Mary Lou Lord
Lords of Altamont
Love Spit Love
Up a Tree (1999, 38.36) ***½/T½
Impossible Things #2
Ballad of Ray Suzuki
Dave the Moon Man
Quiet and Small...
|Up a Tree Again
Back to the Treehouse
Looper were formed in 1998 by Stuart David (Black), ex-Belle & Sebastian bassist, sounding like a more electronic version of his old band, maybe. Several of the songs on their debut, '99's Up a Tree, feature David's soft Scots-accented speaking voice, relating melancholy little tales of matters of the heart (Impossible Things #2), or more cheerful takes on a similar theme (Festival '95). Musically, the anachronistic sound of a typewriter (providing the rhythm on Impossible Things #2) combines with Wurlitzers, harmonicas and laptop electronica in a surprisingly appealing juxtaposition that presumably explains why David felt he had to leave his alma mater.
David plays Mellotron flutes on a couple of tracks, with a very realistic-sounding part under children's voices and over vinyl crackle on The Treehouse and some chords on Quiet And Small..., making you wish he'd used it a little more.
See: Samples etc. | Belle & Sebastian
Got No Shadow (1998, 46.08) ***/½
|His Lamest Flame
Western Union Desperate
Lights Are Changing
Throng of Blowtown
The Lucky One
She Had You
Some Jingle Jangle Morning
Down Along the Lea
Mary Lou Lord began her career as a busker in Boston, releasing her first album in 1992, '98's Got No Shadow being her fourth. It combines powerpop, Americana and more straightforward pop/rock and balladry into a sporadically appealing mixture, better tracks including the rocking She Had You, Some Jingle Jangle Morning and Two Boats, although don't go expecting too much from a rather ordinary singer-songwriter effort.
Jon Brion does his usual Chamberlin thing, with a distant warbling something on Throng Of Blowtown and flutes on Two Boats, but nothing obvious on Supergun, despite a credit. Overall, one of those 'good at what it does' albums, not especially exciting, but streets ahead of much of the drivel that passes through these portals.
Lords Have Mercy (2005, 35.31) ***½/TT
Buried From the Knees Down
Tough as Nails
The outrageously-named Lords of Altamont (BÖC's Transmaniacon MC, anyone?) are the type of band you thought were extinct; raw, garage rock'n'roll with more attitude than tunes and it DOESN'T MATTER. Lords Have Mercy is their second album and I'd be willing to bet it's an awful lot like their first; concise, three-minute biker anthems about fucking with the system and, er, fucking. Shit, they even have an ex-MC5 member in their ranks, in the form of bassist Michael Davis. On the downside, it's a bit samey; the first three songs are all in the same key, which shouldn't matter, but does, but their sheer enthusiasm carries you along with their manifesto, doubtless a re-run of the MC5's 'dope, guns and fucking in the street'.
Lead Lord Jake Cavaliere doubles on keys (I believe he plays a Farfisa on stage), slathering fat, unwieldy chunks of Hammond all over the album and (surprise, surprise) Mellotron on a handful of tracks. Let's Burn has rather background chordal strings, but She Cried and closer Time have very upfront, psychedelic string parts; no hiding in the shadows for these boys... So; a most unexpected treat, even if even its mere thirty-five minute-length slightly outstays its welcome (The Ramones had the right idea), with some even more unexpected Mellotron parts. Worth hearing to appease your Inner Biker.
Peach Pony [a.k.a. Rachel Loshak] (2005, 36.04) **½/T½
Through the Snow
You're the One
One Loving Thing
What Can I Do?
Turn Me Around
Hearts of Snow
British ex-pat Rachel Loshak has developed a unique 'bass and vocal' style, apparently, although I can't say it's that obvious on her third album, 2005's Peach Pony, also released, with a slightly amended and enhanced running order, as Rachel Loshak, reasons unknown. Better material includes the dark Hurricane, Hearts Of Snow and bluegrass-ish closer Come On, but too many tracks err on the side of insipid to give this a higher rating.
Paul Bryan plays (presumably his own) Chamberlin, with string and flute parts on You're The One and We Fled and strings on One Loving Thing, all fairly low-key, if good to hear.
Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things (1993, 58.50) ***½/½
|He Do the Police in Different Voices
Self Righteous Boy Reduced to Tears
Jimmy Still Comes Around
Take Me Down (Too Halloo)
Don't All Thank Me at Once
|Some Grand Vision of Motives and Irony
Spot the Setup
Slit My Wrists
The Second Grade Applauds
Last Honest Face
Ballad of How You Can All Shut Up
Give in World
Sorry, I Don't Know Why I Did That
Interbabe Concern (1996, 57.25) ***/½
|Sodium Laureth Sulfate
North San Bruno Dishonor Trip
Don't Respond, She Can Tell
I'm Not Really a Spring
Rise of the Chokehold Princess
Such Little Nonbelievers
Softest Tip of Her Baby Tongue
Screwed Over by Stylish Introverts
|Top-Dollar Survivalist Hardware
Not Expecting Both Contempo and Classique
I No Longer Fear the Headless
Hot Rox Avec Lying Sweet-Talk
Asleep and Awake on the Man's Freeway
Where They Go Back to School But Get Depressed
|Where They Sell Antique Food
Where the Flood Waters Soak Their Belongings
Where They Walk Over Sainte Therese
Named for the actual family in what seems to be the world's first TV 'reality show', The Loud Family are a kind of indie/Americana/'intelligent pop' hybrid ('college rock', in US parlance), sometimes sounding a bit like early R.E.M., sometimes like later XTC, or maybe some other bands with initials for names. They debuted with 1993's Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things, packed with songs about rather un-rock'n'roll subjects, as can be seen from the titles, not least Self Righteous Boy Reduced To Tears, Some Grand Vision Of Motives And Irony and Slit My Wrists. Don Tillman (Tesseract) plays Mellotron, with a nice, if inessential flute part on Even You, but who's complaining?
After an intermediate album, '96's Interbabe Concern is similar enough to Plants & Birds... to be easily recognisably the same band, but somehow the writing's not quite up to scratch; either that, or nearly two hours of their slightly over-clever style in one hit becomes wearing. Saying that, better tracks include the powerpoppy I'm Not Really A Spring, Top-Dollar Survivalist Hardware and I No Longer Fear The Headless, probably as much for their subject matter as for the music. Tillman on Mellotron again, with strings on Where They Go Back to School But Get Depressed, although we're not really talking any more use than before.
The Red Record (2002, 56.43) **½/T
|Estrogen Oxygen Aches in the Teeth Again
Kreates a Presence to Blush
Ash to Ash
97 Ways to Kill a Superhero
Rock'n'Roll & the Teenage Desperation
Attached at the Mouth
Loudermilk hail from a small corner of Washington state, rather grandly known as the Tri-Cities area, freely admitting that they were massive Guns N'Roses fans in their (earlier) youth, although you wouldn't know it from listening to The Red Record. It's an uneasy mix of various genres, chiefly punky powerpop with several awkward ballads thrown in, giving the impression the band aren't entirely certain where their musical loyalties lie. Nope, nothing wrong with variety, anything but, in fact, but this is just a bit of a mess, while none of the songs leap out at you as great songs should.
Chamberlin strings from the ubiquitous Patrick Warren on one of the ballads, Ash To Ash, with a reasonably upfront part, although it isn't noticeably different to the (presumably) generic sampled strings on a couple of the other tracks, making you wonder why they bothered. Actually, the same could be said for the album as a whole; the faster tracks at least have some energy, but the slower stuff all sounds lacklustre, with the exception of Mai, for some reason. Anyway, pretentious titles, deliberately 'scuffed' artwork, an overlong album and no songs. Go elsewhere, I think.
Here's to the Losers (1993, 54.55) **½/T
|Here's to the Losers
Santa Monica Orange
Paid for Loving
Matter of Fact
Li'l Black Book
I Like Young Girls
Dancing in the Shallow End
Powerful Pain Relief (1995, 39.59) *½/T
You Don't Know Me
World of Summer
Powerful Pain Relief
Love Jones, active since 1990, are part of a small musical movement previously unknown to my good self: 'cocktail nation'. Essentially a reaction to early '90s grunge, its adherents were influenced by '50s/'60s pop of a distinctly non-rock'n'roll nature. Smooth. Slick. Er, very boring, should you wish to hear something with a little more energy. Saying that, their eclectic studio debut, 1993's Here's to the Losers, definitely has its moments, not least the raucous Santa Monica Orange, Custom Van and the bluesy Matter Of Fact. Jon Brion plays his Chamberlin, with strings and brass on Pineapple and occasional muted brass on Ohio River, assuming there aren't any less obvious sounds hidden in the mix.
Sadly, they'd completely lost the plot by '95's Powerful Pain Relief, which is as clean-cut as you might imagine, making for a very dull listen indeed for non-fans. Best tracks? Nope. Brion and Chris Hawpe both play Chamberlin, with strings on World Of Summer, Help Wanted and Vigilante, all sounding somewhat subdued.
