Wendy & Lisa
When the Clouds
A Whisper in the Noise
Rick Wakeman (UK) see:
Happiness With Minimal Side Effects (2003, 47.11) ***½Too Much Dogma
Castaway + (instrumental outro: Tai Phun)
I Can't Breathe + (instrumental intro: Network News)
Captain of Industry
Pilgrim's Progress + (instrumental intro: Dis Traction)
In progressive circles, Ian Wallace is best known for his brief tenure with King Crimson (1971-2), but his CV encompasses his work with Bob Dylan (Street Legal period), Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne and dozens of others. Around the time he joined The 21st Century Schizoid Band, replacing Michael Giles for the second time in their respective careers, he released his lone solo album, 2003's Happiness With Minimal Side Effects. The album owes a partial debt to, not 'his' version of Crimso, but their mid-'90s resurgence, particularly opener Too Much Dogma, its excellent lyrics taking a heavy, yet intelligent dig at organised religion. Wallace turns out to have a fine singing voice, only one guest vocalist credited on the album and then only on one track, while two other ex-Crims (Ian McDonald and Pat Mastelotto) turn up, although Wallace played with neither at the time. The rest of the material's not at all bad, although personally, I'd have quietly dropped jazzy closer Pilgrim's Progress, the album's weakest track.
Wallace is credited with 'Mellotron', although it's quite clearly nothing of the sort, with strings on Too Much Dogma and possibly Castaway. So; a pretty decent effort, particularly for Crimson fans, given the quality of Wallace's sidemen. Incidentally, with a terrible irony, given that this album's I Can't Breathe includes the line, "We've got a cure for cancer", Wallace died of the oesophageal variety in early 2007, mere months after his old Crimson bandmate Boz Burrell, wiping out half of their mark two lineup at a stroke.
See: King Crimson | 21st Century Schizoid Band
A New Order Rising (2004, 55.33) **½
Have You Ever
Maker of Time
Riverrun By Night
Washington seem to be the Norwegian equivalent of a slightly more interesting Keane, as far as I can work out; other pointers tend to be Coldplay, Radiohead et al., which should be telling you 'slow, stately and rather empty' (Radiohead honourably excepted). Even Pink Floyd have been quoted, probably for Washington's lap steel and gentle Hammond use. A New Order Rising is their debut album, five years into their career and is a perfectly respectable record, without running any risk of triggering any adrenaline in its listeners. Of course, that's the whole point, but I personally find nearly an hour of rather dreary indie drags somewhat, especially as vocalist Rune Simonsen sounds rather too close to Keane's Tom Chaplin for comfort, unless, of course, you happen to like that kind of overwrought over-emoting...
Lars Lien (Dadafon, 3rd & the Mortal) produced and plays keys, including what I'm quite sure is a sampled Mellotron on a handful of tracks, with a very upfront flute part (and background strings) on Have You Ever, 'are they/aren't they?' strings on Bluebird and some distant choirs on Velvet Room, the last chord on the last-named overrunning the 8-second limit in true sampled fashion. The 'Mellotron' use only slightly enhances a rather drab album, to be honest. Dull.
The Watch (Italy) see:
The Astral Factor (2006, 43.21) ***Mountains
The Astral Factor
Painting Without Colours
Imaginative (2007, 48.49) **½Vision or Void
The Angels and the Fireball
A Journey to the Center of the Soul
Waterclime are one of several Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund projects, a (deep breath) heavy/psych/folk/prog outfit, who've released two albums to date. The first, 2006's The Astral Factor, is completely divorced from Hedlund's usual metallic leanings, shifting stylistically between the 'Uriah Heep-go-folk' of opener Mountains, the '70s retro-rock of Midnight Flyer and the jazzy (!) Scarytale. 'Mr. V' (i.e. Hedlund) plays nearly everything, including the overt (and obviously sampled) strings that open Floating, not to mention the strings and flutes on just about every track here, overused in classic 'we've got a sample set and we're gonna use it' stylee.
