen as something of a return to their roots when it appeared, but listening to it a decade or so on, all I hear is a cheesy, pop/rock version of U2's original sound, with all the guts removed and replaced by squeaky-clean, major-key paeans to, well, nothing in particular, it seems, featuring what have to be some of the most godawful lyrics ever. Aren't you embarrassed to be producing this kind of mainstream guff at your age, chaps? Clearly not, as I'm sure their bank balances will attest. It isn't all bad; opener Beautiful Day (a huge hit, I believe) won me over after a bad start, but overall, this disappointed me almost as much as I'd expected, although not quite enough to give it a really appalling rating.
For some unknown reason, the band opted to use Mellotron string samples on two or three tracks; definitely on Beautiful Day and Kite and possibly on In A Little While, although the strings on several other tracks sound like generic samples. Anyway, you already either love or hate this, I'd imagine, so a couple of moments of underwater fakeotron aren't going to make a jot of difference one way or the other. Incidentally, I've recently been made aware of the always amusing Half Man, Half Biscuit's superb Eno Collaboration: I'm sure it's on YouTube and it's funnier than U2.
Buonanotte ai Suonatori (1992, 45.07) **½
Il Cielo In Una Stanza
Mi Sembra Che Va Bene
Ma 'Ndo ...Hawaii
La Donna Cannone
Italia Uber Alles
Qua Qua Quando (Versilia Edit)
1992's Buonanotte ai Suonatori appears to be Italian pop/rock crew Ufo Piemontesi's debut, a strange album, full of rock and pop references, scattered about for no obviously good reason. Opener Sabato Pomeriggio kicks off à la The Sweet's Ballroom Blitz, albeit in Italian, other obvious references including snatches from The Knack's My Sharona, Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side and several rock'n'roll standards. Is any of it any good? Not really, to be honest; this is very much a 'locals' record, of the kind rarely heard outside its home territory.
Although bassist Andrea Tognoli is blatantly credited with Mellotron, this would appear to be yet another false alarm, a band attempting some weird form of 'cool', although to whom, I'm not at all sure. There really isn't anything here that would even vaguely pass as Mellotronic, but perhaps there's something buried in the mix. Who knows? Frankly, unless you're a fan of the early '90s Italian mainstream, you won't be interested anyway.
Unifaun (2008, 76.27) ***½
|Birth of a Biggie
To the Green Faerie
Mr. Marmaduke and the Minister
Quest for the Last Virtue
A Way Out
|Welcome to the Farm
Vocalist Nad Sylvan (who has also worked with Roine Stolt in Agents of Mercy) and instrumentalist Christian "Bonamici" Thordin 'met' on an online Genesis message board, quickly giving birth to Unifaun (spot the quote)'s spot-on late '70s Genesis tribute/copy/pastiche. 2008's Unifaun ticks all the boxes: Collinsesque vocals? Check. Swirly, phased organ? Check. Rumbling (pseudo-)Taurus pedals? Check. Banks-esque chord sequences? Check, with bells on. Part of me wants to lambast this for its slavishly copyist approach, while another wants to proclaim its 'lost Genesis album' credentials from the rooftops, although the not-so occasional slide into near-plagiarism doesn't help their cause, viz the massive Yes rip (Yours Is No Disgrace) halfway through the lengthy Quest For The Last Virtue, The Carpet Crawlers on A Way Out, The Chamber Of 32 Doors on Finistère...
Despite their claim to use 'vintage, vintage and vintage' gear, the 'Mellotron' fairly clearly isn't; thankfully, they refuse to go over the top, just like, er, Genesis, with bursts of strings and choir here and there, not to mention flutes on Quest For The Last Virtue. Of course, the occasional part strays too close to their source material, notably towards the end of Swingers Party, where the strings describe a close relative to Watcher Of The Skies, while a guitar line from later in the same piece 'reminds' us of part of Robbery, Assault & Battery. Come on, guys... Ultimately, however, the undeniably talented duo are quite open about their intention to make 'the Genesis album Genesis never made', making it near-impossible to slate this for unoriginality, so we might just as well enjoy it for what it is.
