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Fishboy  (US)

Little D  (2005,  42.46)  **½

Fishboy, led by Eric Michener, play an especially fragile form of indie on their fourth album, Little D, as if it were played by the ghost of a band. I'm not sure if the album has any highlights, or, indeed, whether or not it's any good at all; I didn't like it very much, but that counts for little. Michener's credited with Mellotron, but the haunted flute part on That's A...Jellyfish is almost certainly sampled.

David Fisher  (UK)

Firehorse  (1999,  48.00/56.36)  **½

David Fisher's debut, Firehorse, is a kind of late-period Britpop album, at its least irritating on the ridiculous Destination Vegas ("Join the Church of Elvis..."), only available on the reissue, proving that it should've been on the original release. Once upon a time, I discovered an online reference to Mellotron use on the album, although it seems to've disappeared. This happens sometimes. Anyway, it was on You're The One, although there's precisely nothing audible, which dispenses with this one.

Steve Fisk  (US)

999 Levels of Undo  (2001,  47.41)  **

Steve Fisk is known as a producer (Nirvana, The Wedding Present, Mudhoney, a million others), 999 Levels of Undo being his seventh and, to date, most recent solo release. Unfortunately, it's a rather generic example of electronica, 2001-style, consisting of a myriad disparate elements thrown together in a 'well-known producer goes mad in the studio' kind of way. Obvious samplotron on several tracks, with chordal choirs and MkII rhythms on opener My Head Popped, more rhythm tapes on Aviation Oakie, distant church organ and cellos on Time, Speed, Language and closer The Backwards Song and is that Chamberlin guitar on Polymorphic Light Eruption?

Fiske & Herrera  (US)

Till the Sea Disappears  (2010,  46.56)  ***

New England couple Jared Fiske and Amy Herrera admit to two chief influences: Joni Mitchell and Radiohead. Suffice to say, both make themselves apparent on their third release, 2010's Till the Sea Disappears, on which they sound like an updated take on that Laurel Canyon thing crossed with the occasional modernism, notably Lorne Entress' programming on Saint Patrick's Day and He Said She Said. Herrera takes more leads than Fiske, while they often harmonise; I keep expecting Neil Young's plangent tones to interrupt in full-on Harvest mode, which should give you a good idea of the duo's sound. Best tracks? Broken Man, Crazy Amy ((auto)biographical? Fiske vocal) and beautiful closer Warm My Bones, amongst others. So why not a higher rating? It has to be said that the album is infused with a level of tweeness (case in point: My Little Fish) that may put potential listeners off, to the point where forty-five minutes of it in one sitting can be a bit much. Entress plays muted Mellotron strings on Steady Hands, which, despite its a sympathetic arrangement and careful placing in the mix, sounds sampled to my ears, not least the overly-sudden cut-offs. Overall, then, one for Joni fans who don't object to a soupçon of electronica intruding into an otherwise pseudo-early '70s idyll.

Steve Fitch  (US)

Memetic Heretic  (2014,  40.33/48.32)  ***½

I'm having some trouble describing Steve Fitch's Memetic Heretic: psych goth? New wave prog? Punk electronica? All of the above? Fitch's gravelly, gothy, semi-spoken vocal style has an illustrious predecessor in Bob Dylan, although Johnny Cash's iconic baritone might be a more suitable comparison. Top tracks? The noo-wavish Masquerade Ass Parade, the dirty electronica of the title track and Until Now, while the acoustic 40 Years is a welcome change of pace. Fitch cheerily admits to Mellotron sample use, with string and/or choir parts on around half the album's tracks, notable examples including the strings on By Any Memes Necessary, Idiots Remake and its bonus version reworking, Idiots Orch. Unusually, as you've probably noticed by now, the album features extra tracks on the CD as against the download, but the latter version can be regarded as a complete album, the extra tracks being worth hearing, but not essential.

William Fitzsimmons  (US)

The Sparrow & the Crow  (2009,  43.32)  *½

Discovering that William Fitzsimmons' music has been used on a plethora of American TV series along the lines of Grey's Anatomy alerted my crap detector, but after reading that he's been compared to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and the much-missed Elliott Smith, I relaxed. Of course, in all good thrillers, that's the point at which you leap out of your seat as the axe-wielding maniac breaks the door down, or something non-credulous and supernatural happens. Well, I wouldn't go that far, but his third album, 2008's The Sparrow & the Crow, had a similar effect on me (well, sort of), albeit in slow motion, as the realisation that it's a pile of mainstream poo sinks in; I gave his wispy voice and the overall weediness of the record the benefit of the doubt for a couple of songs before giving in to the inevitable: it's shit. 'Heartfelt' my arse, even if it is his 'divorce album'. Eric Robinson plays samplotron, with a flute part on Further From You. Whatever.

