What must it be like to know that your children hate you? Ask Loudon Wainwright III: his son Rufus hasn't exactly lauded his father to the skies, while his daughter Martha wrote a song about him called Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. Ouch. Originally released as the lead track on her 2004 EP, most of her audience know if from its inclusion on her eponymous 2005 album. The five tracks on the EP (four on some versions) span a wide range of styles, from the acoustic 'morning after' sound of the title track, through the vaguely churchy I Will Internalize to the piano jazz of How Soon, only two tracks making it onto Martha Wainwright, one (I believe) in a different version. Paul Bryan is credited with Mellotron on When The Day Is Short (the missing track on some versions), but the only possible use is some exceedingly background strings, which could be just about anything, frankly.
It took Rufus Wainwright three years to follow his eponymous debut with Poses, probably due to his much-publicised drug issues (crystal meth, kids? Just say no!) and, despite being described as more down to earth, it's not that different, to be honest. Richard Causon plays alleged Chamberlin, with what sounds like distant choirs on California and while several other tracks may have some hidden in the mix, it's pretty much impossible to tell.
So what's with all this 'a.k.a.' business, anyway? Seems the Sydney-based Scruffs released an album called The Actual Size in 2001, changing not only their name but their album's title the following year to avoid problems with their previously-existing namesakes in Memphis. So shouldn't this file under the original names? Yes, probably, but it's generally available as The Wake Ups, so The Wake Ups it is. The new title? Seems it's a homage to the original Scruffs, a late '70s outfit, whose debut album was titled Wanna Meet the Scruffs? So now you know. Anyway, this lot are a pretty decent powerpop outfit, The Actual Size/Wanna Meet...... containing a fair amount of variety in its grooves, from the mainstream powerpop of opener Let You Down and Can't Believe My Luck through the garage punk feel of Trash and You Make Me Nervous to It's Not Me's acoustic balladry. Michael Carpenter and Manu Galvin both play samplotron, although I'm not sure why it took two of them to play the flute part (with pitchbend) on Keep It To Yourself; one to play, one to manipulate the pitch-control? Don't laugh; it's been done before.
Rick Wakeman (UK) see:
A name like The Walkabouts make you think the band in question might be Australian: wrong. The Walkabouts are from Seattle and their remit seems to be to sound as European as possible, even covering material by the likes of Jacques Brel and Scott Walker. Never mind the indie ethic, this is the noir ethic, personified by The Walkabouts. Nighttown is their seventh album 'proper', ignoring compilations of EPs, live efforts etc. and lives up to its title with aplomb, channelling the melancholy end of those '50s Sinatra albums, anything by Scott Walker... You get the picture. Their record company apparently described it as 'the sound of a band committing suicide' (it wasn't), although it's certainly one of the most unremittingly downbeat things I've heard in a while. Orchestral arrangements (mostly strings) on most tracks, making it difficult to spot Glenn Slater's samplotron when it appears. From what I can tell, though, we have a distant flute line on Unwind, with equally distant strings on the chorus and what sounds like a polyphonic flute part on Slow Red Dawn, under the orchestral arrangement.
Trail of Stars carries on the good works of its predecessors, to the point where, to the casual listener, it's almost indistinguishable from Nighttown, although I found it slightly more appealing. More Slater samplotron, with strings on Gold and Drown and full-on flutes and strings on the album's samplotronic highpoint, Last Tears. They followed up with a covers collection, Train Leaves at Eight, with a sleeve more noir than noir. Unlike many similar, it actually works, to the point that if you didn't know they were covers, you, er, wouldn't know they were covers. Stylistically, of course, it's the usual, so it comes as even more of a surprise when they suddenly kick out the jams (albeit fairly slowly) on Brel's People Such As These, a.k.a. Ces Gens-La, also covered by French proggers Ange, back in 1973. The samplotron finally appears on That's How I Live (a.k.a. So Lebe Ich), with a string line that sustains way past the eight-second limit. Ended Up a Stranger is, of course, in a similar vein to the rest of the band's work, though, at least to me, is slightly less appealing. Maybe I shouldn't have listened to it after Train Leaves at Eight? Anyway, a decent enough record, just a bit the same old same old. Slater plays samplotron on several tracks, as far as I can work out, with flutes on Life: The Movie, flutes and possible strings on Fallen Down Moon and strings on Mary Edwards and Winslow Place.
