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Black Bonzo  (Sweden)

Black Bonzo  [a.k.a. Lady of the Light]  (2004,  58.28)  ****
Sound of the Apocalypse  (2007,  54.03)  ****½
Operation Manual: the Guillotine Model Drama  (2009,  49.34)  ****

You think you've heard retro? You ain't heard nothing yet... Black Bonzo are a seriously authentic early-'70s sounding outfit from northern Sweden and are, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from any lower-division heavy/progressive band from, say, 1972, with one important difference; they're excellent. Not to diss the likes of Gracious! or Stray, say, but these guys don't let the quality slip, or meander off into soft-rock territory. Their debut, Black Bonzo (a.k.a. Lady of the Light)'s erstwhile title track Lady Of The Light starts fairly generically, before suddenly mutating into Uriah Heep's Easy Livin' with added Mellotron, stretching the whole thing out to seven minutes, complete with piano interlude. One online reviewer has pointed out that this is probably the album's high point, but that isn't to say the rest of it isn't pretty good, too, just possibly not quite up there with the opener. Incidentally, they invoke the spirit of Heep again on New Day, which sounds like Stealin' this time. Apart from the Hammond and synth (Moog?), Nicklas Åhlund gets a fair bit of samplotron onto the album, with intermittent strings on Lady Of The Light and Brave Young Soldier and a typical 'Strawberry Fields'-style flute part plus strings on Fantasy World. Several other tracks all feature strings to one degree or another, with a beautifully lush part on Leave Your Burdens, Åhlund's work standing out for its restraint.

Their second effort, 2007's Sound of the Apocalypse, opens with a multi-overdubbed portamento-laden monosynth part worthy of Rick Wakeman's No Earthly Connection, with the essential difference that it's not the only thing on the album worth hearing. In fact, Black Bonzo have seriously raised their game here, making an album that sounds far more like themselves than Uriah Heep, or anyone else for that matter. This is seriously good stuff, from the two-minute Intermission - Revelation Song to the thirteen minutes of the closing title track, with a proggier and more original feel than before, although their spiritual forbears are still the early '70s hard rock bands, rather than the progressive ones. 'Mellotronically' speaking, Thorns Upon A Crown features nothing at all until a brief choir part right at the end of the song, although Giant Games ups the ante with a considerable string and flute presence, while a flute melody duels with acoustic guitar on Yesterday's Friends, with more strings and choir on The Well.

2009's oddly-titled Operation Manual: the Guillotine Model Drama is more diverse than its predecessors, although Heep still play a large part in its sound. Somehow, it seems a little less exciting than Sound of the Apocalypse, although it still knocks the socks off most current bands. This lot should tour with Bigelf, thinking about it. The samplotron is hardly anywhere to be seen this time round, with naught but strings on opener Guillotine Drama and Nest Of Vipers, with real strings on a couple of other tracks.

Black Eyed Peas  (US)

Monkey Business  (2005,  66.03)  **½

The Black Eyed Peas are apparently relatively unusual in the hip-hop world, refusing to conform on various fronts, although to the casual listener, hip-hop it remains. Their fourth album, 2005's Monkey Business, manages to mix serious lyrical concerns with the puerile My Humps, sung by female member Fergie, although she could be said to be making a stand against endemic male sexism. Maybe. Musically, a handful of tracks are more adventurous than the average, although the majority are the same old same old, I'm afraid. A gentleman calling himself Printz Board, for some reason, plays samplotron string and flute stabs on Don't Phunk With My Heart, ending with a weird little choir melody that I can't imagine anyone else in the hip-hop world going anywhere near.

Black Label Society  (US)

Unblackened  (2013,  124.42)  ***

Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society's Unblackened (also on DVD) is supposedly a 'live acoustic' album, but large chunks of it don't sound very 'unplugged' to my ears. I believe that's Wylde's guitarist (who has to field an identical setup to the Great Man, apparently) playing many of the solos, but you wouldn't know the difference, frankly. This would've been better had it been shorter; there's some pretty decent (albeit Skynyrd-channelling) material here, but it's all a bit one-paced, while Zakk's 'wounded buffalo' vocal style quickly grates. Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, many others) plays keys, including an M4000D stuck on top of the Hammond, going by the video, although, aside from the definite strings on Rust, you'd be hard-pushed to spot where he plays it. Choirs on the pointlessly lengthy Throwin' It All Away?