Five Horse Johnson  (US)

The No. 6 Dance  (2001,  56.39)  ****

When I see a name like Five Horse Johnson, I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get. Are they some kind of wussy ironic indie crap? Heartfelt but slightly wet Americana? Or a balls-out, fist-pumping, fuckin' rock'n'roll band? Thankfully, they're the last-named, as I think I've just about had my fill of crap for this week and it's only Tuesday. Their fourth album, 2000's The No. 6 Dance, has to be one of the rockingest records I've heard this year. OK, OK, it's January. So this year AND last year. While it's not all fast'n'furious, the energy never lets up, just turns into a threatening kind of slow-burn haze when the band choose to play the blues. Best tracks? Whew... Mississippi King, with a chorus that sticks like glue, Gods Of Demolition, the slide-infested swamp blues of Hollerin' and last but not least, monstrous fourteen-minute closer Odella (ignoring the brief burst of studio chat that follows it), a blues so dirty that I had to shower after hearing it. And still felt unclean. Bob Ebeling plays background samplotron brass on Buzzard Luck, to no particular effect, to be honest.

Five Star Iris  (US)

Five Star Iris  (2006,  44.30)  **½

Five Star Iris, led by Alan and Robert Schaefer, released their lone, eponymous album in 2006, an 'alt.rock' effort that occasionally (though not nearly often enough) borders on powerpop. Actually, I'll tell you who I'm reminded of by the lighter end of their sound: Take That. Take that! Er... Although known Mellotron user Sylvia Massy Shivy co-produced, Rich Veltrop is credited with playing it. What, the vague strings on Is There Something I Can Do? Really? Incidentally, extra low marks from PM for performing no fewer than three tours of overseas military establishments, making them, effectively, establishment shills.

Five Way Friday  (US)

Run Like This  (2000,  37.36)  **½

Run Like This is a pop/rock album of its era, a bit indie, a bit alt.rock, even a bit powerpop, at its best on opener Falling Away, although the overall effect is distincly underwhelming. Michael McWhorter's Mellotron? Surely not the cellos on closer No Time For Lonely?

Paal Flaata  (Norway)

Old Angel Midnight  (2008,  44.34)  ***
Wait By the Fire: Songs of Chip Taylor  (2012,  45.33)  ***

Paal Flaata plays a low-key version of that peculiarly authentic form of Scando-Americana that seems so ubiquitous across the Nordic region. Old Angel Midnight is a decent enough album, at its best on Table Full Of Lonely People and Electric Guitars, maybe. Gøran Grini plays Mellotron flutes on Heaven Help The Child that, while good, fail to fully convince. Wait By the Fire: Songs of Chip Taylor does exactly what it says on the tin, Flaata tackling Taylor's material with aplomb, albeit entirely in the same borderline-maudlin style he overused on Old Angel Midnight. Highlights? He Sits At My Table and Graceland Souvenirs, but not the overplayed Angel Of The Morning. Grini on 'Mellotron' again, with flutes on Angel Of The Morning, but nothing audible on the opening title track, He Sits At My Table and Sleepy Eyes.

Flamborough Head  (Netherlands)

Unspoken Whisper  (1998,  53.25)  **½
Defining the Legacy  (2000,  68.10)  ***
Bridge to the Promised Land  (2000, recorded 1994,  39.56)  **
One for the Crow  (2002,  58.11)  **½
Tales of Imperfection  (2005,  51.48)  **
Live in Budapest  (2008,  78.50)  **
Looking for John Maddock  (2009,  52.26)  **½
Lost in Time  (2013,  60.37)  **

Flamborough Head are supposedly one of the Netherlands' better neo-prog outfits (there are some real shockers, I can tell you), possibly due to their forming too late to have anything to do with the truly execrable S.I. (Sym-Info) label. Based in the far north of the country, the band's cultural pointers are apparently more Scandinavian than mainland European, although neo-prog is, by and large, neo-prog, seemingly ignoring local cultural influences in the way of the best progressive rock. One point in the band's favour, however, is Theo Spaay's sleeve art, head and shoulders above most bands in the modern prog area.

I'm afraid I can think of no better description of their debut, 1998's Unspoken Whisper, than 'weak and generic'; there are moments of invention scattered throughout its length, but for the most part, it insists on repeating the same old neo-prog tricks (you know, endless Floydian guitar solos, Genesis-esque lead synth, the over-use of powerchords for emphasis, emotive vocals), Wolves At War being typical, starting well enough, yet falling into neo- clichés before it's over. Most tracks feature Edo Spanninga's samplotron, the strings being the very first thing your hear on the first track, with choirs used tastefully (always nice to hear) elsewhere.