His/their second album, Imaginative, appeared the following year, essentially more of the same, but less so, exposing a rather unfortunate tendency to add (synth) brass to several tracks. No, that does not make your album sound like Blood, Sweat & Tears. More overused samplotron, mostly strings and choir this time round, for what it's worth. I hate to be down on these albums, but while Hedlund is aiming in the right direction, he seems to be missing his target by some way. Both records commit the cardinal sin of being boring, admittedly one more than the other, making me think that one disc of shorter versions of some of their better material might make for a more interesting listen.
Wooden Arms (2009, 45.13) **½
Big Bird in a Small Cage
Down at the Beach
|Man Like You
Where the Wild Things Are
Machinery of the Heavens
Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson's third album, 2009's Wooden Arms, is quite infuriating in its own way; moments of genuine beauty (Sarah Pagé's harp on Down At The Beach, Man Like You's guitar intro) are indiscriminatingly slotted in amongst acres of weedy falsetto and cod-indie rhythms (for want of a better phrase). The overall effect is of an album that could've been good, but simply didn't try hard enough.
Watson is credited with Memotron, but with real strings on the album, it's impossible to say where it might be used. Does it matter? Not really, no.
Shadows of... (2002, 43.45) **½
|Wired That Way
Look Down Darkly
Blur to Me
Almost All Day
What's Needed Now
Led by vocalist/guitarist Dean Fertita, Detroit's Waxwings made three albums before (presumably) grinding to a halt in the mid-2000s. The second of these, 2002's Shadows of... (or, I suppose, Shadows of the Waxwings) clearly owes a debt to their city's 'garage revival', enhanced by the band's touring with The White Stripes, better tracks including the raucous Cloud Over and the early Kinksian Blur To Me. Unfortunately, the overall effect, despite the album's 'sensible' length, is of a band with limited songwriting skill, which is quite possibly why they are now no more.
Although Jessie Greene is credited with violin and cello, the strings on Almost All Day are clearly Mellotronic, albeit most likely in a sampled form, probably played by Fertita, who's gone on to play keyboards for the wildly overrated Queens of the Stone Age. Do you bother? Shouldn't think so, no.
Hold Me (2004, 31.18) **½
Hold Me/Popcorn Trees
Holy Train Wrecks
Ribs & Wrinkles
Weird Weeds seem to do a variety of post-rock that makes very little sense to my ears, I'm afraid; maybe you have to attune yourself to this kind of stuff, but the 20th-century classical influences to be heard on 2004's Hold Me tend to grate on my ears, although I doubt if that's the desired effect. I find that any one track played at random sounds OK, but the cumulative effect of an album's-worth set my teeth on edge after a while, even though this is the shortest modern album I've heard in a long while.
Sampled 'Tron on two tracks, with dissonant flutes on Soda Jerk, although the album's crowning fakeotron moment is the actually very beautiful first minute or so of opener Paratrooper Seed, which is nowt but solo polyphonic flutes, far too smooth to be real, which probably means they are. I didn't really like this, but you might, and its first minute really is a corker...
The Mollusk (1997, 43.54) ***½
|I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight
Polka Dot Tail
I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot
The Blarney Stone
It's Gonna Be (Alright)
The Golden Eel
|Cold Blows the Wind
Pink Eye (on My Leg)
Waving My Dick in the Wind
She Wanted to Leave (Reprise)
White Pepper (2000, 39.28) ***½
|Exactly Where I'm at
Flutes of Chi
Even if You Don't
Bananas and Blow
Back to Basom
She's Your Baby
Quebec (2003, 55.27) ***
|It's Gonna Be a Long Night
Among His Tribe
So Many People in the Neighborhood
Tried and True
Happy Colored Marbles
Hey There Fancypants
I Don't Want it
The Fucked Jam
If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All)
I've always mixed Ween up with Weezer, for obvious alphabetical reasons, but it seems there are few points of contact between their styles, which has to be a good thing. Ween are the duo of Aaron "Gene Ween" Freeman and Mickey "Dean Ween" Melchiondo, plus whoever they're working with at any given moment. If it's comparisons you're after, try 'a bit like They Might Be Giants' in their overall quirkiness and fanatical fanbase, which isn't to say that fans of one will necessarily like the other.