Black Light White Light  (Denmark)

Gold Into Dreams  (2014,  57.44)  **½

Black Light White Light's second album, 214's Gold Into Dreams, supposedly sits somewhere between shoegaze and psychedelia, which suggests to me that no-one's hearing the album's Britpop hangover vibe, particularly noticeable on Revolutionary Sound Squad and Song For Astrid. In fairness, the woozy Gold Into Dreams and We See The Light fit the original description like a glove, while And The Devil combines their influences into possibly the most pleasing thing here. The longer tracks rather outstay their welcome, though; worst offender: the ten-minute Running. Chris "Frenchie" Smith is credited with Mellotron, but the loosely Mellotronic strings on Hide and closer Fade Out fail to convince (those on And The Devil are real), while the string-ish sound on Operators and elsewhere is a definite non. Hmmm. This one can only aspire to become a curate's egg; very few parts of it are genuinely good, I fear.

Black Lipstick  (US)

Sincerely, Black Lipstick  (2005,  38.18)  **½

Austin, Texas' Black Lipstick sound like a poundshop Strokes on their second and last album, Sincerely, Black Lipstick. You know, that overly-earnest US indie thing with a hint of 'alt.', at its least dull on closer All Night Long Forever. Dave Max Crawford is credited with Mellotron, but I have absolutely no idea why.

The Black Neon  (UK)

Arts & Crafts  (2006,  35.46)  **

The Black Neon appear to be Steve Webster's one-off nom de plume, Arts & Crafts being his only issue under that name. Frankly, this typifies everything that's bad about millennial UK indie: its faux-60s feel, its electronica-lite, its overwrought vocal delivery. It's at its least crap on soundtrack-esque instrumental closer The Exit; note the 'instrumental' bit. As for Webster's 'Mellotron' on The Ghosts; are you having a fucking laugh? Sampled cellos that barely even sound Mellotronic.

Black Star Riders  (US)

The Killer Instinct  (2015,  46.04)  ***½

Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham has been playing in various reformed lineups of the band (such as it is) since the '90s, although (sensibly), none of them have recorded under the name. Upon deciding to finally make an album (2013's All Hell Breaks Loose), the band opted to release and promote it under the name Black Star Riders (from 1993 western flick Tombstone, fact fans), although it seems that Lynott's estate also objected to their using the Lizzy name, somewhat forcing the decision upon them. Incidentally, before anyone argues the toss, Wikipedia lists the four-fifths American band as 'American', so American it is.

And their second release, 2015's The Killer Instinct, sounds like... Er, Thin Lizzy? A classic Lizzy harmony part opens the title track, strongly reminiscent of, say, Chinatown's opener We Will Be Strong, Northern Irish vocalist Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) channelling Lynott for all he's worth, although his vocal emulation softens as the album progresses, almost as if they recorded his parts in the eventual running order. Plenty of highlights, despite the album's slight air of second-handedness, not least Bullet Blues, the gentler Blindsided and epic closer You Little Liar, while Soldierstown and Turn In Your Arms channel Emerald's Celtic vibe admirably. Producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush) is credited with Mellotron and his beloved Taurus pedals on Blindsided and regular release closer You Little Liar, with background strings on the former and something that sounds more like a Hammond than anything Mellotronic on the latter. Samples, I'd say. Incidentally, is it just me (yes, probably), or is a sleeve design featuring a young lady in her underwear just a little... passé in 2015?

Black Watch  (US)

The Hypnotizing Sea  (2005,  43.01)  ***
Highs & Lows  (2015,  41.28)  **½
Brilliant Failures  (2020,  44.24)  **½

John Andrew Fredrick's The Black Watch have, almost unbelievably, been around for three decades at the time of writing (late 2010s), pretty much defining the term 'cult act'. 2005's The Hypnotizing Sea was (I think) their eighth album, an alt.rock/powerpop crossover effort, possibly at its best on opener Innercity Garden, The Teacup Song and The Shakespeare Song. I can't even work out where Chandler Fredrick's 'Mellotron' might be: flutes on The Teacup Song? Sampled, if so. 2015's Highs & Lows sees a band on the musical skids, a.k.a. Heading For Indieville, at its least dull on A Sort Of Overture, also a harbour for the album's fakeotron strings, along with If Upon A Time That Never Happened and closer Eleanor's Not Hiding. Their first release of 2020, Brilliant Failures, is a slight improvement over Witches, from two years earlier, at its least dull on opener Julie II, the title track and Hodophobia. Although noted Mellotron owner Rob Campanella's credited with generic 'keyboards', he gets a full 'Mellotron' credit on the album's single, Crying All The Time, although the nearest we get is one of its two b-sides (also on the album), One Hundred Million Times Around The Sun, with a kind-of flute part that really isn't a Mellotron.