Their second effort, 2000's Defining the Legacy, is essentially the same style, but improved enough to bump it up half a star; yeah, we've still got those neo- clichés, but slightly less obviously and with a better melodic sense throughout. Sadly, most of the chord sequences are as obvious as before, but the overall feel of the album is much improved. Plenty of samplotron, mostly choirs and flutes, with the odd string part thrown in for good measure, the real sample giveaway. Their second album that year, Bridge to the Promised Land, is a belated 'fans only' release for a batch of early (1994) demos and, it has to be said, it sounds like it, both in the recording quality and the unashamedly neo-prog material, some of which was re-recorded for their first two albums, as you can see. The Mellotron samples are so vague that I'm not entirely sure they're not merely generic string and choir sounds, circa the early '90s, but they could well be from eMu's Vintage Keys module which appeared in '93. Either way, this really is strictly for fans; I can't imagine who else would want to hear it.

Unfortunately, 2002's One for the Crow takes something of a backwards step into insipid neo- territory, typified by Old Shoes' and Nightlife's slushy, exceedingly sub-IQ MOR chord sequences, all exacerbated by Margriet Boomsma's vocals, more musical theatre than prog. Her various woodwinds are one of the album's better features, though, along with Eddie Mulder's classical guitar. Originality's in short supply, too; Daydream cuts King Crimson's Epitaph a little close, making a change from the usual The Court Of The Crimson King, I suppose - oh, hang on, they rip that one in Limestone Rock. This definitely has its moments, but they're largely overpowered by the Lloyd-Webber stuff. A little samplotron, with strings on Old Shoes and Daydream, although that would seem to be your lot.

2005's Tales of Imperfection is, unfortunately, well-named: another bland, unadventurous neo-prog effort whose only break from tradition is a brief, strange pseudo-reggae part in Mantova. Once again, Margriet Boomsma's vocals infuriate and her woodwinds are a joy; does this cancel her out? Not that much samplotron, mostly strings dotted around here and there. 2008's Live in Budapest reiterates most of Tales of Imperfection on stage, plus a smattering of back-catalogue efforts. Is it any more interesting live? No. No, it isn't. The band can summon up the occasional memorable part, notably the synth melody in Limestone Rock, but they're few and far between. When Margriet states at one point, "This one's completely different", she can only be referring to the song's subject matter (does anyone care?), as musically, it's the same old same old. More samplotron than on most of the band's studio releases, strangely, but it's hardly enough to make this any more appealing.

2009's Looking for John Maddock is slightly better than its immediate forbears, although it's all a matter of degree, really. Far less of that pseudo-MOR slush this time round, while the lengthy, sometime-energetic title track is far better than anything they've written in a decade; why not more like this, guys? Bit of quality control needed, though; Margriet drifts off key a couple of times in Looking For John Maddock itself. Plenty of samplotron, too, Edo using the same sample set as on Flamborough Head offshoot Trion, though nothing to get that excited about, frankly. After a four-year gap, 2013's Lost in Time is a real 'revert to type' album, typified by The Trapper, typical neo-prog at its cheesy, bouncy worst, while Damage Done compounds the felony, twee vocal lines combing horribly with Marillion-by-numbers chord sequences and guitar work. Is there anything worthwhile about this album? Andrassy Road, despite its clunky lyrics, tackles the subject of dictatorship head-on, although cynics may comment that it's rather easier to do that from the safe haven of one of the world's better democracies. Better than descending into fantasyland, however. Plenty of samplotron strings (note: no choirs), but that's hardly a recommendation.

Flaming Lips  (US)

The Soft Bulletin  (1999,  58.30)  ***
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots  (2002,  47.32)  ***
At War With the Mystics  (2006,  55.03)  ***½
Once Beyond Hopelessness  (2008,  32.50)  ***
Embryonic  (2009,  70.26)  **
The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends  (2012,  67.36)  **
The Terror  (2013,  54.59)  **
Peace Sword  (2013,  36.00)  **½

The first three of these Flaming Lips albums have been sitting in this site's 'regular' reviews pages for years, despite misgivings, but the time has come to reassess and, at least Mellotronically, dismiss. The knowledge that they've often used renowned fakeotron guru Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev)'s studio does nothing for their genuine Mellotron credentials, not to mention this Steven Drozd quote, from a 2013 interview: "I dreamed of owning a Mellotron for about fifteen years but by the time I could afford one I didn't care anymore!" Samples it is, then...

