Ministry of Sound
Bob Miranda & the Happenings
Mr Albert Show
Mistress of Strands
Hiroshi Miyagawa/Jun Fukamachi
Men From the Ministry/Midsummer Night's Dreaming [Disc 2]
|White Collar Worker
Throw the Thing Away
Back Seat Driver
Rain Rain Rain
In the Sky
|Going Round and Round
Time Motion Man
Little Ray of Sunshine
Life is Living
When I Was Born
Rain Rain Rain (alt.version)
Decades before the current London club, the phrase Ministry of Sound had already been coined by Robin Shaw and Micky Keen for their studio project, although they only managed to release one single in their 'lifetime', White Collar Worker b/w Back Seat Driver. Their name wittily taps into a certain vein of '60s spy films, as does the forty-years-on compilation of their work, Men From the Ministry/Midsummer Night's Dreaming, although listening to it all these years later, it has to be said that's it's all a bit safe, certainly compared to what was going on at the time. It comes as no great surprise to hear that one of the kings of manufactured pop of the era, the semi-legendary John Carter (The Flower Pot Men, The Ivy League, First Class etc. etc.) was involved in some of their recordings, either.
The set improves as it goes along, principally at the point where Shaw and Keen 'switched over' to psych/pop, a few tracks into the second disc, but even their soft psych material isn't really that engaging, to be honest. Maybe there's a reason most of this stuff wasn't released at the time. Anyway, an unknown sessioneer plays Mellotron flutes on In The Sky and the bizarre Laughing Man, with strings on Rain Rain Rain (Alternate Version), barely enough to give the lengthy set a full T. Men From the Ministry is by no means a bad album, just a rather ordinary one, although fans of the style will go ga-ga over it, I've no doubt. Three Mellotron tracks out of thirty-five just isn't enough to make it worthwhile on those grounds, though.
See: The Flower Pot Men
Minus Infinity (1998, 38.54) ***/T½The Old Castle
Realm of the Spectre
Let Not the Night
Minus Infinity are at the driftier end of the Ventricle spectrum (Mauve Sideshow, Torn Curtain et al.), their sole, eponymous album consisting of wordless, ethereal voices, atonal synths and the occasional burst of Mellotron.
Lee "Dusty (Lee)" Blair plays Mellotron, Chamberlin and the incredibly rare Birotron, allegedly, although I don't know how authentic the other two instruments might be. Anyway, we get strings on Realm Of The Spectre, very distant strings on Let Not the Night, pitchbent brass on The Transmogrification and flutes on closer Aftermath. I think. As with most Ventricle releases, it isn't always easy to tell...
See: Mauve Sideshow
Let the War Against Music Begin (2000, 46.26) ***½/T
|Great News Around You
Ghost Tarts of Stockholm
You Don't Mean it
A Thousand Years Away
The Amazing Dolphin Boy
|One Bar at a Time
John Barleycorn Must Live
Desperate for Someone
Your Day Will Come (parts 1 & 2)
Down With Wilco (a Tragedy in Three Halfs) (2003, 42.02) ***/T
|The Days of Wine and Booze
Retrieval of You
That's Not the Way That it's Done
The Town That Lost its Groove Supply
Where Will You Go?
Life Left Him There
|The Family Gardener
The Old Plantation
What I Don't Believe
View from Below
I'm Not Bitter
Dear Employer (The Reason I Quit)
Of Monkees & Men (2016, 44.06) ***½/TMichael Nesmith
Davy Gets the Girl
Song for Peter Tork
Micky's a Cool Drummer
Boyce & Hart
Robert Ryan is Among Us
Weymer Never Dies
The Minus 5 could loosely be described as 'powerpop', although they refuse to fit into the standard Beatles/Big Star configuration, choosing to take influences from a broader range of styles. Effectively a Scott McCaughey solo project, each lineup features different guest musicians, including members of R.E.M. and The Posies, amongst others, not to mention an early They Might Be Giants connection. 2000's Let the War Against Music Begin is an oddity, given that it's only ever been available as half of a two-disc set, packaged with The Young Fresh Fellows' Because We Hate You, the YFFs being another McCaughey project, in case you were wondering. It's something of a powerpop gem, highlights including The Rifleman, You Don't Mean It and Desperate For Someone, although I've no idea what seven-minute closer Your Day Will Come (Parts 1 & 2), replete with narration, is all about. Only one credited Mellotron track, Scott McCaughey playing a flute line and strings on Desperate For Someone, so what are those Mellotron strings on John Barleycorn Must Live?
2003's grammatically-iffy Down With Wilco (a Tragedy in Three Halfs) is something like the band's fifth proper album (it's not that easy to tell) and is, unsurprisingly, a collaboration with Wilco, sounding, again unsurprisingly, not that dissimilar to that band in their later incarnation, i.e. perfectly respectable, but a little unengaging. Charlie Francis plays Mellotron (Wilco's?) on Daggers Drawn, with a cello part that could almost be real. Nice, but inessential, to be honest.