Blackberry Smoke  (US)

Holding All the Roses  (2015,  40.45)  ***½

Blackberry Smoke's very name tells you where they're coming from: deep-fried, southern rock, with a side helping of country, sitting somewhere in between the Allmans and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their fourth album, 2015's Holding All the Roses, covers all the bases, from rolling opener Let Me Help You (Find The Door), the acoustic-into-heavy title track, complete with countryish fiddle work, the barrelhouse blues of Rock And Roll Again, epic slow one Woman In The Moon, full-on country in Too High and even a short acoustic workout, Randolph County Farewell. Highlights? Let Me Help You, the stomping Wish In One Hand and closer Fire In The Hole, but if truth be told, there ain't a bad track here. Producer Brendan O'Brien is credited with Mellotron on the title track (well, he's played one often enough in the past), but I'll be buggered if I can tell you what it's supposed to be doing, my suspicion being that it's sampled anyway.

Blackfield  (Israel/UK)

Blackfield  (2004,  36.59/47.40)  ****
II  (2007,  42.35)  ***½
Welcome to My DNA  (2011,  39.42)  ***
IV  (2013,  31.29)  ***
V  (2017,  44.43)  ***½

Blackfield is a collaboration between Israeli musician Aviv Geffen and Porcupine Tree's inimitable Steven Wilson and, rather unsurprisingly, sounds a lot like the 'Porkies', as they're often appallingly known. The songwriting on their debut is of the type that grows on you with familiarity, while the sound is towards the darker end of the Porcupine Tree spectrum, without the metal edge they've developed over their last couple of releases. It's difficult to pick standout tracks on only a listen or two, but, basically, everything sounds good, in a melancholy singer-songwriterish kind of way, with plenty of Steven Wilson touches. With real strings on several tracks, it's difficult to spot the sampled Mellotron, although there's a high, warbly string line on Glow that's a definite, as are the flutes throughout The Hole In Me. So; a very good album indeed that's bound to be a 'grower', although pretty low on the fake Mellotron front, along with most Porcupine Tree efforts.

II carries on in a similar vein, highlights including Miss U (spot the Lamia cop), Christenings and Some Day, with Mellotron samples (as against the album's real strings) on opener Once, possibly elsewhere. By Welcome to My DNA, Wilson had taken something of a back seat, which probably explains why the next two albums are a little samey, although songs of the quality of Go To Hell, Far Away and closer DNA are fairly unarguable. Samplotron flute on Waving, strings on On The Plane and choirs and strings on Zagota, amongst other potential use. By IV, the law of diminishing returns had really kicked in, although opener Pills and Firefly are pretty decent, with samplotron strings on Pills, possibly elsewhere. Given that, by 2017, Wilson owned a Mellotron, you might think that V would feature it, but no. Musically, it's an improvement, better tracks including Family Man and Life Is An Ocean, but Geffen and Eran Mitelman's credited 'Mellotron' on the latter and The Jackal really aren't.

Blackmail  (Germany)

Science Fiction  (1999,  49.33)  **
Friend or Foe?  (2003,  43.18)  **½

Blackmail are a fairly unusual thing: a German heavy-end-of-indie band, singing in English, who could easily be taken for American. I'm not saying this is a recommendation, just that it is. 1999's Science Fiction is their second album, apparently completely remixed and reissued the following year as Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?. If it wasn't for the grungy, downtuned guitars, this could be yer typical wussy indie stuff, with those rather fey vocals that make you want to give the vocalist a slap. Why do these bands bother? Rumoured Mellotron on the album, but upon listening, it seems it isn't to be. Opener Londerla features flutes and choir, although a choir chord at the end of the song holds several seconds too long to be 'real', giving the sample game away, with more flutes on Mu. 2003's Friend or Foe? is marginally better, largely due to being more energetic; its predecessor's strong undercurrent of wussy indie has been replaced by a steelier backbone, which isn't to say it's a great album, merely an improvement. Best track? Probably nine-minute closer Friend, if only for its epic scope. On the fakeotron front, we get strings on openers Airdrop and Evon plus choirs on All Mine for good measure, all fairly muted.

Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band  (US)

Landmarks  (2014,  53.13)  ***½

Jazz drummer Brian Blade formed the Fellowship Band in the late '90s, the ensemble moving away from 'traditional' jazz as their career progressed. 2014's Landmarks is their fifth album, a not especially jazzy release that uses standard jazz instrumentation (sax, piano) in frequently extended compositions (notably Ark.La.Tex and Farewell Bluebird) in a style I can only describe as 'tense yet relaxed', which probably makes no sense to anyone except me. Highlights include the title track and Marvin Sewell's ripping guitar work on Farewell Bluebird, but, aside from being a little overlong, there's very little to fault here. General opinion seems to be that producer Jon Cowherd's Mellotron use is limited to woozy, just-under-a-minute opener Down River, but the handful of low flute notes don't inspire me to leap up and down, crying "Real Mellotron!" I could be wrong, but... Overall, then, a fine, understated record that shouldn't upset too many haters of the genre. Jazz for people who don't like jazz.

Matt Blais  (Canada)

Let it Out  (2010,  38.43)  **½

Matt Blais describes himself as 'alternative blues rock', by which he seems to mean a rather dreary soul/blues fusion, filtered through a modern indie 'sensibility'. Better tracks on 2010's Let it Out include Beautiful Thing, So Far Away and Back To Life, although why opener I'm In Love appears to rearrange the lyrics to Zeppelin's Thank You is unknown at the present time. Daryl Johnson and Sean Peters are both credited with Mellotron, so why it took both of them to add the watery flutes and strings to Time is also unknown etc. etc. It's sampled, anyway.

The Blank Tapes  (US)

Vacation  (2013,  41.40)  **

Seriously bad American indie, to the point that, while listening to it, the thought, "Aren't they bored to tears by this, too?" flitted, unbidden, across what I laughably refer to as my consciousness. Matt Adams' 'Mellotron' is no more than the pretty obvious string samples all over opener Uh-Oh.

Sarah Blasko  (Australia)

I Awake  (2012,  46.47)  ***

Sarah Blasko's fourth album features less stylistic variation than her earlier work, concentrating on rather mournful, heartfelt balladry, albeit in a good way. She's credited with Mellotron on Illusory Light, but the vague flute part on the track sounds somewhat doubtful to my ears.

Bleach  (US)

Bleach  (1999,  48.31)  *½

Bleach are the kind of Christian rock band whose lyrics are largely un-overt enough not to offend the public at large, although their music still sucks. 1999's Bleach is a tedious pop/rock effort, replete with the obligatory whiny vocals and insipid melodies that the style seems to demand these days, even when the band rocks it up a bit, as on the strangely lifeless Sun Stands Still. Pete Stewart allegedly plays Mellotron, but when it finally appears on closer What Will Your Anthem Be, the strings are quite clearly samples, especially obvious on the high notes. So why have you credited this guy with 'Mellotron', eh? Usual sample bullshit... If it's samples, don't credit fucking Mellotron, OK? Bah.

Bleu  (US)

Redhead  (2003/04,  54.30)  ***½

William James "Bleu" McAuley III's third album, Redhead, has been confusingly released in two different versions, the easiest to find being its 2004 major-label issue, following the indie version the previous year. Two tracks from the first version are replaced for the reissue, notably by new album opener, the sublime Get Up, but I've no way of judging whether the surplus tracks should have been replaced or not. Bleu was/is part of the L.E.O. project, so the occasional E.L.O. influence (listen to You Know, I Know, You Know) shouldn't come as that much of a surprise, although his chief influences tend to be the more standard 'B' bands and earlier US powerpop heroes. Bleu plays alleged Mellotron himself, along with loads of other stuff, although about all I can hear are some iffy flutes and strings on You Know, I Know, You Know, so into 'samples' it goes.

Blood Music  (Sweden)

Sing a Song Fighter!  (2005,  34.16)  **½

Sing a Song Fighter! sits at the more listenable end of the indie spectrum, at its best on And She Is The Future and Words (Don't Fail Me Now), maybe. Joachim Ekermann's credited Mellotron on The Hair consists of a flute part buried deeply enough in the mix that it's impossible to tell whether or not it's real, although chances are it isn't.