The band have been going approximately forever, nearly breaking through with '99's The Soft Bulletin, the (relatively) mainstream follow-up to the impenetrable Zaireeka, a 4-CD set of different parts of the same eight songs that can only be heard properly by mixing them together using a multi-track device. Anyway, The Soft Bulletin actually manages that 'holy grail' trick of combining accessibility with adventurous arrangements and decent songs; I know many fans of their earlier work are rather unkeen on the direction they've taken, but, as with so many bands, I'm sure they felt the need to progress. Although the sleeve lists fourteen tracks and that number comes up on my CD player's display, the track titles don't quite match what I'm hearing, so minor guesswork in places. Samplotronically speaking, the album opens with the manic strings pitchbending of Race For The Prize, fairly clearly performed using the spring-loaded pitchwheel on a MIDI controller. A Spoonful Weighs A Ton has more strings and possibly choirs, but further down in the mix, with the flutes being the only upfront use. Not much on The Observer, but Suddenly Everything Has Changed has some nice volume-pedal work (violined violins?).

It took them three years to follow up, finally breaking through with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It's an eclectic mix, with both programmed and real percussion abounding; electronica influences combine with Wayne Coyne's sometimes Neil Young-like vocals, adding up to a pretty damn' original end product. Samplotron strings on over half the album, with the odd burst of flute here and there. Are You A Hypnotist?? opens with some solo choir chords, with more of the same later in the song, gratifyingly high in the mix, with more in All We Have Is Now, so after a slow start, this actually ends up being quite a samplotron album, for what it's worth.

A four-year gap this time, before At War With the Mystics, featuring the same eclectic set of influences and styles, although this time round they've been burdened with a horrible, screechy production, the modern malaise of 'everything louder than everything else'. The CD is one of the loudest in my collection, for no obviously good reason; that's what volume controls are for. Best tracks? Free Radicals manages to sound like nothing else on any of these albums, ditto It Overtakes Me, making this possibly the most listenable of any of these releases (musically, anyway), at least for this listener. Anyway, on the samplotron front we have some high string notes and a solo flute part on The Sound Of Failure, with very obvious flutes on Vein Of Stars and The Wizard Turns On... Incidentally and for what it's worth, most of the above track titles are abbreviated from considerably longer ones and are the versions printed on the CD's backtray. Sample full-length title: The Wizard Turns On... The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins. Sometimes I quote full titles. Sometimes I don't. Another few tracks feature a mixture of strings and flutes (most upfront use award: Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung), though no choir this time round.

2008's Once Beyond Hopelessness was the eventual title given to the soundtrack to their feature film, Christmas on Mars. I have no idea whether or not this is even remotely watchable, but the music isn't too bad once it gets going, with plenty of, er, soundtracky stuff, not sounding much like the Lips' previous work. Picking out any 'best tracks' is probably a futile exercise, but fans may appreciate the 1940s-esque orchestrations used in places. Someone adds samplotron here and there, with drifting choirs on Suicide And Extraordinary Mistakes, The Gleaming Armament Of Marching Genitalia and the second version of the title track, very clearly sampled on the last-named.

2009's Embryonic was the band's deliberate attempt to produce an old-school double album in the vein of The White Album or Physical Graffiti, sprawling and unfocussed, throwing all the band's influences into the melting-pot. I get the impression that the end result has been popular with their fans, but, at least to my ears, its lack of focus and the psychedelia of their previous several releases makes for an overlong, dull mess of an indie/electronica crossover, with no obviously outstanding material. Someone adds some rather sampled-sounding Mellotron strings to The Impulse, but they do precisely nothing to improve matters.

2012's The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends is a ragbag of collaborative efforts with the likes of Nick Cave, Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Yoko Ono, none of which have anything like the power of their earlier work. None of it's good, but the worst example is probably the excruciating ten minutes of Erykah Badu singing Ewan MacColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, presumably intended to be 'psychedelic', but merely coming off as long-winded, failed experimentation. Samplotron on a few tracks near the beginning of the album, with a major, near-solo flute part and choirs (both 'Mellotronic' and otherwise) on opener 2012 (You Must Be Upgraded), chordal strings on Ashes In The Air and volume-pedalled choirs on Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee, while strings waft across Children Of The Moon, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot.

The following year's The Terror continues the Lips' current vocation for so-hip-it-hurts, über-contemporary psychedelic indie, near-unlistenable to anyone not enchanted by their skewed take on the uneasy-bedfellow genres. The final track on the regular edition, Always There In Our Hearts, is, just possibly, the album's best, its harsh electronica grooves meshing surprisingly well with the light-as-air vocals, but this listener found the bulk of the album concurrently dull and irritating. Samplotron here and there, with a background choir wash (obviously sampled) on opener Look... The Sun Is Rising, vague stringy things on Be Free, A Way and Try To Explain and more washy choirs on the title track.