The Mollusk is an intriguing album, referred to (admittedly by fans) as their Sgt. Pepper, which is probably going a bit far, to be honest. It's certainly an eclectic mix of styles, with the vaudevillian I'm Dancing In The Show Tonight contrasting sharply with the irritating novelty number Waving My Dick In The Wind or the psych/prog monster Buckingham Green (surely the album's best track?) 'Mellotron' from an unknown player, presumably one of the 'twins', with a major string part on the old English folk of Cold Blows The Wind, that, although it sounds raw enough to be real, has a final note that hangs over the eight-second limit, making me think it's probably samples. Muted choirs in Buckingham Green and strings on She Wanted To Leave (Reprise) all sound good, if not entirely genuine.
2000's White Pepper is less, er, conceptual than The Mollusk, although still wildly eclectic, covering neo-psych (Flutes Of Chi), ELO-ish pop (Even If You Don't), pseudo-calypso (Bananas And Blow) and metal (Stroker Ace), and that's just in the first twenty minutes. 'Mellotronically' speaking, there are possible skronky flutes on opener Exactly Where I'm At, with very upfront ones on Ice Castles and Back To Basom. Y'know, they sound so wobbly on Ice Castles that I'm beginning to wonder if it's samples put through some kind of modulation, the pitch wavers up and down so badly. Badly and suspiciously regularly...
2003's Quebec is a bit more laid-back than its predecessors, with little that stands out on initial listens, although the ghostly Alcan Road's psychedelia and the proggish The Argus are worth hearing. The rest of the album's as eclectic as ever, just less appealing than before. Maybe too much variety? Very little sampletron this time round, too, with a brief string part on Transdermal Celebration being the only obvious sighting, although it could be buried away elsewhere, too.
Of course, now I've put Ween here, someone will write with hard evidence that the 'Tron's real, even if not on all the above albums. I'm sticking by my theorising two paragraphs up until/if I'm told otherwise, though. As far as the actual albums go, their star ratings tell the story better than more pointless verbiage. As for the fakeotron, The Mollusk and White Pepper are fairly equal, with the most upfront part probably being the latter's Ice Castles.
Be My Thrill (2010, 38.28) **
|Please Speak Well of Me
When You Go Away
Red Red Rose
I Was Made for Sunny Days
They're in Love, Where am I?
Add My Effort
Be My Thrill
Be My Honeypie
Hard to Please
Not a Lullaby
How Do You Get High?
Empty Your Hands
Sirens (2015, 48.14) **½
|River From the Sky
Learning to Fly
Never Let You Down
Ever Said Goodbye
|Early Morning Riser
Boys Who Want to Be Girls
Brand New Pair of Wings
Does Not Bear Repeating
My Little Love
The Weepies are the husband/wife duo of Steve Tannen and Deb Talan, already fans of each others' music when they met. Sadly, their fourth album (and third on Nettwerk), 2010's Be My Thrill, is a rather insipid effort; I'm sure they're making exactly the kind of folky/indie stuff they like, but I'm afraid I find myself hard-pushed to say anything nice about it. Or, indeed, anything at all. Brad Gordon supposedly plays Mellotron, but no idea where, as it's completely inaudible, which doesn't even give me the chance to ascertain whether or not it might be sampled. I suppose this is good at what it does, but please don't ask me to trawl through it again.
Their fifth album, 2015's Sirens, while still somewhat on the twee side, is an improvement on its predecessor. At its best (the title track, Wild Boy), the music can be most affecting, although it tips over into 'twee' a little too often for its own good (the irritating folk/pop of Never Let You Down, the teeth-gritting My Little Love). The Mellotron samples aren't even played in a convincing manner, but at least they're audible this time round, with strings on opener River From The Sky and Boys Who Want To Be Girls and flutes in a couple of places.
