a Planet Mellotron Album Reviews: Samples Y


album list


Yacobs  (Germany)

Clouds  (2012,  46.00)  ***½

Drummer Ulf Jacobs (also of Argos) uses Yacobs as his professional moniker, presumably tired of English-speakers mispronouncing his name. I haven't heard 2007's supposedly Mellotron-containing Estella, but Clouds is an interesting album, roughly comparable to Genesis on the cusp of their '80s commercial period, ubiquitous Yamaha CP70 piano (or reasonable facsimile) and all. 'Pop/prog'? It's not a new appellation, but remarkably appropriate in this case. The album's samplotron use consists of no more than background choirs on several tracks and the upfront flutes on the title track.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs  (US)

It's Blitz!  (2009,  41.48)  *½

Going by their third album, 2009's It's Blitz!, New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs are every inch as tiresomely, predictably indie as you might expect from their shitty name, typified by the crapulent sub-electronica of opener Zero and Soft Shock. Karen O's voice does nothing to help proceedings, but then, she and they are very successful, so what do I know? 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get really obviously sampled strings on Zero, Runaway and Heads Will Roll, so much so on the last-named that I'm wondering whether they've made sure that the samples sound like exactly that, since there's no way you'd mistake it for a real machine. Unless you're of a seriously masochistic bent or have the worst taste in the world, you're unlikely to find out for yourself, anyway. Avoid.

Yes  (UK)  see:


Yeasayer  (US)

Fragrant World  (2012,  48.29)  *½

Brooklyn's Yeasayer (OK, good name) are sometimes described as 'psychedelic pop', which paints a very different picture to yours truly from the infuriating indie-vocalled electro-pop nonsense of their third effort, 2012's Fragrant World. Less offensive tracks include opener Fingers Never Bleed and Reagan's Skeleton, which is as near-as-dammit identical to saying that something of only medium shitness is less shit than something of considerable shitness. Anand Wilder is credited with Mellotron on Folk Hero Shtick, but if I'm expected to believe that the speedy, multiply-repeated flute line on the track emanates from a genuine machine... Not recommended on any front, then. Sorry, chaps.

Yeongene  (S. Korea)

Bonnie Gene: Yeongene in Scotland  (2010,  56.31)  ***

Yeongene sings with Korean cutsie-popsters Linus' Blanket alongside her solo career, the first (?) fruit of which was 2010's Bonnie Gene: Yeongene in Scotland. The first half sees her take on the Burt Bacharach songbook, recorded with members of Teenage Fanclub, while the remainder pairs her with The BMX Bandits, the end result being, well, cutsie pop. Highlights? I don't know - I'm really not the man to ask, although I'd feel churlish giving this anything less than three stars. Yeongene's credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Paper Mache and Ally Ally Oxen Free and strings on Reflections are clearly sampled. And I didn't use the word 'twee' once.

Yesterdays  (Romania)

Holdfénykert  (2006,  54.21)  ****

The female-fronted Yesterdays consists of ethnic Hungarians based in Romania, some of whom played in You & I; not a hotbed of prog activity, you would've thought, but Holdfénykert is actually a beautiful, folk-influenced and jazz-tinged progressive record. They sound like a composite of several '70s bands, although I'm struggling to recall specific acts; PFM, maybe? I have to say, a good few melodies here remind me slightly too strongly of ones I've heard before, not least the flute part in Don't Be Scared that cuts Yes' Close To The Edge a bit fine, and I'm sure I heard A Groovy Kind Of Love somewhere, too, although that's quibbling, really. Top track? Difficult to define, as it's all good, but the two-part Seven is particularly nice.

Zsolt Enyedi (listed on the sleeve, in Hungarian fashion, as Enyedi Zsolt) plays various (real or virtual) vintage 'boards, including Mellotron on just about every track, although I'm quite certain it's sampled. Strings across the board (ho ho) plus a brief choir part on Infinite and flutes on Just Stay, quite distinct from the real ones prevalent on most tracks, the 'Mellotronic' exceptions being It's So Divine (a beautiful acoustic guitar piece) and Moonlit Garden (er, a beautiful acoustic guitar duet). Now, as good as the Mellotron here sounds, where did they source one in their part of the world? Why do the notes cut off so sharply? Assuming it's sampled, the samples are leagues ahead of any used before the last couple of years, but I suppose they are, aren't they? However, Holdfénykert's a lovely album, well worth hearing, whether or not any of its instrumental sounds actually emanate from a device other than as advertised.

See: Dante's Inferno/Purgatorio/Paradiso | Tuonen Tytär | The Spaghetti Epic 3

Yoko Absorbing  (Russia)

Kruchenykh-125  (2011,  74.45)  ***

Yoko Absorbing are the avant-garde Russian duo of Mikhail Lezin (principally guitars) and Evgenij V. Kharitonov (principally synths), whose third album, 2011's Kruchenykh-125, is a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Russian futurist poet Aleksei Kruchenykh. Take that, pretentious indie bands and stick it in the usual place. Although every track is different to every other, they're alike in their uncompromising dedication to uneasy listening, blasts of white noise intermingling with distorted rhythms and skronky synths, notable examples including the twisted folk melody weaving its way through the glitch on Der Teer and the '60s-esque organ fighting its way through the mix on closer Dolphins In An Interstellar Dust, while Yoko Droning is exactly what it says.