Although promoted as an EP, that year's Peace Sword is longer than some albums to be found on this site; it appears to consist of material written for the Ender's Game film, although only opener Peace Sword (Open Your Heart) was actually used. As you might expect, it's a bit of a mixed bag, the uncharacteristically soppy sort-of title track and Is The Black At The End Good? rather clashing with the synth-heavy likes of If They Move, Shoot 'Em and Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy, not to mention the ten-minute mess otherwise known as closer Assassin Beetle/The Dream Is Ending. The only obvious samplotron on the disc is some kind of strings/choir mish-mash on the sort-of title track and a string line on Wolf Child, but, by now, you're hardly going to buy Flaming Lips releases for their pseudotron use, are you?

Flare  (US)

Hung  (2003,  46.35)  **½

Hung is a world-weary, downbeat album, like an indie version of a dusty old folk LP from the '50s, at its best on sparse opener All The Money's Gone, Obvious and (Don't Like) The Way We Live Now, the last-named chiefly for its lyrics. L.D. Beghtol's Mellotron? The really-not-that-Mellotronic flute on Keep It To Yourself? Or the pitchbent strings on Glitter? I think not.

Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble  (US)

Plastic Bag in a Tree  (2007,  54.48)  ***½

The Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble are effectively a pick-up band, helmed by The Decemberists' Chris Funk. It seems he moved to a new area and began playing guitar on his porch of an evening (you can't do this in the U.K. - a) we don't have that kind of porch and b) it's too cold), attracting various musical locals, many already in known bands. That kind of area, obviously. Plastic Bag in a Tree is a mixture of covers and 'trad. arrs', all played in a, well, 'porch' style, I suppose, assuming you keep your Moog on the porch. Imagine a slightly (but only slightly) psychedelic folk album of strange cover versions and you might be getting close. I don't recognise most of said covers, but Radiohead's Amnesiac/Morning Bell responds well to this treatment. Ruby Janes is credited with Mellotron flutes on Run Rabbit and I Go To Sleep, although they're clearly sampled. Had it been real, would they have dragged that out onto the porch, too? Anyway, the album's publicity seems to give the impression that the recordings were actually made on said porch, which they quite clearly weren't, aside from the trad folk thing stuck onto the end of the record after a short gap.

Fleet Foxes  (US)

Helplessness Blues  (2011,  49.53)  ***

You'd have to be pretty unaware of the current scene to've avoided Fleet Foxes, even by my fairly poor standards. Their eponymous debut received more press than you can imagine when it appeared in 2008, with its updated take on that CSN&Y thing. It's taken them three years to follow up with Helplessness Blues, another slice of acoustic whimsy that probably rewards repeated plays, but makes little impression on initial listens. Maybe you have to be young enough to be unaware of their forebears? Anyway, a handful of tracks stand out, but the overall effect is slightly underwhelming. Casey Wescott plays samplotron, with a flute part weaving through the massed acoustics on Lorelai, although the album's various string parts seem to be real.

Flight Reaction  (Sweden)

The Flight Reaction  (2014,  37.34)  ***½

The Flight Reaction's eponymous 2014 debut marries garage rock and early psych, circa '65-66, with such accuracy that you'd be hard-pushed to tell it apart from an artefact from the actual era. Best tracks? It's all good, in a Byrds-meets-Seeds kind of way, but perhaps frantic opener Falling Through Color, Running Out Of Mind and Mourning Light (previously a single) pip the rest to the post. David Svedmyr (Lisa o Piu, Lüüp, others) plays samplotron (spot the too-consistent attack), with strings on Every Time You Die and Love Will See Us Through and strings and cellos on Eight Hours Ago.

Florence & the Machine  (UK)

Ceremonials  (2011,  56.04)  **

Going by her second album, 2011's Ceremonials, Florence Welch's titular Machine serve up a kind of epic indie, all multi-overdubbed voices and pounding drums, albeit featuring tragically little genuine content. Neither Welch's rather hectoring voice nor the excessive length of most tracks do much to enhance matters, although the spacious Seven Devils and the pizzicato strings on Spectrum lift proceedings out of the murk, if only briefly. I imagine one Rusty Bradshaw is responsible for the Mellotron emulation in closer Leave My Body, a monophonic choir part that sounds pretty damn' sampled, if truth be told, although the slightly Mellotronic part in Never Let Me Go is probably nothing of the sort. Do you? You do not.