Twenty-Four Seven (2004, 42.02) ***½
|See for the First Time
One Sweet Nothing
Lines You've Crossed
Sex & the Suburbs
Press Begin to Play
|The Great Equalizer
Something on Your Mind
Bleed on the Outside
The Well Wishers are effectively Spinning Jennies' Jeff Shelton's powerpop project, whose debut, 2004's Twenty-Four Seven, is a fine example of the style, all breezy sunshine melodies and jangly guitars. Shelton plays with the genre a little, tackling old-school punk (well, sort of) on Sex & The Suburbs and even country on Something On Your Mind, while adding monosynth to a few tracks in true Cars stylee. Highlights include opener (of course) See For The First Time, Bustin Up and Press Begin To Play, but little here disappoints.
Someone (presumably Shelton) adds clearly sampled Mellotron strings to Dead Again, particularly obvious on the low notes, with possibly a little more on closer The Game. No matter; this is a most worthwhile album, faux-'Tron or no faux-'Tron.
White Flags of Winter Chimneys (2008, 41.56/60.44) ***
Salt And Cherries (MC5)
You and I
|White Flags of Winter Chimneys
Sweet Suite (Beginning at the End)
[Download-only bonus tracks:
Niagara Falls (demo)
The Dream (demo)
Viste (home recording)
Waiting for Coffee (demo)]
Wendy (Melvoin, sister of The Smashing Pumpkins' Jonathan) and Lisa (Coleman) were, of course, integral members of Prince's Revolution in the '80s, going solo in '87 after falling out with the Great Man (cough). Unbelievably, 2008's White Flags of Winter Chimneys (from a line in Joni Mitchell's Hejira) is self-released, as a duo of their standing aren't on a label; OK, that has its advantages (some would say, "Considerable advantages"), but there are reasons artists sign with large companies. It's actually a fine album of singer-songwriterly material, with unsurprising '80s touches in places, better tracks including the all-acoustic You And I and the excellent, almost proggy Sweet Suite (Beginning At The End), complete with its beautiful opening piano solo.
One (or both?) of the duo add Mellotron samples (admitted in an online interview), with choirs on Ever After, Salt And Cherries (MC5), Red Bike, the title track and Sweet Suite, sounding neither particularly authentic or inauthentic. Overall, a long way from the kind of sub-Prince nonsense you might've expected, which has to be good news. Almost prog in places (gasp!), this is a very listenable album, albeit one without too many defining features.
Under the Red & White Sky (1994, 53.12) **
|Into the Night
None So Beautiful
Waiting for the Sun
She Said No
The Last Light
To Reach Out
Rome is Burning
What You Really Want
Cuttin' the Tree
John Wesley was the eighteenth-century minister and theologian who founded the Methodist church. He... Er, sorry, that's what comes of relying too heavily on WikiPedia. This John Wesley (Dearth, a.k.a. Wes Dearth) was apparently Marillion's guitar tech in the early '90s, for his sins; his band certainly opened for them at the time, while he later joined Porcupine Tree as their live second guitarist, alongside his solo career. I'm afraid to say, however, that his solo debut, 1994's Under the Red & White Sky, is an album so insipid that it makes Marillion's contemporaneous work sound raw and edgy; this is bland, AOR/soft rock for the most part, Cuttin' The Tree and the Americana of closer Silver being the nearest this gets to 'dynamism'. Worst tracks? Most of the rest, frankly. Sorry.
The 'Mellotron' strings and flutes on None So Beautiful are fairly obviously sampled (no good samples around in '94), quite possibly the 'first generation' ones Marillion apparently made from an associate's machine and used on a handful of albums around the same time, not least the same year's Brave. I'm sorry to be so hard on this; Wesley strikes me as a decent chap and an excellent musician, but this kind of 'nothing music' does him no favours whatsoever. He's made most of his back catalogue available free of charge from his website, though, so you can decide for yourself without having to splash out.
See: Marillion | Porcupine Tree
Back Home (2007, 47.30) *
Us Against the World
I'm Already There
When I'm With You
Have You Ever
Catch My Breath
|The Easy Way
Pictures in My Head
You Must Have Had a Broken Heart
I think Westlife's Wikipedia entry says it all: "Westlife are an Irish pop group formed on 3 July 1998". So accurate? Was that the day all the hand-picked participants signed their management contracts? I don't know why I even bother getting disgusted by manufactured boy/girl bands; they've been around as long as pop has existed and will be around until it coughs its last. 2007's Back Home is their pretty vile eighth non-compilation effort, consisting of the limpest of limp balladry, interspersed with the occasional upbeat effort (The Easy Way, Pictures In My Head), slightly reducing its overall soporific effect. But only slightly.