The following year's double-disc set, Drunken Soundtracks: Lost Songs & Rarities 1995-2001, does exactly what it says on the tin, collecting outtakes, live tracks and no doubt all manner of other things that didn't make it onto their earlier albums. Not that you'd know, as it sounds every bit as good as any of their 'regular' releases, which makes a nice change for an outtakes album. Mind you, it's ridiculously long, so I wouldn't recommend playing it in one sitting, as I did... A few tracks of Slatertron, with flutes on Sorry Angel, full-on strings on The Getaway, tentative strings on Cowbells Shakin', faint ones on Glory Road and quite upfront ones on Incognito, although I've no idea from which era any of them hail. After a several-year break from releasing new material, Acetylene appeared in 2005 and it's immediately apparent that the band have rocked things up in the interim, to the point where they're almost a different band. It's a perfectly good album, just... different, with a distinct Neil Young fixation becoming apparent, noticeably on lengthy closer Last Ones. Very little samplotron, too, with nowt but occasional strings on Northsea Train, alongside what sounds like real ones.
Martin Wall is an unusual enough name that I think it's safe to assume he's the same guy who wrote something called Mr. Love for a Canuck act called Vehicle, which doubtless has little to do with his self-released 1977 album, Metaphysical Facelift. While very much his solo, er, vehicle, several other musicians appear on the record, although Wall's vocals and piano are its chief components. Musically, it veers between progressively-inclined singer-songwriter material (Ordinary Man, Dear Friend, Time Will Tell) and keyboard instrumentals of wildly varying length, from three extremely short tracks that barely count as more than links, to the album's two best pieces, the three-minute Golden Glow and the near side-long title track.
With specific track-by-track credits on the rear sleeve, you'd think there was no doubt as to where Wall used his 'Mellotron', but this is where we come to the album's sticking-point: it isn't. It's absolutely no coincidence that on the three credited tracks (the three short instrumentals, Chanson D'Ordinaire, Choral Prelude and Monk's Access, which sounds faintly rude), the actual credit is, "Mellotron, String Ensemble", or as I prefer to read it, "String Ensemble". No Mellotron here, folks, now move along... Progressive completists (er, me?) might wish to hear this for its couple of good tracks, but there are far better obscurities out there for the aficionado, so with not even any real Mellotron to sweeten the deal, I'm not really sure I'd bother.
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.
Bradley Glenn "Butch" Walker played in bands throughout the '80s and '90s, before his solo career kicked off with 2002's Left of Self-Centered, following up with Letters two years later. By and large, the latter is an album of turgid, ballad-heavy mainstream pop, although some powerpop elements have 'boosted' its rating to a whole two stars. Not every track's a loser; #1 Summer Jam's a passable powerpop effort and Lights Out is a decent enough rock'n'roller, but the high(er) points are few and far between. Joey Huffman plays samplotron, with flutes and strings alongside real strings on the alt.country-ish Best Thing You Never Had.
Why is it so difficult to compare quirky, artistic, piano-playing female musicians to anyone other than Kate Bush? I suppose she broke out of the mould of rather vanilla, Carole King-style 'confessional' singer-songwriters, although I'm sure she was far from the first to do so, but as soon as anyone even vaguely similar comes along (Tori Amos, anyone?), out come the comparisons. I do my level best not to get caught in the same trap, but, although displaced Londoner Joanna Wallfisch (now based in NYC) doesn't sing like Our Kate, her writing is comparable, as is her sense of musical adventure on her second release, 2015's The Origin of Adjustable Things. It's actually Wallfisch's collaborator, Dan Tepfer, who plays the bulk of the album's piano, alongside other keyboard contributions. Most of the material is hers, though, highlights including oddball opener This Is How You Make Me Feel, with its wordless, percussive vocal interjections, Satellite, Brighton Beach (Wallfisch on piano) and the title track. The album's four covers all get the Wallfisch treatment, probably at its most extreme on Radiohead's Creep, deconstructed to the point of unrecognisability, although the overall effect is of a cohesive, meticulously-planned record that, if there's any justice whatsoever, should catapult Wallfisch up to 'household name' status. Tepfer plays background samplotron string and flute parts on Satellite, arranged with a subtlety way beyond the talents of (dare I say?) most artists, although I don't know if Tepfer or Wallfisch is responsible. So; very good indeed. Make the effort to hear this record.