2016's Of Monkees & Men appears to be a loving tribute to The Monkees, an infrequently-quoted influence on the powerpop scene, compared to the usual suspects. Well, they don't begin with 'B', do they? Anyway, highlights include lengthy opener Michael Nesmith, Song For Peter Tork and Blue Rickenbacker, but nothing here screams 'remove me!' Scott McCaughey plays what I presume is real Mellotron on closer Weymer Never Dies, although whether or not it's Wilco's machine is unknown, with a chordal string part dipping in and out of the mix.
See: Wilco | R.E.M. | The Posies | They Might Be Giants
|7" (1969) **/TT
That's All I Want From You
He Thinks He's a Hero
New Jersey's Happenings, fronted by Bob Miranda, formed in 1961, their commercial peak being between 1966 and '68. That's All I Want From You was a non-album flop in early '69, a cheesy ballad that displays no obvious awareness of the counterculture, even though its follow-up, Where Do I Go, was backed with their take on Hare Krishna, from Hair. Think: a less successful Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, while bearing in mind that one of their nine hits was a version of Al Jolson's My Mammy, a song written in the '20s.
Someone plays Mellotron (or, more likely, Chamberlin) strings on the 'A', in full-on 'orchestral replacement' mode. I'm not recommending this, but you can hear it on YouTube if you must.
Nevergreen! (1972, 37.28) ***/TSpoiled Love
Song for Ann
Time Will Change
Munich's Missing Link released their sole album, Nevergreen!, in 1972, apparently utilising Embryo's Dieter Miekautsch on keys. The album is a slightly odd mixture of styles, sounding very slightly how Uriah Heep may have sounded had they tried to play jazz-rock; since we've been spared that particular delight, the possibly more competent Missing Link can show us how it might have sounded. The material is rather less memorable than Heep's best, though closer Kids Hunting is a good, rocking track, with touches of fusion and prog thrown into the mix.
Miekautsch's highlight here is instrumental piano piece Song For Ann, although there's some nice ripping Hammond in places, particularly on Kids Hunting. Can't say there's much happening on the Mellotron front, unfortunately, with naught but an atmospheric string part towards the end of opener Spoiled Love. Overall, then, not a bad album, but nowhere near 'outstanding', although parts of it may grow on the listener with repeated plays.
Warm Motor [a.k.a. Dutch Treat] (1971, 40.44/59.24) ***/T
|Did You Really Find Somebody
I am Not More Than a Sign
Let it All Hang Out
I Can't Help it
|Show Me Your Tongue
Can't Find My Way Home
Hooked on You
Picking Up Your Page]
Warm Motor (retitled Dutch Treat in the States) was The Mr Albert Show's second and last album, largely consisting of rather average hard-ish rock like lengthy opener Did You Really Find Somebody or the funkyish Let It All Hang Out. Not bad, but not that good, either and far too similar to a thousand other albums to've made any real breakthrough at the time. Best track? Electronic Baby, simultaneously heavy and progressive, while the vague Tullisms of I Am Not More Than A Sign don't hurt, but it's still only enough to get the album three stars.
Either Bonki Bongaerts or Bertus Borgers played the Mellotron, probably that Hilversum Phonogram Studios M300, as on so many other Dutch albums of the period. Whoever plays it slathers strings all over original album closer Woman, to pleasing effect, plus a little strings and brass on one of the CD's bonus tracks, Hooked On You. Speaking of which, said bonuses are somewhat on the average side, but that's clearly the easiest way to get the album, should you so desire. All a bit ordinary, then, but one great Mellotron track.
Actual Size (2001, 55.55) ***/T
|Lost in America
Mary Goes 'Round
One World Away
I Don't Want to Be Happy
|Crawl Over Me
Cheap Little Thrill
How Did I Give Myself Away
Nothing Like It in the World
Deep Dark Secret]
It's difficult to deny that Mr. Big have assaulted our ears with some right old dross in their early years, despite their ferocious musicianship, but their sixth album, 2001's Actual Size, is a fairly acceptable slab of accessible hard rock, with a distinct King's X influence on several tracks. I'm not sure there are any 'highlights' per se, but opener Lost In America, One World Away, Crawl Over Me and How Did I Give Myself Away are all above average.
Producer Ritchie Zito plays what sounds like real Mellotron on Arrow, switching between cello and flute parts, with more cello on bonus track Deep Dark Secret. Enough to make this worth the effort? Not really, no, not least due to the Mellotron's slightly murky recording quality. Summation? I've heard worse.