Love Spit Love (1994, 51.49) **½/TT
Half a Life
Change in the Weather
Am I Wrong
St. Mary's Gate
Love Spit Love were formed by Richard Butler from the ashes of The Psychedelic Furs, one of those bands who've largely passed under my radar, although Pretty In Pink is so ubiquitous that even I can't completely avoid it. Their eponymous debut is a perfectly competent mid-'90s pop/rock album, which is, frankly, damning it with faint praise; it doesn't offend, but it doesn't really do anything, the exceptions being the interesting acoustic work on Codeine and St. Mary's Gate.
Jon Brion plays Chamberlin and Optigan on the album, mostly on Jigsaw, with its crackly Optigan oompah rhythm and (presumably) Chamby accordions, strings and brass, while Am I Wrong features Chamby strings, with flutes on St. Mary's Gate and closer More, although the rest of the album's strings are real. Overall, a fairly lacklustre effort, then, with a couple of reasonable tracks and a little Chamberlin. Maybe not.
Axiom (2007, 44.00) ***/TT½
Wintertime in Hollywood
Pieces of Me
Please Don't Break My Heart Tonight
Everybody Hides Away
Say You Will
|A Simple Song
Dimensions (2009, 43.53) ***½/T
|Moonlit Suite (Her Room)
Two of a Kind
Look at the Waves
A New Low in Getting High
Love and Redemption
There is No Sound
|Song to Humanity
When it Comes
Journeyman (Anton Newcombe mix)
Lost (2010, 35.09) ***½/TCity Meets the Stars
This Great Romance
Come Dance With Me
Earths Great Sleep
The Lovetones, led by Matthew Tow (also an occasional member of The Brian Jonestown Massacre), appear to be Australia's latest indie darlings, having supported Morrissey at home and toured the States heavily. There's been plenty of purple prose written about them, comparing them to McCartney/The Beatles, Bowie etc, although their one overriding influence to my ears is bloody Oasis, Tow using exactly the same vocal tricks as Our Kid, sounding every bit as irritating in the process, at least on their earlier releases.
After a pair of sample-using releases, 2007's Axiom ups the ante in no uncertain terms by actually being quite good. Stylistically, it combines modern indie with a classic psych feel, improving things to the point where it almost gets an extra half star. While a few tracks pall slightly after a couple of listens, opener Navigator, big ballad Please Don't Break My Heart Tonight and Everybody Hides Away are all high points. Sigley and Robert Campanella (The Quarter After, Mia Doi Todd) play the Mellotron, with flutes all over Navigator and Wintertime In Hollywood, flutes and strings on Pieces Of Me and strings (doubling real ones) on Ordinary Lives and closer Alone, making for a most satisfying Mellotronic release.
They've done it again! 2009's Dimensions is yet another improvement, having pretty much thrown their original indie influence out completely. My favourites here are the jangly A New Low In Getting High and Love And Redemption, but there's nothing that made me want to reach for the 'next' button. Campanella on Mellotron again, with strings on Look At The Waves and Song To Humanity, all other string parts presumably being either real or generic. The following year's Lost is pretty much as good, although I felt it loses (ho ho) its way slightly as it progresses, despite its short running time. This Great Romance might just be this album's highpoint, not really sounding that much like the rest of their catalogue, but the strain begins to show by the end of the record. Campanella returns, with strings on Coming Home, although all other strings seem to be either generic samples or a cheap '70s string synth, clearly used for effect.
See: Samples etc.
Long Division (1995, 49.14) ****/T
Below & Above
Throw Out the Line
Things We Lost in the Fire (2001, 53.17) ****/T
|Kind of Girl
Like a Forest
The rather appropriately-named Low have been around for a while now, perfecting their melancholy folky thing. This is all rather wonderful, actually; exceptionally mournful, but not in a fake-miserable kind of way, coming more from the area the superb Richard Thompson has inhabited for most of his career. Their first Mellotron use was on '95's Long Division, with some rather warbly strings on Swingin', finishing with a high note held until the bitter end, when it wobbles obscenely before dying out. 1996's The Curtain Hits the Cast has Steve Fisk's 'Mellotron' credited, but I'm assured it's samples.
Their style reached something of a peak on Things We Lost in the Fire; even the (occasional) louder tracks are taken at a funereal pace. Much of the album features guest string players, playing both separately and together, along with Mark de Gli Antoni on keyboards, including Mellotron. Of course, the Mellotron was made for relentlessly downbeat music - well, it wasn't, but you know what I mean - and Things We Lost in the Fire is nothing if not superbly downbeat; even the title (a line of lyric) speaks of loss and regret. I'm actually quite surprised they didn't use it on more tracks, but July features heartbreaking strings and flutes drifting in and out of the mix, enhancing an already excellent song.