See: Agents of Mercy
Cernido Sonidos (2010, 19.57) **Pearls
On the Run California
Who are The Union Line? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure; some form of US indie outfit, essentially, going by their 2010 Cernido Sonidos EP. Actually, I'm having trouble categorising their style and not necessarily in a good way. Indie skiffle? Hard to say. They're really not helped by vocalist Richard Theisen III's overwhelming desire to be Television's Tom Verlaine so badly it must hurt. But he isn't. Although the EP's only twenty minutes long, it still managed to irritate the fuck out of me, Sorry, guys.
Jordan Sabolick is credited with Mellotron, adding flute chords towards the end of On The Run California and alternating melody and chordal parts on Dirty Water, but the latter pretty much gives the sample game away, the notes sounding far too regular to be genuine. Can I recommend this? No, I can not.
Implosion (2004, 48.48) ***½
Falling Rain Dance
La Mort de Sophocle (Sophocle's Death)
Out of Space 4
First Short Dance
Second Short Dance
Variations on Mellotronic's Theme
À Rebours (In Reverse)
Univers Zero are one of the longest-running uncompromising bands you'll encounter on this site, making it no surprise that their spiritual home, America's Cuneiform label, has become their actual one, too. 1981's Ceux du Dehors features a real Mellotron, but 2004's Implosion can only manage a fake, which barely detracts from the album's impact (and not at all to anyone with even the remotest sense of perspective), its sixteen mostly short tracks hovering on the edge of the region most supposed music fans consider unlistenable. Fuck me, they should hear Schoenberg.
Someone plays some pretty awful Mellotron string samples on - you guessed it - Mellotronic, the low notes stretching horribly, putting the 'ic' into the title of the piece, although it's not reiterated in Variations On Mellotronic's Theme. I can recommend this to anyone interested in angular, awkward music, along with the rest of the band's catalogue, but I wouldn't bother if you're one for 'anything with a nice tune'.
See: Univers Zero
La Crudeltà di Aprile (2013, 59.21) ***½Dell'Innocenza Perduta
Atlantis (Conferendis Pecuniis)
Catabasi (Descensio ad Inferos)
Dove la Luce è Più Intensa
a. Le Radici del Mare
c. Nel Sonno della Ragione
d. Il Baratro della Follia
Il Paese del Tramonto (2015, 70.20) ***
|Ouverture: Obscurus Fio
Oniromanzia (il Paese del Tramonto)
La Meccanica dell'Ombra
Il Nome di Lei
Lo Schermo di Pietra (Κένωσις)
|Ex Tenebrae Lux
a) Gelidae Mortis Imago
b) Ciò Che Disse il Tuono
c) Processo Secondario
d) Ab Aeterno
Young Italian progsters Unreal City (sort-of protégés of producer Fabio Zuffanti) are the latest entrants in the 'Italian retro prog' stakes, their 2013 debut, La Crudeltà di Aprile, making many of the correct moves. Unfortunately, it has one major failing: its juxtapositioning of 'straight from the '70s' sections with 'straight from the neo-prog '80s and '90s' ones, far too many of its chord sequences falling into clichéd 'Em/D/C/D'-style patterns, complete with Marillion-esque widdly Moog arpeggios. Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to denigrate the album, merely to point out areas for improvement, if the band aspire towards modern prog greatness. To redress the balance, highlights include the adventurously rhythmic piano work on opener Dell'Innocenza Perduta, the several-minute church organ/tubular bells section that opens Catabasi (Descensio Ad Inferos) and the several reflective Mellotron-and-vocal parts scattered across the album.
Emanuele Tarasconi is credited with both Mellotron and Chamberlin, although the latter seems as unlikely as it does on Maschera di Cera's recent Le Porte del Domani opus. For that matter, a quick look at the pic (right) of the band in the studio tells us all we need to know. Anyway, loads of string and choir parts on every track (not least the solo strings that open Ecate (Walpurgisnacht)), plus occasional flutes. All in all, then, a pretty decent album, although it should come with a 'some neo- influences' caveat.