See: Richie Kotzen | Pat Torpey | Eric Martin
Lightworlds (2008, 25.23) ***/T½The Infinity Machine
Don't Try to Think
Metropoli del Ferro
Sounds From the Cave (2008, 24.20) ***/TThe Caveman
Trip Through the Water Door
Monolith Voodoo Vibes
The Red Baron
For Pete's Sake (2009, 55.12) **½/T
|For Pete's Sake
Mecca and the Soul Brother
Get on the Mic
Straighten it Out
Shut em Down
I Got a Love
The World is Yours
Silver Frequencies (2009, 65.16) **½/TT
Feathers on Fire
Outside My Door
Ends and Means Dub
The Zero Point
Hole in the Sky
Illuminate [as Chop] (2013, 53.25) **/½
Illuminate All Voltages
Future Past Ad
Re-Program The Man/Illuminist Garden
The Electronic Brain
You Want More Life
Bow Down to the Mutant
Mr. Chop is essentially Coz Littler, proprietor of Ape Studios, one of a handful of (mostly) analogue studios left in the UK. They/he play psychedelic electronica, for want of a better term, 2008's Lightworlds EP being their first release in several years. It's... efficient, although their influences clash badly with my sense of how this music should or could sound. However, it wasn't made for me and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who love this stuff. Ape own a real, live M400, heard on a couple of tracks here (played by Littler and Glyn Williams), with strings, flutes and a melody line on, er, something on The Infinity Machine, while there are choirs and strings all over Zoid like a rash. The same year's Sounds From the Cave EP is more of the same, at least to my ears, with just the one Mellotron track (from Littler?), with strings (including some cool pitchbends) on The Red Baron.
Their first album, the following year's For Pete's Sake, I find rather less interesting than the EPs, featuring far more repetitive material that begins to drag after a while. Definitely Littler on Mellotron this time, with faint choirs on Good Life, T.R.O.Y. and Mecca And The Soul Brother, plus flutes on Main Ingredient, although, for some reason, it stops there. Silver Frequencies, from the same year, is structured around a series of ambient 'Intermezzos', surrounding more 'typical' Mr. Chop material; better efforts include Psychic Psych and Magic Box, but I'm having trouble getting excited about anything here. Littler's Mellotron is stupendously badly recorded, to the point where I'd imagine it's deliberate, for some reason. Although the background choir chords on the title track are held for longer than eight seconds, I suspect studio trickery (been there, done that) as against samples, with more of the same on Feathers On Fire, Outside My Door and Psychic Psych (plus flute on the latter), while a flute melody holds 8000 Volts together, although the second half of the overlong album is entirely Mellotronically bereft. Their most recent album to date, 2013's Illuminate (released as Chop), sits at the clattery, more irritating end of electronica, containing far too much techno-esque vocal sample manipulation for comfort, probably at its best on You Want More Life and Arcane Future. Littler's credited with Mellotron on Bow Down To The Mutant, presumably the lone, volume-pedalled string chord combined with synth and the distant choirs.
See: Samples etc.
Mr. Forky (2002, 39.15) **½/T½
Born to Low
Confidence in Movement
Mr. Forky is (or was) Josh Miesmer's solo project, it seems, playing an unholy kind of art rock/indie cross on his eponymous debut. Comparable to Radiohead, Allmusic? I don't think so. It's at its least tedious on Proving Ground and the gentle For Claire, but that isn't saying much.
Kenny Siegal (Blueberry) plays Old Soul Studios' Mellotron, with skronky flute and string parts on Born To Low, strings on Proving Ground and more skronky flutes on Frustration Hole.
Beyond the Blue (2019, 50.18) ***½/T
|The Bitter Space
The Big Ego
Simple Little Haven
A Shadow Left Unknown
The Last Dance
British Columbians Mr. Goshness mix and match styles with abandon on their debut, 2019's Beyond the Blue, sounding chiefly like an unlikely cross between powerpop and slightly angular prog, with dashes of indie and hard rock thrown in. Confused? They might be (dunno about you), but, somehow, the eclectic stylistic mishmash actually works, at its best on opener The Bitter Space, the rocking Goodbye Crazy, the proggy Terminator and closer The Last Dance.
The Super Groovy Band's John Gogo plays his M400, with chordal flutes on Simple Little Haven, a brief, solo flute part on Terminator and angular (that word again) choirs on The Last Dance. This is diverse enough that the average listener is unlikely to love all of it, but those of an open-minded disposition stand a good chance of loving some it. Worth hearing.
|7" (1968) ***/TT
Mr. Most appears to be yet another pseudonym used by Dandy Livingstone, releasing just the one single under this nom de plume, 1968's Pushwood b/w Reggae Train, two decent enough pop/reggae numbers of their type, if not exactly outstanding examples of the genre.
Someone (T.J. Brown?) plays Mellotron, with a really badly played string part on the 'A', sounding like the first time the player had ever tackled the instrument's, er, 'unique' key action, with more of the same, albeit better played, on the flip. This hasn't been compiled onto either of the lengthy Livingstone retrospectives I've heard, for some reason, but can be heard on YouTube.
See: Dandy Livingstone
Barren Dream (1987, 44.33/52.20) ***½/½
|All the Fallen People
Step Into Easter
Mr Sirius, a.k.a. Kazuhiro Miyataka, is a multi-instrumentalist whose first solo album, Barren Dream, falls broadly into that '80s Japanese prog' category, which doesn't really tell you that much about it, I suppose. It has elements of symphonic progressive, fusion and probably several other styles I haven't yet identified, which can make for a slightly disjointed listening experience although, overall, it's a good album. Difficult to pick out highlights on a first listen, but All The Fallen People is possibly the most cohesive track and the nearest to 'typical' progressive.