Producer Steve Mac is credited with Mellotron on It's You, but whatever he adds to the track is inaudible under the real strings and backing vocals, meaning that I've (half-) listened to this for no reason at all. Gahhh. Y'know, I actually approached this hoping to find something positive to say about it, but have failed dismally. This is music for people who have a gap where some of us have musical taste; not mine, but any taste. Music for people who don't like music. Absolute fucking drivel.
The Longed-for Season (2010, 29.13) **½The Dawn and the Embrace
The Place Where This Path Leads
The House of Sleep
Going by what appears to be Francesco Galano's solo project, When the Clouds' debut release, 2010's The Longed-for Season mini-album, he/they play an entirely generic form of post-rock, which I've insultingly seen compared to Sigur Rós. OK, I suppose it's mostly harmless enough, but what was original in the mid-'90s is now unutterably clichéd, all wispy glockenspiels and plangent guitar lines. Yawn.
Although there are Mellotronic strings on Flooding River, a high cello line on November Song and strings on The Place Where This Path Leads, the '...ic' is the giveaway; there's no way that these are a genuine Mellotron, I'm afraid. The strings on the first two tracks could be the same samples, but manage to not even sound Mellotronic, for what it's worth. Maybe not, then.
As the Bluebird Sings (2006, 49.27) ***
|The Tale of Two Doves
As the Bluebird Sings
The Carpenters' Coalmen
Through Wounds We Soon Will Stitch
Hell's Half Acre
Until the Time it's Over
The Sounding Line
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Dry Land (2007, 54.46) ***
|As We Were
Awaken to Winter
A New Dawn
This Time, it's
You, the Orphan
True Love Will Find You in the End
A Whisper in the Noise almost define the phrase 'gothic post-rock', with their gloomy evocations of something or other, set to zero b.p.m. Their second album 'proper' (excluding a collaborative effort), 2006's As the Bluebird Sings, replete with lashings of solo orchestral instruments (violin, French horn) and massed vocals, comes across as the kind of things that goths should listen to, as against Bauhaus and The Mission. Mainman West Thordson (other members: Hannah Murray on suitably ethereal violin and Matt Irwin on drums and programmes, probably more of the latter than the former) plays Chamberlin samples on a handful of tracks, with distant male voices on the title track and Until The Time It's Over, while the credit for 'Chamberlin loop' on their superb version of Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' presumably refers to the cello-ish drone running right through the song.
The following year's Dry Land isn't actually bad, just slightly stifling, lacking the variety a band needs to really carry this kind of thing off. Murray's inventive violin work is possibly the most important component of their sound, even more than West's rather tortured vocals, although it's probably Thordson adding the fairly obviously sampled Mellotron flutes and choirs to A New Dawn. Suffice to say, if you're of a gothic persuasion, you may well go for this, although, like so many similar, it's distinctly overlong. Guess what colour their website's background is? Clue: it's not fuchsia.
How Lucky I am (1999, 43.56) *
|Everywhere I Turn
You're Still Beautiful to Me
Love Me Like You Mean it
God Gave Me You
Love Happens Just Like That
Two in a Million
How Lucky I am
You'll Always Be Loved (By Me)
Bryan White is the kind of modern country singer who barely even counts as 'country'. His fourth album, How Lucky I am (and how unlucky are we?), is more 'adult contemporary' than Nashville, despite being recorded there; the only traditional touches are pedal steel and (admittedly well-played) fiddle. Some online reviewers are more charitable than others (I don't count his rabid fans on Amazon), saying things like 'the material's above average', to which all I have to say is: how low do you have to go to reach 'average'? This is utterly horrible, lowest common denominator schlock of the nastiest order, cheesier than the entire Pizza Hut chain, slicker than the Exxon Valdez, squeakier-clean than the Carpenters having a sleepover at the Osmond household. I mean, just look at his horrid, smug expression on the sleeve; would YOU buy a used concept from this man? I've tried manfully to a) listen to the album without skipping through tracks and b) find anything even remotely nice to say about any of it, but I've been defeated. Defeated by shite.