Mike Bloom  (US)

King of Circles  (2011,  42.53)  ***

Mike Bloom has connections with Rilo Kiley and The Strokes, amongst others, releasing his first solo album, King of Circles, in 2011. Although flawed, it's vastly better than the usual run of weepy singer-songwriter drivel, male or female, highlights including Red Light, Green Light and Dry Land, although, at least in my opinion, his talents become more dissipated when he attempts upbeat material (case in point: Anything But This). Bloom is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Anything But This, Dry Land (under real ones) and the title track are fairly clearly sampled, particularly noticeable during the record's closing seconds.

Blue Giant  (US)

Target Heart EP  (2009,  18.52)  ***

Blue Giant are something of a Portland, Oregon 'indie supergroup', comprising members of The Decemberists, Swords and Viva Voce, amongst others, whose first release, 2009's Target Heart EP, is a decent enough country/indie/psych/folk affair, without being anything startling. Its male/female vocal approach works better on some tracks than others, to be honest, better efforts including Clean The Clock and closer Hell Or High Water. Evan Railton plays what's credited as Mellotron on Hell Or High Water, although given that at least one of the outfits that contributed members to the band (specifically, Viva Voce) have used samples and that the flute part on the track sounds a bit ropey, into samples it goes. Incidentally, the vinyl version adds versions of Goffin & King's Wasn't Born To Follow (as covered by The Byrds) and The Kinks' Got To Be Free, but I've no idea whether or not the 'Mellotron' turns up on either of them.

Blue Merle  (US)

Burning in the Sun  (2005,  53.45)  **

In my ignorance, the first thing I thought of when I saw the name Blue Merle was Led Zeppelin's Bron-Y-Aur Stomp; seems it's a breed of collie, which explains the Zep lyric, although the band apparently got it from the song, too. Burning in the Sun is a bland pop/rock-with-hints-of-Americana thing, at its least dull on the opening title track and the acoustic Part Of History. Luke Reynolds' Mellotron? I have no idea.

Blue Rodeo  (Canada)

The Things We Left Behind  (2009,  84.35)  ***½

Twelve years on from Blue Rodeo's disappointing Tremolo and we could almost be listening to a different band. 2009's The Things We Left Behind, their twelfth release, is an excellent Americana album, top tracks including the Wurlitzer-driven One More Night, the rocky Never Look Back, the mournful One Light Left In Heaven and piano-and-strings ballad Gossip, although the album is possibly defined by its two epics: the upbeat, nine-minute Million Miles and the sprawling, ten-minute country rock epic that closes the set, Venus Rising. Genius or stupidity? Heaven or hell? All of the above, all at once? Quite possibly. If the album has one major fault, it's in the length department: eighty-five minutes is an awful lot of American roots music to sit through, however good it might be, not to mention a little self-indulgent, when your fans have to cough up more for a double-disc, when with a little judicious editing, it would fit onto one. Greg Keelor is credited with Mellotron, with a high cello line and distant flutes on the haunted, Neil Young-esque opening sort-of title track, All The Things That Are Left Behind, fairly clearly sampled, although all other flute parts sound real.

Blue Seeds  (Québec)

The Blue Seeds  (2008,  44.31)  **½

The Blue Seeds are a female-fronted French-Canadian noirish outfit, whose eponymous 2008 debut has echoes of the pre-psych mid-'60s and Burt Bacharach amongst its influences. It's one of those albums where a couple of tracks sound really impressive, but a whole (even if 'vinyl-length') record starts to drag after a while. The lengthy Words From A Fairytale is probably the best track, at least for readers of this site, but a little goes a long way, I think. Producer Dustin O'Halloran, from The Devics, plays 'Mellotron', with strings on Barcelona, choirs on Words From A Fairytale and flutes on I Dream A Little Dream, although since the choirs are quite clearly samples, it seems reasonable to assume that the other sounds are, too. Overall, then, a pretty downbeat release that definitely has its moments, just not quite enough of them to give it a higher rating.

Bluetones  (UK)

Return to the Last Chance Saloon  (1998,  55.06)  **

The Bluetones are sometimes described as 'Britpop survivors', which probably tells you more about their music than I can; dated-sounding '90s indie, essentially, with too few '60s influences to even attempt to be interesting. A few of the songs on their second album, 1998's Return to the Last Chance Saloon (ho ho) are vaguely catchy, but since when has that necessarily been a recommendation? Apparently, Adam Devlin and Hugh Jones both play Mellotron, but you could've fooled me, as the only thing across the album's entire length that even might be the Great White Beast is a few seconds of what sounds like a strings/choir mix at the end of 4-Day Weekend, clearly sampled. It took two of you to do that? OK...