Miyataka is credited with Mellotron on part one of All The Fallen People, Overtune (well, that's what it says in the booklet), but all I can hear is a couple of string chords on the intro, which don't even sound that Mellotronlike. As a result, this is no Mellotron album, but worth hearing for those into that peculiarly Japanese style of symphonic prog.
Mistress of Strands (2000, 37.07) ***/½Slipstream
In the Park
In the Middle of the Falling Rain
Carnival of Sighs
Mistress of Strands are yet another Seattle-based Ventricle label outfit (Mauve Sideshow et al.), whose tag-line was 'ethereal female vocals'. Well, you can't get them on advertising standards, anyway... Drifting synths and yes, ethereal female voices, probably at its most effective on nine-minute opener Slipstream.
Lee "Dusty Lee" Blair plays Mellotron, if only just, with very occasional strings on In The Middle Of The Falling Rain and Untitled 1, adding up to a minimal Mellotron rating.
See: Mauve Sideshow
|7" (1969) ***/TT
Malcolm Mitchell? No idea, squire. It seems he only ever released one 7", '69's Sightseer b/w Feather, a passable slice of Beatles-esque pop, the flip being a rather better mild psych exploration, like a budget American Moody Blues, perhaps.
Someone plays (presumably) Chamberlin strings all over the flip, in pleasing style. Both sides are available on the Apricot Hash in the Hour Glass compilation (they're even on Spotify), so if you're intrigued, go for it, although I can only really recommend Feather.
Space Cruiser Yamato - Synthesizer Fantasy (1982, 36.44) ***/½Overture
You Be There
The Day of Coming
The Eternity of Love
From Yamato With Love
Hiroshi Miyagawa (1931-2006) was a 'Japanese pop songwriter and arranger', according to Discogs, with the better part of forty albums to his name, according to the same, not-that-reliable source. 1982's Space Cruiser Yamato - Synthesizer Fantasy (not to be confused with '77's Space Cruiser Yamato) is an album of instrumental synthesizer versions, recorded the same year, of the music he composed for mid-'70s anime Space Battleship Yamato (depending on translation), apparently one of the earliest animes to tackle serious issues and, in return, be taken more seriously. Unfortunately, it's difficult to take the music, or at least these versions of it, that seriously, as it's all a bit Nippo-fusionesque, at its best on the brief Iskandal and White Comet and its worst on the cheesy The Eternity Of Love.
The album was produced in collaboration with noted Japanese synthesist Jun Fukamachi, who makes some nice noises with an Oberheim 8 voice, an ARP Odyssey and a MiniMoog, amongst others, not forgetting his Mellotron, years after his last known use, with choirs on The Day Of Coming. Given that this is now on YouTube, if you feel like giving it a virtual spin, be my guest. It's not very exciting, particularly on the Mellotron front, but the choice is yours.
See: Jun Fukamachi
The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire (2005, 40.56) ***½/T
|Real Enough for Me
Straight in the Eyes
You Can Call Me
Mola, Guay, OK
Little Girl Blue
The Emperor Strikes Out
|(Stuck in) New York in the Summertime
Bullet and Babies
A Girl I've Never Met
The Mockers play a particularly literate form of powerpop, making it quite fitting that their third album, The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire (ha ha), is packaged like a dime-store western, its first two tracks listed as 'Two Complete Novelets', the rest falling under 'Short Stories' and 'Special Features'. Highlights are too numerous to mention, although Mola, Guay, OK (a nod to their large Spanish fanbase), the propulsive The Emperor Strikes Out and the swooning Willoughby Station all stand out.
Two Mellotron tracks, Robbie Rist playing near-inaudible flutes on (Stuck In) New York In The Summertime and Seth Gordon adding a flute part, complete with solo, to A Girl I've Never Met. Real? I think so, although it comes some way down the list of 'good reasons to hear this record'.
Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004, 48.40) ***/T
The World at Large
The Ocean Breathes Salty
Dig Your Grave
Bury Me With it
|This Devil's Workday
Satin in a Coffin
Blame it on the Tetons
The Good Times Are Killing Me
Modest Mouse seem to inhabit the odder end of post-punk US indie, being perfectly happy to juxtapose banjos with brass, or blatantly pastiche Tom Waits, though, admittedly, not in the same song. I'll admit to being quite unqualified to review their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, as I really don't get where they're coming from at all, but kudos to the band for making a commercial success out of being left-field, even if they slip into standard 'misery' mode every now and again.
Mellotron on three tracks, though the only overt use is a big string part on The World At Large, from Dann Gallucci. Right at the end of the song, the pitch is wound right down and the Mellotron (it sounds pretty real) is played at a lower pitch, allowing notes to be held for longer; nice effect, guys. No, really. Gallucci also plays it on The View and Eric Judy plays on Float On (sadly, nothing to do with the ludicrous Philly soul hit by The Floaters), although it's difficult to work out what exactly it's supposed to be doing, as it's pretty much inaudible in both cases.