Two years on, Il Paese del Tramonto is, if anything, less original than its predecessor, sadly. Not a bad album, not at all, but, despite some lovely moments (the accordion-and-fiddle section in La Meccanica Dell'Ombra, the Änglagård-esque opening to Oniromanzia), too much of this overlong release treads overly-familiar ground, with a dearth of real imagination in the compositional process. Plenty of samplotron again, with string, choir and brass parts scattered across the record; you wouldn't even mistake most of it for a real machine this time round.
Unreal City aren't bad, but nor are they especially good; I presume they wish to write semi-neo- material like this, but if they harbour any desire at all to do something genuinely new, they're going to have to take a sharp left turn somewhere along the line.
Leaves Turn Inside You (2001, 76.54) ****
|We Invent You
Look a Ghost
Demons Sing Love Songs
Off This Century
One Lick Less
October All Over
Below the Salt
Unwound, at least on their seventh album, Leaves Turn Inside You, are like a noisier version of Low, peddling a kind of very post-Velvets melancholy, that sometimes has little in common with 'rock' per se, which isn't to say they can't rock out at times. Is this what happens when a later-issue punk band discovers prog? Dunno, but it's pretty good, although at over 70 minutes (spread over two discs, oddly), it slightly outstays its welcome in places.
There's fake Mellotron on half the tracks, played variously by band member Justin Trosper plus Brandt Sandeno and Steve Fisk (a notorious fakester, pre-2005). Opener We Invent You has a nice string part, with cellos audible at the end, although Scarlette's strings and October All Over's flutes are somewhat sparser, and the ten-minute Below The Salt only has a few seconds of flute at the end of the piece. The album's 'Mellotron' classics, though, are the major string use on Radio Gra and the strings and Mark II 'Tron rhythms on Who Cares, ending with the infamous Bill Fransen 'yeah!' which can also be heard on Lol Coxhill's A Series Of Superbly Played Mellotron Codas (the 'Mark II' use is the album's chief sample giveaway).
So; damn' good album, some excellent fakeotron work. Go for it.
A Few of Autumn (2006, 23.12) **½Sparks
Image of You
A Few of Autumn
What can I tell you about Uookasz? Next to nothing, frankly; they're a Polish ambient dance outfit, whose 2006 EP, A Few of Autumn, is available as a free download, should you feel so inclined. To be honest, the bulk of the short release irritated the fuck out of me, although the laid-back title track's harmless enough, I suppose. In fairness, they have an occasional way with placement of samples, notably the harp on closer Compound Eye, but that just brings us back to the old 'recycling other peoples' work' argument, which I think we're probably all a little sick of by now.
Someone plays/programmed samplotron strings on the title track and strings and flutes on Leafs Dance [sic], for what it's worth, which isn't an awful lot. So; ambient your bag? Go for it: it's free.
Pure (1991, 50.15) **
|I See Hope in the Morning Light
Cold, Cold Heart
Let it Go?
Light in Your Eyes
|Hands Around My Heart
While it's convenient to break events of all kinds into decades, real life isn't that simple; in some ways, the '60s finished before the end of 1969, but in other ways dragged on several years into the '70s, which in turn finished around 1978 or 9. The same goes for the horrors of 1980s music; as late as 1993, many atrocious '80s production tricks could still be heard on records (see: The Rime of the Ancient Sampler for details...).
James "Midge" Ure, OBE, worked his way up through Slik and the Rich Kids before joining Ultravox for their fourth album, Vienna, who eventually dissolved, leaving him to his sporadically successful solo career. Pure appears to be his fourth solo album, and while not being the Full Duran, it still reminds the listener far more of the '80s than any other decade, despite being released in 1991, justifying my lengthy and tedious point above. This might be just about acceptable if the songs were any good, but with the exception of the fake-accordion driven Tumbling Down, they're not, and as a bonus, Ure's voice seems to've lost its charm of old. I'm sure he's a very nice man, but this is a dull album. There's credited Mellotron on Rising, from Josh Phillips Gorse (note: this man once played with the mighty Diamond Head), but it's totally inaudible amongst the wash of duff digital synths; I mean, why bother?