Tennessee native and vocalist/pianist J. Roddy Walston grew up surrounded by pianos, so it comes as no surprise to see him fronting his rock'n'roll combo, The Business, playing one. His/their first album, 2007's Hail Mega Boys, contains an appealing combination of southern boogie, rock'n'roll, blues and punk, not to mention several other related genres, better tracks including Sally Bangs and Mommie Bomb, although nothing here offends. Jeff Conlin plays samplotron on two tracks, with nothing obvious on Mommie Bomb and a brief but major flute part on closer Go Malachi.
Walt Mink formed in '89 as the power trio of John Kimbrough, Candice Belanoff and drummer Joey Waronker, son of producer Lenny and brother of Anna. Their first 'proper' release (after a couple of album-length demos), 1992's Miss Happiness, sounds slightly like King's X, i.e. vaguely interesting hard rock with some unusual chords, although their follow-up, '93's Bareback Ride, is a rather less interesting proposition all round. Much of its material is in that vaguely 'punk' style that American bands seem to've made their own, although the acoustic tracks, notably Sunnymede, are rather better. The album's only samplotron use is on closer Tree In Orange, with a murky flute part, probably from guitarist/vocalist Kimbrough, although the strings on Shine are real.
By their third effort, '96's cynically-titled El Producto, they were more at the rocky end of indie, which this site finds to be rather less interesting. It's not an awful album, by any means, but with so few positive features and so many neutral ones, it isn't that surprising that they only lasted another year or so after its release. I get the impression Kimbrough plays the samplotron, with a faint flute melody at the end of opener Stood Up, distant string chords at the end of Me & My Dog and similar on Sunshine M. The following year's Colossus was the band's swan song, slightly better than its two predecessors (particularly on the production front), although I really wouldn't take that as a recommendation. Once again, the acoustic tracks work better than the electric ones, notably the hidden track at the end of the album. Samplotronically speaking, all I can hear are murky strings on Lovely Arrhythmia (do I detect a pattern here?)
Matthew Stephen "M." Ward is an American singer-songwriter of the mainstream variety (aren't they all?), whose fifth studio album, Post-War, consciously echoes post-World War II music of the '40s and '50s, referring to the West's appalling current escapades in the Middle East (there, that's given you an idea where I stand on the issue). It's not a bad record, per se, but its deliberately very retro sound is only going to appeal to a certain type of listener, I suspect and that type isn't me. Mike Mogis plays alleged Chamberlin on the album, although the only obvious use is the dusty strings on opener Poison Cup.
Waronker? Haven't I heard that name before? Of course, her dad, noted producer Lenny Waronker. Add another name to the lengthy list of 'ambitious offspring of famous musos'. After three albums with the strangely-named that.dog, Waronker released her solo debut, Anna, in 2002. Despite being married to the wondrous Redd Kross' Steven McDonald, it's... not actually that good. Aside from a couple of decent powerpop tunes (notably A Hollow Daze, although Goodbye is worthy of mention), most of the record veers between dopey pop-punk (Love Story, All For You) and dozy ballads (John & Maria, The Powers That Be), few of which capture the imagination in any great way. Oh, and spot the Who cop in How Do You Sleep? One bonus on the album is Anna's samplotron use, with strings on Beautiful and flutes on the chorus of Nothing Personal. Nine years on, she released her follow-up, California Fade, a very different record to its predecessor. Although it features the occasional punkier effort (I Don't Wanna), the bulk of the album contains typical, if better than some, singer-songwriter material, better tracks including What Do You Do? and Scared. Anna plays samplotron, with flutes on Our Love and Spinning Out and strings on What Do You Do? and Scared.
Krystle Warren's debut album sits somewhere in between jazz, folk and blues, in a downbeat kind of way. I've no idea why Frederic Jaillard is credited with Mellotron, as there's nothing even slightly apparent.
Given that legendary hard-nut Ricky Warwick is best-known for his leadership of the heavier-than-thou Almighty, it comes as something of a surprise to hear 2003's Tattoos & Alibis, probably best described as an Americana-tinged John Mellencamp-style roots-rock album. The trouble with this style is that if you haven't got an absolutely killer set of songs, the whole thing can fall as flat as a pancake and, while Warwick digs out a few decent melodies, the overall effect is of an overlong album of mostly so-so material that, sad to say, fails to ignite. Ronan McHugh plays samplotron, with a rather generic flute part on It Always Rains On Sunday and no more than a couple of flute swells on Minor Miracles.