See: Samples etc.
Modern Guitars With Amplification (1997, 55.01) ***/T½
|Blue and Beautiful
Ocean Country Blues
I've Got a Gun
Let's Get Together
|More Than Heaven
When the World's in Tune
Proof if Proof Were Needed
In Spite of Everything
A Beginners Guide to Modesty Blaise (1999, recorded 1994-1999, 43.14) ***/½
|Let's Get Together
More Than Heaven
The Most Beautiful
You Can Do Better Than That
The Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band in the World
Blue and Beautiful
|February Forever Girl
Ocean Country Blues
Melancholia (2000, 55.04) ***/½
My Life Before You Came
Melancholia (Three Humours)
Pretty Smart On My Part
Even In My Darkest Hour/Harmonica
|The Little Things You Do/Gregory Fell Into His French Horn
I'm Going Out
When We Come Of Age
Sounds Like Love
We Are Love
How to describe Modesty Blaise (named for the '60s comic strip character, of course)? Led by Bristol-based Jonny Collins, the title of their debut, 1997's Modern Guitars With Amplification, tells you everything you need to know: not unlike several other mid'90s acts, not least Pulp, The Divine Comedy and David Devant & His Spirit Wife, they combine pre-psych '60s pop with a '90s indie aesthetic, although the end result comes across as a little less arch than those outfits. Album highlights include Christina Terrace, Blackberry Winter and the jaunty Proof If Proof Were Needed, while Collins and Clem Courtney add Mellotron to four tracks, with chordal strings and a line following the brass on Christina Terrace, a wandering, background string line on Ocean Country Blues, chordal strings towards the end of I've Got A Gun and occasional flutes on Proof If Proof Were Needed.
'99's 'singles and different mixes' compilation A Beginners Guide to Modesty Blaise [sic.] contains an unreleased single from '95, The Most Beautiful, Collins adding occasional Mellotron string interjections. The rest of its contents consist of different, single-only recordings of album tracks and various flipsides, with no more Mellotron. Their second and last album proper, 2000's Melancholia, pulls a rabbit out of a hat by, instead of sounding like the bastard offspring of Saint Etienne and the horrible Stereolab, being stuffed with swooning pop-as-it-once was. Highlights? A capella opener Chorale (Beach Boys, anyone?), Carol Mountain (the single), Pretty Smart On My Part and the lengthy, woozy, brass-driven The Love-In, amongst others. Collins plays a volume-pedalled Mellotron string part on the brief Swivel Chair, although that would appear to be our lot. Genuine? Sounds like it, but its indifferent place in the mix makes it difficult to tell.
Dither (2001, 58.52) ***/½
The Ghost of Ralph's Mom
New York City
Can't Seem to Find
In a Big Country
Moe, usually (and highly irritatingly) spelled moe., complete with full-stop, are that peculiar-to-America thing, a jamband (see: The String Cheese Incident). In other words, bands taking their main cues from The Grateful Dead and usually picking up some of their following, slightly adrift since Jerry Garcia's death, The Other Ones and The Dead notwithstanding. In common with most jambands, Moe play a bewildering range of styles, including various forms of psych (naturally), folk, country, blues, jazz, rock... At least they seem to avoid that terrible 'white dub' thing that too many of their contemporaries seem to consider a good idea.
2001's Dither is their eighth album proper, shifting between country (So Long), folk (New York City), Americana (Can't Seem To Find) and, bizarrely, a good cover of Big Country's In A Big Country, complete with folky fiddle part, although the bulk of the album consists of middling rock, tailor-made to be extended into live jams. Somebody or something calling itself Late Nite Rascals is credited with Mellotron (does this mean anything to fans?), with occasional strings on opener Captain America, although that would appear to be it.
The Moffs (1985, 33.57) ***½/TTLook to Find
A Million Years Past
I Once Knew
I'll Lure You in
|7" (1986) ***½/T
By the Breeze
|7" (1987) ***½/T½
Labyrinth (1988, 48.35) ***½/½Touch the Ground
The Grazing Eyes
Always a Flame
Stealing Cake (to Eat the Moon)
Who'll Point You
The Moffs were a Sydney-based psychedelic band, which probably wasn't the hottest route to success in the '80s, more's the pity. They released a demo and a single before their self-titled mini-album debut appeared in '85, sounding about as far from the pop mainstream of the time as it could. Early Pink Floyd are an obvious initial comparison, plenty of Farfisa in evidence (although without the cavernous reverb that the Floyd preferred) and generally pretty laid-back material, though, like their mentors, a certain tension is apparent throughout the album, avoiding potential accusations of blandness. It's difficult to pick out a 'best track', but this reviewer particularly liked I Once Knew, while closer The Meadowsong is easily the longest piece here, topping twelve minutes, for fans of epic psych. Guitarist Tom Kazas doubles on Mellotron, playing string parts on all three highlighted tracks, the most upfront use being on I'll Lure You In.