A gentleman named Taz Bentley is credited with Mellotron, but I'll be buggered if I can hear the sodding thing; it's probably buried away under the ubiquitous strings for a few seconds somewhere. Anyway, this is one of the most distressing albums to which I've had the displeasure to listen over the last several years and I can only urge you to run, VERY FAST, in the opposite direction should White's name ever come up in conversation. Vile, vile, vile. I feel soiled. Apart from that, it's fine.
Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See (2004, 62.39) ***
|Static on the Radio
Combing My Hair in a Brand New Style
That Girl From Brownsville Texas
If Jesus Drove a Motor Home
Objects in Motion
Buzzards of Love
Phone Booth in Heaven
Land Called Home
Jim White's third album, 2004's Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See, manages to mix Americana, electronica and Tom Waits into a rich, southern gothic gumbo without sounding clichéd or naïve, which is quite a trick. I'm not sure if it's an album that will bear repeated listens; even on a second play, the programmed percussion and synths were beginning to get on my nerves. However, you couldn't say he sounds particularly like anyone else, which is worth celebrating in these days of 17th-hand borrowings and copies of copies of copies of something that wasn't that original in the first place.
'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, notably the strings on Static On The Radio (spot Aimee Mann on vocals) and the flutes on Combing My Hair In A Brand New Style, but it all sounds rather distant and sampled to my ears. Anyway, an interesting, if flawed record, with several tracks that won't drive you up the wall. At least he's doing something different.
People Now Human Beings (1998, 48.01) **
JD, Meet the Andromeda Strain
Nick the Sailor
She Paints the Daytime Black
The Expanding Sea
Star is Just a Sun (2002, 44.34) ****
Love is So Real
Come Up for Air (2005, 46.04) ***½
The White Birds
Stand Over Me
|We Are Not the Ones
Although The White Birch have been reviewed on some progressive sites, 1998's People Now Human Beings is a noisy, overproduced mess, incorporating elements of post-rock, hip-hop and other hyphenated genres, the bulk of the album irritated me intensely. Oddly, their influences seem to coalesce on closer The Expanding Sea, making it a rather more palatable listen. The album features occasional clearly sampled 'Mellotron' use, notably the insanely over-extended flute note on Satellite, although it's hardly a defining feature. I'm afraid to say I found listening to this a real chore; when you have to keep fighting the urge (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep jabbing at the 'next' button, you know you're in trouble. Very dull.
2002's Star is Just a Sun is apparently a major departure for the band, probably best described as melancholy, having more in common with the quieter end of, say, Radiohead, Low, or more obviously, Iceland's Sigur Rós. A sort-of post-rock/prog crossover, then, a far better description than 'miserable', which just makes me think of the likes of The Smiths. This is really quite gorgeous, actually, deserving a far wider audience than the one it doubtless has, although at least being on Glitterhouse should give the wider world a passing chance of becoming aware of their existence.
It's difficult to pick standout tracks on one listen (you think I have the time for multiple plays of new albums?), but opening instrumental Air sets the scene nicely, with most of the album being in a similar vein, only a couple of tracks having any percussion at all. The vocal work is reasonable, but I'd have been just as happy had the album been instrumental, although that wouldn't do the band's prospects any good, I suspect. Ola Fløttum plays the occasional (credited) Mellotron part, with a flute part running through Breathe, sparse flutes and cellos (the closest any of the samples come to 'authentic') towards the end of Donau Movies and what sounds like distant, heavily-reverbed choirs on Glow.
The band's final album, 2005's Come Up for Air, gives us more of the same: a slowcore/post-rock crossover record, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is shorthand for 'no outstanding tracks, listen to the whole thing'. Plenty of what I take to be samplotron, with a brief flute part on Your Spain, more of the same on The White Birds and a major part on Stand Over Me, flutes and choirs on Silent Love and various other distant, drifting 'is it/isn't it?' parts on most tracks.