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.
Watashi Wa were a Christian indie band, which is every bit as awful as it sounds. Not only whiny, 'confessional'-style vocals, but whiny, 'confessional'-style vocals singing about God. Painful. Eager Seas was apparently originally going to be called People Like People (hey! Good title!) by Eager Seas, a new band rising from the ashes of Watashi Wa, but they were obviously persuaded to keep the moderately successful original brand. Most of the album consists of either over-cheery upbeat songs (the vaguely punky Free Ride, Sydney Tonight) or 'intimate' stuff (the countryish Courtyard, 2:57), with a handful of less tedious tracks (The Game, the powerpop-ish All Of Me). Not really a recommendation, is it? Zach Hodges and Yuri Ruley both play Mellotron, although there isn't that much of it obviously about, with heavy-duty cellos on Broken Man and slightly lesser ones on All Of Me, plus a string part on Father, Son.
The Watch (Italy) see:
The Waterboys' An Appointment With Mr. Yeats sets Yeats' poetry to music, largely successfully, highlights including energetic opener The Hosting Of The Shee, A Full Moon In March and the brief Before The World Was Made. Leader Mike Scott credits himself with Mellotron, amongst many other instruments, but it's entirely inaudible, sampled or otherwise.
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.
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. If anything, Adventures in Your Own Backyard is even worse; is this man incapable of instilling any kind of energy or, y'know, meaning into his work? Some background samplotron. Whatever.
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.
Bry(an) Webb's known for his membership of The Constantines, Free Will being his second solo release, a dark country album with no particular highs or lows. Thom Hammerton's credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Translator, not content with being inauthentic, then sustain for over twenty seconds. Fail.
On/off Caedmon's Call member Derek Webb's second solo album, 2004's I See Things Upside Down, is a pretty tedious affair, I'm afraid to say. Its Christian content is fairly low-key, but its overlong, drawn-out material made this listener have to physically restrain himself from reaching for the 'next' button, the old-style r'n'b of Ballad In Plain Red being about the best thing here. Cason Cooley plays samplotron, with vaguely 'Strawberry Fields'-esque flutes on the strangely-titled T-Shirts (What We Should Be Known For), although that would seem to be it. 2005's Mockingbird's sparse, folky CCM is something of an improvement, a long way from the offensively syrupy dreck served up by the likes of Charlie Hall et al, which has to be applauded in a world where that kind of stuff is apparently considered acceptable. Saying that, the album is a bit bland in places, not least closer Love Is Not Against The Law, but overall, it's far from unlistenable. On the samplotron front, flutes on A King & A Kingdom, soon supplanted by a beautiful string part, from Cooley, nothing audible on Rich Young Ruler, but My Enemies Are Men Like Me has faint strings and very upfront 'Strawberry Fields'-style flutes from Cooley and Webb. His follow-up, 2007's The Ringing Bell, is, again, a passable listen, although not something I can honestly see myself digging out too often, even if I don't listen too closely to the lyrics. Ben Shive plays samplotron this time round, with flutes on The Very End and I For An I.
The Wedding Present appeared in the mid-'80s, lauded as almost the 'archetypal indie band' by John Peel and other observers, reforming in 2004 after a several-year break, during which mainman David Gedge worked as Cinerama, themselves Mellotron users. Their first post-reformation album was 2005's Take Fountain (from a Bette Davis quote, fact fans), continuing the rhythmic indie stylings of their previous incarnation(s), so whether or not you'll like this largely depends on whether or not you like their earlier work, I suspect. The album's actually quite varied, shifting from the near-noise of Interstate 5 (Extended Version) through the not-so-light jangle of Always The Quiet One to the dark balladry of Mars Sparkles Down On Me. Co-producer Steve Fisk is credited with Mellotron, which rings alarm bells straight away; he's notorious 'round these parts for using samples, so the male voices on Interstate 5 (Extended Version) and Queen Anne, plus strings and cellos on closer Perfect Blue, are most likely sampled. El Rey has no fewer than three Mellotron players credited, while the album's pretty much the usual stuff; you know, if you like The Weddoes you'll like it, with the standard corollary. Gedge, Christopher McConville and Graeme Ramsay all apparently get some samplotron in, although I've no idea why it took three of them to record so little, with naught but flutes on Model, Actress, Whatever... and cellos on Swingers.
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 Mellotron'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.