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers  (US)

Loved Wild Lost  (2015,  41.27)  ***

Californian Nicki Bluhm assembled The Gramblers in 2008, her husband Tim hailing from The Mother Hips, although it seems that he's subsequently separated from both his wife and the band. His last album with them (their fourth), 2015's Loved Wild Lost, is that seemingly rarest of things, a really good country record, clearly country, yet without the schmaltz. Top tracks include the vaguely Byrdsian Waiting On Love, Heartache, Heart Gets Tough and one of the most countryish songs here, perhaps surprisingly, High Neck Lace. Tim is credited with Mellotron, but, given that those are real strings on Love Your Loved Ones and High Neck Lace, the only possibility is the very background strings on Queen Of The Radio; if so, I'm quite sure they're sampled, so here it is and here it stays until/unless I hear anything to the contrary. So; a country album for those allergic to country, but almost certainly no real Mellotron.

James Blunt  (UK)

Back to Bedlam  (2005,  39.28)  **

James "Blunt" Blount has to be the first artist whose name has almost immediately been appropriated as cockney rhyming slang©: "Cor, 'e's a right James Blunt, in'ee?" While playing this album for review, I had no qualms whatsoever about skipping track two, You're Beautiful, one of the most maudlin, self-pitying, whingeing pieces of shite to assault our airwaves since, er, the last one and given that Mr. Blunt has had the (rare) good taste to put full instrumental credits in his debut album, Back to Bedlam, I didn't have to. So I didn't. It is the nastiest piece of music on the album, also the catchiest, with the other nine songs being a variety of '70s-influenced singer-songwriter pop, with a surprising number of analogue 'boards on display and a refreshing lack of sampled beats et al. While the word 'highlights' is difficult to use in this context, the Hammond solo on So Long Jimmy is very acceptable, as is the Riders On The Storm tribute/cop on the same track.

The worst thing about Blunt's album is Blunt himself; his horrible, whiny voice ruins several otherwise dull but inoffensive tracks and his much-vaunted army past (from a military family, don'cha know) and public school education have apparently helped to make him (according to Wikipedia) the 'fourth most annoying thing in the UK' in 2006 and believe me, having been on a job for several days at the peak of Bluntmania with the radio on constantly, 'that bloody single' is enough to make one wish to commit murder, preferably in an extremely unpleasant manner. For all that, his album is more dull than offensive, giving it a surprisingly high two star rating, but I really wouldn't take that as any sort of recommendation. Mellotron? Supposedly... Blunt plays strings himself on Cry, with a passable but ineffectual part that is at least audible, if most likely sampled.

Der Blutharsch & the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand  (Austria)

The End of the Beginning  (2012,  60.06)  **

Der Blutharsch etc. are, effectively, Albin Julius' solo project, often described as 'dark ambient', although 'goth metal' might be more appropriate. How he has the cheek to credit 'Mellotron' here is beyond me; the background choirs on Get Back (not that one) barely even qualify as samples. Am I allowed to say 'fucking nonsense'? I believe I just did.

Bluvertigo  (Italy)

Zero (Ovvero la Famosa Nevicata dell'85)  (1999,  66.38)  **½

On their third album, 1999's Zero (Ovvero la Famosa Nevicata dell'85), Italy's Bluvertigo attempt an indie/electronica/rock/dance thing, sounding like the bastard sons of, say, Depeche Mode that veers between appalling and actually quite acceptable. Better moments include the rock'n'roll of Finché Saprai Spiegarti, where the band mock-claim to've been working with a host of famous names, from Fellini to Eno and the Arabic strings on Autofraintendimento to the sparse Numero, although trimming maybe twenty dead minutes from the disc would've actually improved it on several levels. A certain David Richards is credited with Mellotron on their cover of Bowie's Low centrepiece Always Crashing In The Same Car, to which I can only say: bullshit rubbish. Those strained, heavily effected strings? I think not. Anyway, an album that could be listenable if judiciously edited, but ends up being overlong and indigestible.

Phillip Boa & the Voodooclub  (Germany)

The Red  (2001,  56.22)  **½
Loyalty  (2012,  52.18)  **

As stated in my regular reviews, Ernst Ulrich "Phillip Boa" Figgen is a German new wave type who has released albums regularly since the mid-'80s, seemingly changing musical style with the current fashion. 2001's The Red is a rockier proposition than its predecessors all round, although we're not exactly talking metal here. Like them, the album mixes and matches styles with gleeful abandon; Intro By Schneider TM is electro by any other name, To The Saints is classic 'noo wave', Eugene sounds like a Sex Pistols outtake... You get the picture. Dave Anderson (a German one, despite the name) plays samplotron, with strings on Where The Raingods Meet and Sandy Lee and flutes and strings on I Can't Go Home Again, although the repeating super-high string note on Sandy Lee gives the sample game away.