So; a dull album, horrible production, and inaudible Mellotron. Maybe not. Incidentally, there's supposed to be more 'Mellotron' on 1988's Answers to Nothing (a good year for Mellotrons, that), but rather predictably, there isn't.
Little Songs (1998, 33.03) *½
St. Lawrence River
Jesus Was My Girl
Unholy, Dirty and Beautiful
|Final Thoughts And The Last Day On Earth
Strange Birds (2007, 41.06) *½
Ugly is Beautiful
So Far Down
|Life of Bees
Some People Say
The Mile End Sessions (2010, 48.20) **½
|Alone in the Universe (acoustic)
Everyday Things (acoustic)
The Music (acoustic)
Fall to Pieces
Sparkle and Shine (acoustic)
St. Lawrence River (acoustic)
|My Way Out (acoustic)
Black Black Heart (acoustic)
And So We Run (acoustic)
Kill the Lights (Mile End mix)
I'm Coming Down (acoustic)
Je Repars (radio remix)]
British-born Canuck David Usher was apparently frontman with Moist, who might mean something to me were I about half my current age. And Canadian. As it is, I'm neither, so they don't. Usher's solo career kicked off during his tenure with the band and if it all sounds like 1998's Little Songs, we're all doomed. Sorry, but this kind of 'confessional' singer-songwriter stuff sticks in my craw all too often, especially when it tries to get all 'contemporary' on us, with loops, samples and the like. Speaking of samples, the 'Mellotron' here is just that. The jury could be out on the strings on opener Trickster, but they're so obviously sampled on Million that this gets dumped straight onto this page without passing Go or collecting £200.
2007's Strange Birds is every bit as bad, exacerbated by the occasional semi-decent intro, which quickly slumps into a new slough of despond, characterised by Usher's irritating vocals and the exceptionally wishy-washy songwriting. Although Kevin Young is credited with 'keyboards, synthesizers, mellotrons, pianos' (note the plurals) on seven tracks, there's nothing here that sounds anything more like a Mellotron than a generic string sample, frankly, making this even more inessential than Usher's other two relevant albums.
Usher's seventh release, 2010's The Mile End Sessions (Mile End in Montreal, not London) is considerably less awful than his debut, if wildly unexciting itself. An all-acoustic effort, it combines reworked versions of existing material with new songs, none of which grabbed this particular listener, frankly. Young's credited 'Mellotron' flutes on My Way Out sound somewhat inauthentic to my ears, so unless I'm told otherwise, into samples this goes.
Little Songs and Strange Birds are pretty dreadful, while The Mile End Sessions is merely dull, but I'm still not sure exactly what is supposed to make David Usher stand out from hell's legions of similar bedsitter types.
Dutch April (1998, 47.23) ****
|My Life With Jack the Fool
Before the Next Bell Rings
You Better Let it Go
I Can Still See Her Eyes
|Why Don't You Say What You Mean
Begging for Rain
Another Fall From Grace
Tomorrow's Gonna Bring a New Man to Town
George Usher's second supposed 'Mellotron' album, 1998's Dutch April, is, like its successor, 2000's Days of Plenty, a superb powerpop release, full of the kind of twists and turns that show how well he understands classic songwriting. Highlights? It's all good, but opener My Life With Jack The Fool, the bittersweet I Can Still See Her Eyes and Why Don't You Say What You Mean (what is it with this guy and lengthy titles?) stand out. If I have one criticism, it's that the strummed acoustics bolstering every track become a little too ubiquitous for their own good, but, frankly, that's splitting hairs.
Usher's credited with Mellotron, but the skronky string line on Before The Next Bell Rings and murky flute and string lines on Begging For Rain, both played too quickly for their own good, fail to convince, I'm afraid. Then again, no-one in their right mind would buy this for a couple of tracks featuring occasional sampled Mellotron, anyway. Buy it because it's excellent. Incidentally, I haven't heard Usher's previous release, Miracle School, but I think its 'Mellotron' credit now has to be regarded with suspicion, too.
See: George Usher