The Flower Kings  (Sweden)  see:

The Flower Kings

Flower Machine  (US)

Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company  (2004,  28.16)  ***
Lavender Lane  (2010,  44.12)  ***

The Flower Machine. What kind of band does that name summon up? Not to mention an album title like Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company? Correct: 220 bpm Belgian gabber. Or maybe not. The 2004 mini-album's a passable evocation of the original psych era, if slightly bland in places, while titles and lyrics come across as pastiche. Why Not Stop And Have Some Tea or British Rail indeed... Best tracks? Probably the ridiculously-titled I Am The Coalacanth and L.A. In The Rain; nothing here's actually bad, but not enough of it's good, either. Peter Quinell adds 'Mellotron' to a few tracks, with flutes on the ten-second The Sea Is A Mellotron Trampoline and How To Fly An Aeroplane (note British spelling; these guys are real Anglophiles), but are the flutes on In The Show actually supposed to sound like a Mellotron? I do hope not...

After 2006's I am the Door EP, the next Flower Machine release of note appears to be 2010's Lavender Lane, three of its tracks seemingly copied straight across from Chalk Dust Dream (although one's a slightly retitled edit) and at least one other also previously available. Does that make this a compilation? I suppose you'd have to define 'compilation', really. Anyway, a 'regular length' album, better new (to my knowledge) tracks including opener Traveling By Trampoline and The Tangerine Albatross, plus the not-new I Am The Door, with several tracks of samplotron, notably the flute solo and strings on Traveling By Trampoline, the flutes all over In A Window, Yesterday Today and the title track and the strings on I Am The Door.

Flying Luttenbachers  (US)

"...The Truth is a Fucking Lie..."  (1999,  39.38)  ***
Cataclysm  (2006,  53.31)  ***
Incarceration By Abstraction  (2007,  46.59)  ***½

The Flying Luttenbachers are pretty much synonymous with their leader, Christopher Todd 'Weasel' Walter and employ a bewildering variety of styles to get their message across, not least free jazz, punk, metal and other, less obvious forms. "...The Truth is a Fucking Lie..." is their eighth album, including cassette releases and is as far into the avant-garde as anything on this site, I reckon. Its most coherent track is probably the eight-minute Medley, utilising death metal tropes alongside more 'trad' metal and noise/avant-garde influences, while Black Perversion is, essentially, noise and their Magma cover, De Futura, is about as odd and Magma-esque as you'd expect. Now, that man Weasel is credited with Mellotron on the title track and it does indeed sound quite like Mellotron strings coming out of the right speaker, with a more 'standard' strings patch on the left. However... It sounds far too sample-like to my ears, with none of the crankiness you'd expect from a real Mellotron; this is pre-M-Tron days, don't forget and samples were rather less convincing. Of course, should it turn out to be real... I'd be amazed, though.

Some years on and 2006's Cataclysm and the following year's Incarceration By Abstraction are so similar that it's almost redundant to review them separately. More accessible (I use the term extremely loosely) than ...The Truth..., they both serve out large dollops of Crimson-at-their-maddest, with major hints of the kind of harmonic dissonance that Cardiacs tapped into in their early days. Does this sound like your bag? Ten minutes of it is fab: refreshingly direct, angular oddness that engages your synapses, but a hundred minutes straight is a bit much, frankly... Incarceration... seems to channel the noise in a slightly more cohesive direction, explaining the extra half star. There's more obvious samplotron on Cataclysm than Incarceration..., notably the strings on Regimes I and II, but neither album's exactly brimming with it.

Ben Folds  (US)

Way to Normal  (2008,  40.28)  ***
Stems & Seeds  [Disc 2]  (2009,  73.12)  ***

Ben Folds, late of his Ben Folds Five, went (fully) solo at the end of the '90s, although he'd already released one (sort of) solo album in 1998's Fear of Pop. Way to Normal (as in 'Normal, Illinois'), is Folds' third solo album 'proper', carrying on the humorous, piano-driven approach he's taken for most of his career. Tracks such as Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head) and Bitch Went Nuts are amusing enough, but Folds' frequently anti-PC humour could easily be misconstrued and doubtless has already been many times. Musically, it's probably safe to say that if you don't like the rockier end of Elton John's catalogue, you probably aren't going to be blown away by this; it has the same 'middling rock with piano' feel as much of Elt's work, albeit updated. Folds is credited with Mellotron and, while neither the strings nor the flutes on You Don't Know Me sound particularly Mellotronic, the cellos do, although I can't imagine how you'd get a real Mellotron to play that quickly and smoothly.