As a result of Boa's ever-changing sound, 2012's Loyalty has a 'so contemporary it'll be out of date next year' production, combining indie guitar pop, alt.rock and electronica into a rather unappetising stew typified by tracks like Want or Til The Day We Are Both Forgotten. Detlef "Tött" Götte is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Til The Day We Are Both Forgotten, Under A Bombay Moon Soon, Lobster In The Fog, You Are Beautiful And Strange and When The Wall Of Voodoo Breaks really don't convince, despite Boa's previous (presumed) genuine Mellotron use. As if that makes any difference.

Kip Boardman  (US)

Hello, I Must Be...  (2006,  38.03)  **½

Hello, I Must Be... is a pop/rock-end-of-singer-songwriter album, dipping into the country spectrum in places. Boardman's high tenor isn't for everyone, sounding rather anodyne on the lighter material, making this possibly at its best on the rocky Good Place To Hide and the heavy blues of The Wheel. Although Danny McGough is credited with Chamberlin on three tracks, it's only obvious on Losing Streak (the others being the opening title track and Socks Have Holes), with a pseudo-orchestral string part that sounds sampled, one note sustaining over the eight-second limit.

BOaT  (Japan)

Listening Suicidal  (2000,  54.36)  ***

So who are BOaT, anyway? Little-known in the West, it seems, they combine metal guitars with pop and funk rhythms, sampled and distorted vocals mixing with poppy harmonies in an unusual juxtaposition. I won't pretend I got an awful lot out of what appears to be their third album, 2000's Listening Suicidal, but at least it doesn't just meekly copy whoever's top of the bloody pops whenever it's recorded, like [insert one of a million names here]. A.S.E. apparently plays Mellotron, with flutes in a few places, notably on Kumo Bannin B To Tsuribito A, with an interesting pitchbend just before the song steps up a gear, but also a way, way over eight-second note towards the end, making me think... Samples. So; sort-of interesting. sort-of not, but at least you can say it doesn't sound like anybody else.

Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine  (US)

Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine  (2009,  22.14)  ***½

Robbert Bobbert (& the Bubble Machine) is the alter-ego of Robert Schneider, a.k.a. head honcho of the Elephant Six label and mainman of Apples in Stereo, whose eponymous debut mini-album is aimed fairly and squarely at the under-fives' market. And why not? Schneider channels what is clearly his encyclopaedic knowledge of rock and pop history into an exceedingly engaging set of songs that will appeal to his target audience without patronising; think: a modern, pop/rock version of Tom Paxton's kids' albums of a few decades earlier. Stylistically, this is as all over the place as you'd expect; The Beach Boys crop up, not least on charming opener I Am A Clock and Hey Little Puppy, while We R Super Heroes and Gravity channel early '80s synthpop, Boom Boom is more generically 'psych' and closer The Tiny Sheep is, fittingly for its position on the record, a lullaby. Schneider is credited with 'Mellotron', choir samples finally turning up on The Tiny Sheep, in suitably drifting fashion. There are two obvious reasons to buy Robbert Bobbert & the Bubble Machine: 1) You love Schneider's work. 2) You have small children. Or 3) both. It feels slightly weird listening to this at my age, but surely great pop is great pop? Recommended.

Bob3 Rocks  (US)

Songs for Insomniacs  (2009,  29.39)  **½

Bob3 Rocks employ a fairly noisy kind of alt.rock thing, all clattering drums, guitars, samples... Everything, really. Obvious samplotron strings and flutes on Cigarette.

Tomas Bodin  (Sweden)

An Ordinary Night in My Ordinary Life  (1996,  66.12)  ***½
Pinup Guru  (2002,  70.54)  ***½
Sonic Boulevard  (2003,  64.21)  **½
I AM  (2005,  63.23)  ***
Cinematograaf  (2008,  51.55)  ***
You Are  [as Eggs & Dogs]  (2009,  77.08)  ***
She Belongs to Another Tree  (2015,  64.15)  ****

Tomas Bodin was, of course, keyboard player with The Flower Kings and, until his recent departure, one of only two consistent members other than leader Roine Stolt. He was clearly an important part of the band's sound and the only other writer besides Stolt, but he not only found time for a solo career amongst the chaos, but guested on many other artists' projects, not least Jonas Reingold's Karmakanic and Stéphane Desbiens' D Project.