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.
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 Mellotron 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 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-Mellotron.
Although British-born, Wende (Snijders) is very clearly Dutch, although recent albums see her breaking out to an international audience. 2009's No. 9, er, isn't; it's either her fifth or sixth release, depending on what you count, a strange album, more vaudeville and circus music than the expected contemporary pop/rock or singer-songwriter guff. Better tracks include Sycamore Tree and The Moon Is Out, but nothing here offends. Reyn Ouwehand (Charlie Dée, Stephan Eicher) plays most of the album's fairly minimal samplotron work, with nothing immediately identifiable on Break My Heart and flutes on Exhale and Sycamore Tree, while Wende adds flutes to Yes, We Can.
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.
Going by his sixth studio album (including an early independent release), 2011's Weights & Wings, Matt Wertz is the very worst kind of wet-as-water, drippy US singer-songwriter; it will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever to learn that his ultra-twee songs have been used on various crappy mainstream US TV shows. He's also toured with the hideous likes of Jason Mraz and Christians Jars of Clay, so his own appallingness is pretty much a foregone conclusion and, believe me, this album is appalling. John Deaderick and Jason Lehning play samplotron, if only just; is that a flute doubling the whistled melody (ouch) on Everything Will Be Alright? Definite flutes on Easier Tonight. Never mind, only masochists and the terminally tasteless are ever going to listen to this steaming heap of garbage anyway.
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.
Stian Westerhus has worked with Jaga Jazzist, so it's no great surprise that his first (?) solo album, Maelstrom, sounds a lot like them, albeit jamming with Radiohead. Unfortunately, the end result sounds like a kind of post-rock jamband, most of its overlong tracks building to a feedback crescendo to no particular effect. Westerhus and Øystein Moen are both credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on Chasing Hills fail to convince.
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.
Kirk Wheeler released his first album in 1997 as Jitterwheel, although he went 'legit' for its follow-up, '99's Pelican Soup. Although he's not exactly the biggest name ever, someone's pumped some money into him (so to speak); his fifth album, 2007's Bonfires, features a whole slew of known session guys, not least producer Zac Rae (Macy Gray, Lisa Marie Presley), although (as a result?) the end result is the kind of bland singer-songwriter fare that's tailor-made for background music on TV nonsense like The O.T. The gutsy Bullfight's about the best thing here, but that isn't saying much. Rae supposedly plays Chamberlin, with background strings on Cameras In California, background cellos and strings on Dry Wood and background flutes on Fields Of Green; spot the connection? Everything about Wheeler seems to be background; just for once, dude, write something that actually grabs your audience's attention. Suppose that's no way to get lucrative TV contracts for your music, though.
When are effectively Norwegian psychonaut Lars Pedersen's one-man band, allowing him to experiment to his heart's content. And experiment he does. Despite his work having little metal content, several of his album's are apparently revered on the Norwegian black metal scene for their overall darkness, which says more to me about what black metal enthusiasts really like than any number of torched churches. Gynt is, as you might expect, a severely mutated version of Grieg's best-known work, with twenty-six tracks squeezed into forty minutes. Pedersen has described it as, "A satiric play on Edward Grieg's Peer Gynt. Inspired by Henrik Ibsen" and he ain't kiddin'. Parts of it are recognisable, but more isn't than is and what is usually ends up mutilated almost beyond recognition. Is this what happens when it's impossible to escape your country's most famous work? This is properly weird-arse shit, a typical mangling being The Death Of Åse, which 'features' a rhythmic 'beep' throughout, that becomes a solid tone at the piece's conclusion, heart monitor-style. Pedersen plays samplotron strings on Dance Of The Mountain King's Daughter, The Death of Åse (playing the main melody line over a Residents-style atonal backing), a descending line on The Thief And The Receivers, Peer Gynt's Serenade and Whitsun Hymn: "Blessed Morn". Psychedelic Wunderbaum is better described as 'psychedelic cut-up' than dark per se. I won't pretend it's the easiest of listens, but who wants easy listening? Go and listen to James Last if that's your bag. In fact, since writing that, I've realised that Pedersen was a founding member of samplotron users The Last James, which is a strange piece of synchronicity, non? Pedersen on samplotron again, with unusual cello use on opener Time Ago, 'stabbed' strings on Extremist Cow, high strings throughout As-Speak-You-Are and more normal ones on Young Feet Flush and Kali.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.