In a rather odd turn of events, Folds released the two-disc Stems & Seeds the following year. The first disc has the 'stem files' of all the Way to Normal tracks, enabling listeners to remix them themselves, should they so desire, while the second disc contains the original album remastered and re-sequenced (after fan complaints), plus bonuses. Er, is this indicating a lack of faith in the original product? Certainly a rather unusual step to take, but then, I don't suppose Folds has ever taken the 'standard' route. My problem here is, I'm busy and don't really have time to go back to do a detailed analysis of the two albums side-by-side, so, aside from one or two tracks, this is like listening to a new album for me, which isn't going to help in letting you know which version's better. Re-sequencing it means I've realised how good new opener Effington is, but the whole project strikes me as a slight waste of time, not least the 'joke' versions of a few tracks recorded one night by Folds and his band and 'leaked' onto the 'Net before the official album's release.

David Fonseca  (Portugal)

Our Hearts Will Beat as One  (2005,  49.27)  **

David Fonseca found fame with Silence 4, before going solo in 2003, 2005's Our Hearts Will Beat as One being his second release under his own name. I'm sure you're au fait with the concept of the 'local act': you know, the artist/band in a country that isn't the UK or US that apes one who is? Well, Fonseca is Portugal's one-man answer to Coldplay. Resultantly, we're 2:10 into the first track before Fonseca hits the falsetto button, just like all those successful British and American singers, right? The album's material is unremittingly bland, even the 'rocky' tracks that crop up occasionally between the ballads and mainstream pop. Paulo Pereira plays 'Mellotron' flutes on Swim II and something (distant choirs?) on Open Legs Wide (which appears to be less sexist than it sounds), but I remain unconvinced, especially in a country little-known for its Mellotron ownership. You're not going to want to hear this anyway, are you?

Luis Fonsi  (US)

Palabras del Silencio  (2008,  70.37)  *½

Born in Puerto Rico, Luis Fonsi is one of those 'technically American' Latin artists (see: Gloria Estefan) who've lived there most of their lives but were born elsewhere and work mainly in the Latin idiom. As a result, Fonsi's sound, while determinedly mainstream Latin pop, has elements of other American styles creeping in. His seventh album, 2008's Palabras del Silencio, consists mostly of revoltingly slushy ballads mixed with upbeat Spanish-language pop, although a couple of songs start off in a powerpop vein, before ruining the mood within a few bars. Armando Avila is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but whatever was used on Llueve Por Dentro, No Me Doy Por Vencido and one of the pseudo-powerpop tracks, the Cars-alike Persiguiendo El Paraíso is, at best, samples and at worst, nothing to do with a Mellotron whatsoever. Unless I'm wrong, of course. Anyway, a mostly horrible album that you'll want to avoid with prejudice.

Foo Fighters  (US)

Skin & Bones  (2006,  73.04)  ***
Wasting Light  (2011,  47.47)  ***
Sonic Highways  (2014,  42.45)  ***

In 2006, The Foos opted to release an 'unplugged' live album, Skin & Bones, which, to my surprise, proved that some of their songs actually work better in a stripped-down format. Opener Razor is the best of the bunch, while overall, this failed to irritate me as much as most of their studio work. Its chief fault? It's too long, although in the grand tradition of double live albums, I suppose it has a right to be this length. Rami Jaffee is credited with Mellotron, but not only is one not visible in the sleeve pic, but it seems most unlikely that they'd haul a real machine on stage. Jaffee's samples are just about audible on a few tracks (given that this isn't even a noisy rock recording), with strings under real violin on Over And Out and Marigold, faint flutes on Walking After You and far more obvious ones on Next Year.

2011's Wasting Light starts off as a minor improvement on its predecessors, although it slides gently downhill after propulsive, slightly Cardiacs-esque opener Bridge Burning, as the band revert to type. Jaffee returns on probable samplotron, with another 'sounds more like real strings to me, squire' part on I Should Have Known, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot. Their 2014 offering, Sonic Highways, is a little better, kicking off with superb opener Something From Nothing, while Outside isn't too shabby and In The Clear has its moments. Downsides? God As My Witness cops a riff from All You Need Is Love and Subterranean, complete with sampled beats and other unpleasantness is completely unnecessary. Mellotron? Jaffee's supposed to play one (again), but online interviews give me the idea that he's given up on real machines. It's all a little irrelevant, anyway, as it's inaudible, unless that's the faintest of faint strings on seven-minute closer I Am A River.

China Forbes  (US)

'78  (2008,  47.18)  **

After a 1995 solo effort (Love Handle), China Forbes joined the successful Pink Martini, only releasing her solo follow-up, '78, in 2008. It's an absolutely typical, overlong, modern American female singer-songwriter effort, insipid in the extreme, tailor-made to appeal to disaffected, angsty young women. (Is that offensive? Sorry). Best tracks? Don't be silly. Forbes is credited with Mellotron, but the high strings on One Less Word aren't anything of the sort and I can't imagine where else it might be. As if you needed another reason not to investigate this?