Although Kharitonov's credited with Mellotron, it not only quite clearly isn't, due to their location, but isn't audible anyway. What Mellotron? Where? Rating this album isn't the easiest job ever, as it pretty much defies categorisation, to the point where much of it wouldn't even be described as music by more reactionary listeners. One for the avant- fan in your life, then.

Kate York  (US)

Sadlylove  (2006,  45.30)  **½

Kate York's debut album, 2006's Sadlylove, starts well enough, but like so many other modern singer-songwriter efforts, it slumps into a slough of despond all too soon, mid-paced fluff such as Will I Always Love You and All Dressed In You letting the side down somewhat. York's at her best when she sticks to acoustic arrangements, better examples including Wished For Song, Stay With Me and What Love Was, although, as you'd expect of the genre, her material seems to be more about the lyrics than the actual tunes, making for a rather anodyne listen for those who demand a certain level of musical interest. Neilson Hubbard allegedly plays Mellotron (as he does for several other artists), but the strings and cello on I Will Wait sound faker-than-fake to my tired old ears, particularly a shrieky high note, repeated several times, a tone above the Mellotron's range.

Justin Young  (US)

Makai  (2013,  38.51)  **

Hawaiian Justin Young's tenth or so album is light-as-air pop/reggae of the 'much falsetto vocal' variety. No, there are no best tracks. Will Gramling's 'Mellotron' flutes on Lose This One (fuck me, lose all of them) are bogus, too.

Adrian Younge  (US)

Something About April  (2011,  41.56)  **½

Adrian Younge's 'Selene'

Multi-instrumentalist/producer Adrian Younge expanded a 2009 EP into 2011's Something About April, credited to Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn, best described as psychedelic soul, I suppose. Does that combination work? In places, is the short answer, although songs such as Anna May, Two Hearts Combine and Lovely Lady are only ever going to appeal to soul fans, I suspect. The album's at its best on material like opener Turn Down The Sound, the dusty Reverie and Mourning Melodies In Rhapsody, where the psychedelia's combined with early '60s influences, not least the surf guitar sound heard on several tracks.

The vaguely Mellotronish sounds on the album are apparently played on a one-off device Younge has had built, the Selene. I quote... "The keyboard is called the 'Selene'. It is a modern day mellotron (look that up, one of the first sample keyboards). I recorded all of my keyboards to analog tape (through vintage tube compressors and vintage mics) and trigger each key using a controller embedded into the Selene". Which makes it sound like it plays tapes, although I'm quite sure that it's no more than a custom hardware sample player, in which case, what's the point? Anyway, hard to tell where it's being used, but more Mellotron-esque parts include the high-end flutes and highly unconvincing strings on opener Turn Down The Sound, cellos on Reverie, flutes on First Step On The Moon and upfront string and flute parts on Sirens and Mourning Melodies In Rhapsody, the latter complete with a direct Strawberry Fields quote from the flutes. Worth hearing? Despite its unique samples, only for those with a high soul tolerance, I'd say.

Yugen  (Italy)

Labirinto d'Acqua  (2006,  50.15)  ****
Yugen Plays Leddi - Uova Fatali  (2008,  48.13)  ***
Iridule  (2010,  47.47)  ***½

Yugen are a thing of wonder: a modern progressive band who actually understand progressive rock and play it with verve. Formed by ex-Night Watcher Francesco Zago, their debut, 2006's Labirinto d'Acqua, combines more 'traditional' prog elements with avant- or chamber prog (think: Univers Zero), featuring an extended lineup including violin, cembalo, bass flute and clarinet, subcontrabass sax and several mallet instruments. The overall effect is Gentle Giant duking it out in a dark alley with Henry Cow, eventually losing by a whisker, yet emerging bloodied but unbowed. Picking out individual tracks is pointless; I can't imagine anyone putting one or two faves on their iPod. The overall effect is what's important here and what makes this album a winner. Although Paolo "Ske" Botta is credited with Mellotron, the Chamberlin solo male voice on Brachiologia is very clearly a stretched sample. Oh what a giveaway... The more regular 'Tron samples are used on most tracks, the particularly good Crimsonesque overdubbed strings/choir part on Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno standing out; this would probably get TTTT were it genuine.

2008's Yugen Plays Leddi - Uova Fatali, concentrates on compositions by mandolinist Tommaso Leddi, a man sitting at the more chamber/avant- end of the spectrum. As a result, the album, while good, lacks the variety of their debut and is a more difficult listen all round, although opener Escher is as good as anything on this album's predecessor. Francesco Zago's 'Mellotron' use this time round is limited to literally a few string chords on Mattarello; hardly worth the credit, really. 2010's Iridule is a half-way stage between their first two releases, certainly more melodic (I use the term loosely) than Uova Fatali; the playing is a delight throughout, of course, the jaw-dropping Overmurmur being a particular highlight. Zago on 'Mellotron' again, with strings on The Scuttle Of The Past Out Of The Cupboards, Overmurmur and Becchime, sensibly never too upfront, given its sampled status.

So; Labirinto d'Acqua's a very worthwhile prog release, as long as you don't object to the more 'out there' elements of the band's sound, Uova Fatali's rather hard work, but Iridule is more listenable. As far as their debut goes, though, sampled Mellotron, but more than worthy of your time and money. Excellent.