Two singles appeared before the next Moffs twelve-incher, 1986's Flowers and the following year's The Traveller. All four tracks are worthy additions to the band's catalogue, particularly the hooky The Traveller, albeit in an (unsurprisingly) shorter format than on The Moffs, true to their '60s inspiration. Two Mellotron tracks out of the four, with flutes on Flowers and flutes and strings on Quakers Drum [sic.], the flip of The Traveller.
The band released their sole full album, Labyrinth, in '88. Opener Touch The Ground sounds a lot like '70s Floyd this time, unfashionable though they are amongst psych fans, although the band unblot their copybook with Tapestry, which could be an outtake from More or Ummagumma. Some of the material actually sits more in the progressive than the psychedelic camp, notably the fantastically-titled instrumental Stealing Cake (To Eat The Moon) and closer Who'll Point You. Practically no obvious credited Mellotron (from Kazas again), sadly, with possibly background strings on Surprised and flutes on Who'll Point You, though the instrument (if that's what it is) has been mixed so far down, it's very difficult to tell.
So; two quite different, but very worthwhile albums from an unfairly forgotten band, assuming they could ever have said to be 'known'. Psych fans most definitely need to apply, unless they're stuck in a 'late-'60s or bust' mentality, in which case they might as well give up now. If you're after some Hot Mellotron Action, though, while The Moffs might keep you happy for a short while, Labyrinth will only disappoint. I originally wrote: "...what we need now is official, easy-to-obtain reissues of both albums, with various single tracks as bonuses, to finally give the band some long-overdue respect". As if reading my mind, Australia's Feel Presents released The Collection (****/T) in 2008, precisely what I asked for, with one caveat: why have each disc's contents been jumbled? I understand that Kazas might feel that they run more smoothly this way, but mixing demos, singles, compilation and album tracks willy-nilly gives the whole affair a slightly disjointed feel, not to mention splitting their debut's The Meadowsong into two parts. In fairness, disc one is from '84-6 while two is '87-8 and you can always programme in the original running orders, but that split track somehow messes things up. Still: their complete works in one handy package! No extra Mellotron, though.
Official Tom Kazas site
See: Tom Kazas
Alas Folkloric (2006, 51.18) ***/T
|All Around the World
Let the Hurricane Blow
A Curse on Both Your Houses
Hey Little Dove
A Love So High
Zero to 110
|Stand Your Ground
Stranger Than Truth
We Will Not Fade Away
Jim Moginie is a founder member and linchpin of Midnight Oil, 2006's Alas Folkloric being his first solo album after the band's initial split. Not wildly different to 'The Oils', it might best be described as singer-songwriter material in an adult pop/rock setting, at its best on punchy opener All Around The World, Outer Space and closer We Will Not Fade Away, although, at least to my ears, the more sensitive material works less well.
Oddly, Tim Kevin, rather than Moginie, plays Mellotron on two tracks, with chordal choirs on Let the Hurricane Blow and a flute line on We Will Not Fade Away. Moginie's also played Mellotron on several other artists' albums (Sarah Blasko, Suzy Flowers), not to mention his first solo project, 1996's Fuzz Face EP.
See: Midnight Oil | Fuzz Face
|7" (1968) ***½/TT½
We Are the Moles (part 1)
We Are the Moles (part 2)
The Moles were none other than Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, who later morphed into the phenomenal Gentle Giant, of course. I don't know the history behind this semi-novelty record's release, but I'd guess that after their major success with the wonderful Kites, The Big Sound's record company were desperate to get them another hit by any means. We Are The Moles failed miserably on that front, but manages to be a rather good little song in its own right, 'Simon Dupree' (Derek Shulman)'s distorted vocal, rhyming (rather predictably) 'moles' with 'holes'.
There's barely any Mellotron on the A-side, but the (superior?) flip has loads of flutes and strings, creating one of the UK psych scene's lesser-known Mellotron classics. You'll never find an original copy, but that matters not one jot, as it's just been reissued on Simon Dupree's Part of My Past anthology, released in early 2004. The album's more than worthy of your attention anyway, with these two tracks being a bit of a bonus.
See: Simon Dupree and the Big Sound
A Night at Raji's EP (2001, 17.58) ****/TTA Night at Raji's
Songs for Vowels & Mammals (2004?, 61.41) ****/TTT½
Dial (2007, 32.44) ***/TTDial
Tom & Tiger (2020, 42.45) ****/½#1
Are You There (2021, 50.00) ***½/TT½
|You & Me (Intro)
Blues Soaked Hope
The Second Voice
To be honest, I don't know an awful lot about Molesome, only that Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson is heavily involved (it's Mattias' proud boast that there's Mellotron to be found on every single album he's played on, which has to be applauded...). Like most of his recent work, such as Geller and Pineforest Crunch, A Night at Raji's (sort of) falls into the 'intelligent, offbeat pop' category, which can be no bad thing. Mixing programmed instruments with good old-fashioned acoustic ones, it's actually effectively instrumental, although with some spoken word parts, so I suppose it isn't 'pop' at all, really. Narcotics is particularly good, with an amusing exchange on the subject of, er, 'substances'. Mellotron flutes on both Naples and 22nd March, with a couple of pitchbends to let you know it's real (as if...), along with the glockenspiels, tremolo guitar etc. A Night at Raji's is a pretty cool, modern record, which even died-in-the-wool prog fans may find acceptable; I've no idea if the band is an even remotely full-time proposition, or simply another one of Mattias' projects, but a whole album of this stuff would be most welcome.