See: Samples etc.
Farewell Good Night's Sleep (2008, 37.49) ***½/TT
|I Forget it's There
By and By
The Reason Why My Heart's in Misery
Last Time Around
On My Own
Farewell Good Night's Sleep
Why Do I Worry?
Days Have Been
|Little By Little
My Second Hand Heart
The Country Ballad
Brostinn Strengur (2011, 43.29) ***/T
Kvöld Í Skógi
Gleym Mér Ei!
Chances are you haven't heard of Lay Low, or Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir; it seems a slightly moot point whether it's a band name or her nom de plume. I've eventually opted for the latter, but if anyone disagrees, please let me know. I probably wouldn't have heard of her, either, only she opted to record her third album, Farewell Good Night's Sleep, at Liam Watson's legendary Toerag Studios in London. Liam's ethos is 'all analogue'; you have two recording choices: 8-track or 4-track. The studio owns an ex-Abbey Road desk (think: Beatles sessions) and do their utmost to keep everything out of the digital realm. Having become acquainted with the studio earlier in 2008, I was asked if I could hire my trusty M400 out for a session, which turned out to be Lay Low's.
Strangely, for a half-Icelandic singer, the album is essentially a country record, although it does what it does really rather well, not least due to legendary Brit pedal steel man B.J. Cole's contributions. This isn't yer glossy, Nashville country, though, far from it; we're talking backwoods honky-tonk country here, drummer Rupert Brown using brushes much of the time and a lack of the mawkish sentimentality that ruins so much country music. Best track? Probably Why Do I Worry?, less American-sounding than most of the album, but that's really down to personal taste, I suppose.
After demonstrating my entire library of Mellotron sounds, they opted to go with the church organ/violas/vibes frame, making startling good use of the two latter sounds. Last Time Around features Carwyn Ellis on a creaky viola section, which is something I can almost guarantee hasn't been done with the instrument before, while Why Do I Worry? and My Second Hand Heart have some vibes chords that might not actually be possible to play on the real thing. I thought there was supposed to be another viola track, but I'll be damned if I can hear it anywhere. All in all, then, a traditional country album from an Icelandic chanteuse, recorded on analogue and featuring a Mellotron.
2011's Brostinn Strengur loses most of its predecessor's Americana, being more of a quirky singer-songwriter album, at its best on the oddball electronica of Kvöld Í Skógi, Gleym Mér Ei! and Lífið. Sigrúnardóttir's credited with Mellotron; it wasn't my machine - in fact, I can't even work out where this was recorded - so, given that it sounds real, whose is it? She has a Sigur Rós connection (Iceland's a very small country), so is it their M4000? Don't know, but we get a string part on Gleym Mér Ei! and flutes on Gleðileg Blóm, both tracks enhanced by its presence.
Ashes (2009, 44.42) ***/T
A Frame in Time
Lose it All at Once
As has been mentioned elsewhere, Lower Heaven have taken their name from an Echo & the Bunnymen lyric, giving a vague pointer towards their sound, although they eschew most of that particular outfit's early indie trappings, thankfully. 2009's Ashes is an odd combination of current art-rock and '80s indie, working better on some tracks than others; if I were them, I'd drop the heavy vocal reverb to reduce the comparison, but I'm not.
Producer Rob Campanella (Lovetones, The Quarter After) plays Mellotron, with a string part on A Frame In Time and a flute line on the spaghetti-western theme-like Lose It All At Once, although all other string parts sound like something else. So; one of those albums that starts well, then tails off towards the end, although it's a listenable enough effort. Not a lot of Mellotron, though...
|7" (1964) */TTTT
Portland Rose Song
Voice of the Rose
It would seem that, around 1964, the deeply obscure Bert Lowry sent a couple of his compositions to the 'song-poem' ('we'll record your songs for a hefty fee') house frequented by our old friend, the legend that was Rodd Keith. Unusually, Lowry actually sang them, too; the more normal arrangement was to have them sung by a bored, low-paid session vocalist, often to hilarious effect. No-one could beat Lowry's performance, though; he bellows his future classics with vastly more enthusiasm than talent (you don't say), giving us, er, some insight into his patriotic fervour and rather dodgy pitching. Think '60s American pub singer' and you won't be too far off the mark.
As with so many Rodd Keith recordings, the entire backing track is performed on Chamberlin, with (variously) strings, flutes, assorted woodwind and mixed voices scattered amongst these two gems, making for a (I believe) unique quality rating. This nonsense floats around on download blogs, shockingly (well, where d'you think I got it?), should you really feel inclined to surround yourself with this dreck. Quite jaw-dropping.
See: Rodd Keith