Much of his first solo album, 1996's An Ordinary Night in My Ordinary Life, sounds as if it could easily slot into a contemporaneous TFK release, although Bodin flexes his stylistic muscles on the experimental An Ordinary Nightmare In Poor Mr. Hope's Ordinary Life (cut-up with funk bass) and the mad electronica of The Magic Rollercoaster. Best tracks? Probably church organ piece Daddy In The Clouds and the lengthy, symphonic prog of Three Stories, although the album could easily lose ten minutes or more without affecting its integrity. 'Mellotron' strings and/or choir on most tracks, with flutes (and cellos?) thrown in here and there, all obviously sampled, even if Mr. Bodin hadn't confirmed that for me in person some years ago. I presume TFK business and other projects kept Tomas from his solo career for the next six years, but 2002's Pinup Guru was worth the wait for those who consider him possibly the most talented member of the parent band (ouch). It's not all good and (of course) is far too long, but there's enough quality material here to make a very good forty-five-minute record indeed; unfortunately, that would involve considerable editing of individual tracks, but there you go. Plenty of samplotron, with choirs all over What's Going On? and strings, choir, flutes and Mellotron cellos present across most of the album's length.

The following year's Sonic Boulevard, however, displayed either a Bodin content to spread his musical wings, or one suffering from overwork, probably depending on viewpoint. It starts well enough, The Hero From Cloud City (symphonic prog) and Back To The African Garden (fusion jamming) doing pretty much what you'd expect, but by the end of the overlong disc, eighteen tortuous minutes of the last two tracks, Morning Will Come and The Night Will Fall, are enough to make you want to ditch the whole thing. Plenty of samplotron dotted throughout, some so obviously sampled that you can only imagine Bodin has no real interest in the sounds as anything other than prog tropes, rather than for their own sake. 2005's I AM is something of a return to form, although, as ever, you could probably trim a good twenty minutes from its considerable length and end up with a better album. Three lengthy multi-part tracks constitutes 'none more prog', ditto the concept that is quite inevitably involved, though irrelevant to all but the most hardened of prog lyric-watchers, usually a slightly sad breed. Plenty of fine moments, though not enough to hold this listener's interest for a whole bloody hour; reasonable levels of samplotron, including a few 'solo' moments, but it all sounds so... sampled. Probably unsurprisingly, 2008's all-instrumental Cinematograaf has a distinctly soundtracky feel about it, although the overall mood of the album remains one of long passages of musical exposition interrupted by somewhat shorter ones of real musical content. Nonetheless, it's a decent listen, if rather unengaging for much of its length, while once again, samplotron use is sparing but effective.

2009's You Are, while frequently listed as a Bodin album (er, as here), was actually released under the one-off band name Eggs & Dogs, for no known reason. In fairness, while much of it sounds like a typical Bodin release, parts don't, not least the oddly bluesy opening title track, while the barbershop quartet vocals on Dad Is Coming Home are far from standard. As usual, the music has originality issues - the bit on Private Skies when they suddenly start playing The Cinema Show should've been dropped - but, unless you completely deconstruct the genre and rebuild from the ground up, modern symphonic prog is unlikely to sound overly different from its progenitors. Plenty of samplotron, as you'd expect, notable use including the clunky flute melody on Poor Lucille, with background strings at the end of the track, the flute solo that opens American Standards and the flutes in lengthy closer Silicone Bimbo Run.

After a lengthy gap, 2015's She Belongs to Another Tree is a minor revelation, in that it a) doesn't sound like The Bloody Flower Kings and b) is really rather good. It's a distinct left turn for Bodin, being an instrumental electronic album - well, of sorts. He actually plays quite a bit of piano on the record, not least on opener Dried Leaves From The Sky and the title track, but drums and vocals are notable by their absence. Highlights? Dried Leaves From The Sky (why am I reminded of The Enid?), the heavily electronic Damn, I Was Stung By A Zap Goblin and the title track, possibly, but this really is the best thing Bodin's done in a long time. Or, I suspect, the best thing period. Perhaps he's finally finding his own voice? Very little samplotron, however, with naught but the occasional choir part sticking its head up above the parapet.