Kristin Ford  (US)

Torn  (2007,  36.23)  **

Torn is an album on the country side of big-chorused AOR, at its least irritating on Good Thing, which shouldn't be taken as any kind of recommendation. Rich Stine plays alleged Chamberlin strings on Heart and Tennessee, but the ten second-plus chord at the end of the latter gives the sample game away.

Marc Ford  (US)

Holy Ghost  (2014,  46.09)  ***½

Marc Ford's chiefly known for his time in The Black Crowes, but to me, he'll always be the young gun who formed Burning Tree in the late '80s, producing just one, really rather good album. After the Crowes years and a raft of solo albums and collaborations, Ford's fifth solo release, 2014's Holy Ghost, is an impeccable Americana record, highlights including the dark In You, Sometimes and slow-burn closer Call Me Faithful. If the album has a fault, it's that it occasionally tips over into country mawkishness, but most of its material transcends that genre faux pas. Dan Moore is credited with Mellotron, but the smooth, squeaky-clean strings on In You have to be samples. You don't need the presence of a Mellotron, real or otherwise, though, to buy this well-crafted, measured album.

Forest City Lovers  (Canada)

Carriage  (2010,  35.41)  **½

The Forest City Lovers are a Canadian indie/folk outfit, led by Kat Burns, whose third full band album (following Burns' 2005 solo release For the Birds), 2010's Carriage is, I'm afraid to say, a rather tedious effort, featuring neither strong enough vocal melodies nor interesting enough musical ideas to hold the attention of this reviewer, at least. Better tracks include the vaguely haunted Sea To Land and Believe Me, but it's a little like clutching at straws, to be honest. James Bunton is credited with Mellotron, but I seriously doubt whether the strings on opener Phodilus & Tyto are nearer than several sample generations to a real machine. Overall, not awful, yet not very interesting, either. Maybe not.

Forget Cassettes  (US)

Salt  (2006,  48.13)  **½

Forget Cassettes are one of those 'alternative' American bands, which seems to mean that they play in a sort of punk/indie style, which only serves to dilute their original sources. 2006's Salt is their second (and possibly last) album, filled with noisy, overlong material that doesn't really go anywhere, opener Venison being a particular offender. Keys man Jay Leo Phillips plays samplotron on Patience, Beth (Reprise), with a polyphonic cello part that works pretty well in context, although the bulk of his keyboard work on the album is based around the Rhodes.

The Format  (US)

Interventions + Lullabies  (2003,  45.25)  **½

The Format were a fairly typical US indie outfit, from Arizona, not that it makes any difference to their sound. 2003's Interventions + Lullabies was their first album (of two), its occasional highlights tending to be lyrical rather than musical; like so many similar, the words are given undue prominence, the music seemingly being merely a hook on which to hang them. As a result (and because of the overwrought vocals), I find it difficult to pick out any specific track for praise. Sam Means plays samplotron flutes on Tune Out, although all other orchestral instruments sound real. Incidentally, after the album's release, the band suffered from the (criminal) dissolution of their label, the iconic Elektra, subsumed into the vast Warners conglomerate, the band apparently being instructed to 'record another album like the first'. Record companies, eh?

Jeffrey Dean Foster  (US)

Million Star Hotel  (2005,  65.07)  ***

Jeffrey Dean Foster's Million Star Hotel is a singer-songwriter album in pop/rock clothing, like so many others. It suffers from excessive length - do we really need over an hour of his music? - barely snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Highlights? Opener Lily Of The Highway and The Summer Of The Son Of Sam, maybe. Foster's 'Mellotron'... isn't.

Jeffrey Foucault  (US)

Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes: A Collection: Jeffrey Foucault Sings the Songs of John Prine  (2008,  57.11)  ***½

Jeffrey Foucault's fifth album, Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes: A Collection, is subtitled Jeffrey Foucault Sings the Songs of John Prine, in tribute to an unfairly lesser-known legend. Those with a low tolerance for country (without the western) should probably go somewhere else, but Foucault gives Prine's superb songs highly sympathetic readings throughout, his voice and guitar mostly supported by pedal steel, played in a decidedly un-mawkish manner. Foucault is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness, while reasonably accurate, are sampled; listen for the well over eight-second held chord at the end. My reasoning? It doesn't need to be that long, so you wouldn't bother with studio trickery to accomplish it, therefore it's a sample that you can hold as long as you like while it fades. Ipso facto. Nevertheless, this is a good, if not jaw-dropping album, that fans of both Foucault and Prine should appreciate.