You know when they say, "Be careful what you wish for..."? Three or so years later, what should fall onto my doormat but a full-length Molesome album, Songs for Vowels & Mammals. Is this generally available? Depends on your definition of 'generally available', I suppose; I believe it is/was available on Mattias' Roth-Händle site, if you can actually gain access to the thing. It's weirder than its predecessor and is clearly a Mattias solo project this time round, featuring the usual array of cranky old keyboards; drum machines and what's more, I have no idea what (if anything) any of the tracks are called. What is undeniable, though, is that the man has a way with a tune; many of the tracks have beautiful melodies, usually played on MiniMoog or Mellotron, though possibly more in an 'art-house film soundtrack' way than a 'worldwide hit single' one, which is probably a good thing. Moments of humour rear their ugly heads here and there, too, Track 8 being a worthy successor to Raji's Narcotics.
It's likely that some of the 'programmed drums' are actually Mattias' old Chamberlin Rhythmate, which, since it's a tape-replay device, should count as a Chamberlin, but unless/until I'm informed as to what is and what isn't, I really can't comment. As far as more standard Mellotron stuff goes, while I'm certain to miss some of the sounds used, particularly when they're stacked up in the mix, this is what I can actually hear: Cellos, flutes and strings on track 1, strings on 4 and some gorgeous, upfront flutes backed with cello on 5. Flutes and strings on 6, cellos on 10 and ghostly choirs (are there any other kind in Mellotronland?) on 11, with unidentified orchestral something-or-others on 13. 15 features flutes through a Digitek Whammy pitchbend pedal, making for some interesting octave effects, with a final Mellotronic appearance from the cellos, strings and flutes on Track 18. Now go on, tell me what I've missed.
2007 and it's another Molesome album - of a sort. Dial is the sort of thing that lazy reviewers might call 'ambient', only ambient music isn't meant to be this discordant and all-round odd, I suspect. It largely consists of moaning synth with random brass stuck on top, vocal samples and the odd bit of piano thrown in, so it would seem that 'intelligent, offbeat pop' no longer applies. Actually, this doesn't sound entirely dissimilar to Julian Cope's very odd Odin, only shorter and with slightly more variety. Mellotron? There's something stabby around the sixteen-minute mark, background choirs a few minutes later and definite flutes and strings around twenty-four minutes. When suddenly... twenty-six mins and full-on strings! Almost rhymes, too. That would appear to be your lot. Incidentally, Mattias reissued the album on Roth-Händle Recordings in 2017.
It might be better to give you a précis of Mattias' own thoughts on 2020's Tom & Tiger from its Bandcamp page, rather than bowdlerise his words.
|The Spring of 2019 was horrible.
In February my daughter Tiger was in a very dark place, and in March my friend and musical ally Tom Doncourt passed away. I was in pieces. Shattered. Didn't really know what to do with myself. After long weeks of grief and loud mood swings, I sat down by the piano on my way out. No plan. I just sat there and looked at it. Feeling completely hollow and empty I put my hands on the keys and pressed down. Very tentatively. Waited for a while. Played a handful more notes. And to my surprise something inside replied.
My stomach turns when musicians talk about music as "A sort of therapy". This isn't that. This is me doing something when there was nothing. ...I often thought to myself "Tom wouldn't have wanted this at all". Listening to it now I'm not really sure what Tom would have made of this. Knowing Tom, it would have been something along the lines of..."It's good but I think it needs something...more Mellotron perhaps?"
What we get is four long tracks of sparse piano improvisation, extra instrumentation or wordless vocals added as appropriate. I've used the phrase 'quietly beautiful' before, but this is the first time I've really meant it. Prosaically, on the Mellotron front, I think we're hearing wineglasses on #3, bolstering up the (real) bowed vibes and occasional boys' choir chords on #4, but it's hardly the album's defining feature.
Given that it was recorded later the same year, Are You There, in collaboration with Hampus Nordgren-Hemlin, couldn't be more different to Tom & Tiger, although it largely retains its melancholia. Despite my best efforts, attempts to pigeonhole this mostly-instrumental material (with only a handful of vocal tracks) is futile, although apparent influences include various shades of indie, electronica, exotica, Icelandic/Scandi-pop, little bursts of early 20th-Century classical and (of course) progressive rock, albeit less than you might expect. Highlights? Almost impossible to say, given the musical diversity on offer here, but personal favourites include the insistent Alphabat, the cello-in-treble-range-driven Being Kate, Urge, Boxes and Sorrow (Outro), particularly the latter three titles' stately proggish moves. Mellotron from, variously, Mattias and Nordgren-Hemlin, with chordal strings on You & Me (Intro), background flutes (?) on Naturales, upfront strings on Urge, background ones on Tim, a non-standard flute on The Supreme, choirs and wobbly string section on Boxes and unidentified strings and woodwinds on closer Sorrow (Outro), although nothing obvious on Spacestation Funeral, Being Kate and Vernon.
See: Änglagård | AK-Momo | Geller | Nanook of the North | Pineforest Crunch | Reminder
The Mommyheads (1997, 46.01) ***/T
I'm in Awe
In the Way
You Keep on Looking Back
Wake Up Irene
Thought of You
Would He Know?
The Mommyheads, fronted by Adam 'son of Leonard' Cohen, operated from the late '80s to the late '90s, releasing five albums, of which their eponymous one was the last. Unusually, as this usually happens in reverse, it started off by irritating me, then as it played, I slowly got used to their sound until I ended up quite liking it. And their sound was...? Classic intelligent pop; plenty of Beatles, shades of their contemporary Michael Penn, basically good melodies over inventive chord sequences. Remember them? Well, no-one else does... Standouts? Hard to say after under two plays, but Corky has a great lyric and there's nothing here that makes you want to reach for the 'skip' button, which is a result in itself.
The ubiquitous Jon Brion plays Chamberlin on Thought Of You and Screwed and, just for once, you can actually hear the bloody thing. Strings (OK, violins) on the former, sounding, yet again, a lot like the real thing and flutes on Screwed, although it could easily have been used on another half dozen tracks without over-egging the pudding. Well, I think so, anyway. So; why only three stars? Well, the songs are good, but not great and, without playing it several times in fairly quick succession (time, time...), it's impossible to tell whether its stature will grow or diminish with repetition. Saying that, it's a good album and may just possibly have its rating bumped up at some point in the future. Two OK Chamby tracks, but don't buy it for them.
See: Adam Cohen
Two (1978, 44.07) **½/½
|Mukashi no Koto Nanka
Kasa Mo Sasazu ni
Shofu Ichi wa
Watashi no Kokoro wa Kurosuoba
Ki ni Naru no ni
Iyana Koto Iwa Reta no
|Gin'iro no Kuruma Kumikyoku
Kyo wa Tokubetsu no hi
Gin'iro no Kuruma no Tema I
Watashidake no Sekai
Gin'iro no Kuruma no Tema II
Nan sa re Chatte mo
Busu no Uta
Gin'iro no Kuruma no Tema III
Umi no Soko de
Gin'iro no Kuruma no Tema IV
Although better known as an actress, Kaori Momoi has also had a successful musical career. No prizes for guessing how many albums in 1978's Two appeared, a mainstream pop/rock effort featuring a bizarre, multi-part, side-long track, Gin'iro No Kuruma Kumikyoku. Don't get excited... Prog this ain't, more an eighteen-minute theatrical piece covering a range of styles, not least ragtime, city street sound FX thrown in for good measure.
Someone (possibly Goro Atsumi) plays Mellotron, if only just, with male choirs on Shofu Ichi Wa and the last section of Gin'iro No Kuruma Kumikyoku, Gin'iro No Kuruma No Tema IV.
Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard (1978, 36.46) ****/½Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard
Souvenirs de Naufrageurs
Créature sur la Steppe
Mona Lisa are often, unfairly, labelled Ange copyists. OK, so they're a loosely Genesis-influenced French progressive band from the early-to-mid-'70s with a theatrical singer. And? They actually sound very little like them, at least within the prog oeuvre, although occasional Genesis comparisons do hold up. 1978's Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard was their fourth album, following hard on the heels of their classic, the previous year's Le Petit Violon de Monsieur Grégoire (****½), actually holding up very well in comparison, given that the two-pronged punk/disco attack had hit in their homeland, too. This is a full-on progressive album, no obvious concessions being made to modernity; y'know what, though? Maybe the band saw this as 'modernity' at the time. The most anyone can do is spot trends and most of us can't even do that, so if Mona Lisa had an audience who went wild for what they were doing, why would they try to conform to a new set of media-imposed rules? Anyway... Keys man Jean-Paul Pierson is credited with Mellotron (the band had never used one before), but it's only to be heard on Souvenirs De Naufrageurs, with background choirs near the end, making you wonder why they bothered. It doesn't feature on the live version added to Musea's CD release, making it highly likely that a studio machine was fired up for the sole track.
Vocalist and band linchpin Dominique Le Guennec left after Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard, so drummer Francis Poulet 'did a Collins' and stepped up to the mic for the original band's last album, '79's Vers Demain (***½). While it's rumoured to have some Mellotronic input, there's nothing audible, so null points on that front, although it's a much better album than you'd expect from its year of release. As far as Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard goes, if you're into the French prog sound and like their earlier albums, you won't be disappointed. Next to no Mellotron, but it's a bit irrelevant here, to be honest. Incidentally, Le Guennec reformed the band in the late '90's, albeit with no other original members, choosing instead to co-opt most of current French outfit Versailles. They made one studio album, 1998's De l'Ombre à la Lumière, using fake Mellotron and a live album before dropping out of sight again.
See: Samples etc.