Sheffield native Richard Hawley played in the last incarnation of Pulp, being encouraged by that band's Steve Mackey and Jarvis Cocker to record his own, pre-psych '60s-influenced songs. Lowedges (named, as are most of his albums, after an area in his hometown) is his second full-lengther and, it has to be said, if you're going to get anything out of this, you'd better be prepared to chuck anything later than, say, 1966 out of the window and prepare yourself for a burst of Sheffield noir. Think: rain, neon, cheap cigarettes, horn-rimmed spectacles (not glasses), more rain, two channels on your black-and-white telly and Dusty Springfield on the radio. Appeal? Not here, it doesn't, but I've never understood this particular brand of nostalgia; however, Richard Hawley does, as do his increasing legion of fans, assuming you can call such a well-mannered bunch a 'legion'. Colin Elliot is credited with Mellotron (he also plays on Hawley co-production A Girl Called Eddy's self-titled album), but all I can hear is distant, sampled strings and flutes on opener Run For Me, either of which could be produced by almost anything, really. OK, not a Clavinet.
Andrew Mayer "Hawthorne" Cohen's third album, Where Does This Door Go, is a funk/soul hybrid, adding snippets of hip-hop where required. Effectively done, but not something I (or probably you) will want to listen to again/at all. Mellotron? Whatever Kid Harpoon adds to Robot Love is inaudible, while Greg Wells' strings and faint flutes on All Better sound sampled to my ears.
Colin Hay is one of a host of Australians (famous or otherwise) born in Scotland, who emigrated with their families in childhood (think: most of AC/DC's original lineup); he's best known as vocalist with Men at Work (come on, who can dislike Down Under?), going solo after their mid-'80s split. 1998's Transcendental Highway is one of those funny albums that starts badly, then improves all at once, in this case at track nine, Death Row Conversation, its sparse arrangement, allied with the album's best tune and lyric, adding up to a genuinely good song. The remainder of the album would make a nice, short-ish release, were Hay to scrap the rather turgid half hour-plus of slightly worldy pop/rock he serves up during the interminable first half. Sadly, this is what we get, dull, overlong efforts and all. It's often difficult to work out what a Chamberlin's doing in a mix and this album's no exception. I think Dave Dale's providing the strings on If I Go, but I suspect samples.
What a difference a decade or so makes... 2011's Gathering Mercury shows us a songwriter who's come into his own; yes, they're songs for his own generation, but 'pop music' stopped being merely for the young a long time ago. Top tracks include opener Send Somebody, Invisible, Dear Father and Far From Home, although I'm personally less impressed by the jauntier, more countryish material, notably Where The Sky Is Blue and Simple Song. Chad Fischer is credited with Mellotron on Dear Father, but, given the string section and harmonium present on the track, whatever might be there is completely inaudible; I strongly suspect 'disappear in the mix' samples. 2015's Next Year People, while a decent record, seems to lack the focus Hay displayed on Gathering Mercury, at least to my ears. Saying that, we still get songs of the quality of the title track, Mr. Grogan, a rumination on ageing and Lament For Whisky McManus, one of the two CD bonuses. Jeff Babko supposedly plays Mellotron on Scattered In The Sand, but the vague, high string notes that appear towards the end of the song sound little like a real machine to my ears.
(Paul) Hayden (Desser) is an Ontario-based singer-songwriter, whose third (and second major-label) album, 1998's The Closer I Get, seems to be a Spartan evocation of the inside of his head, mostly quiet (note: not gentle) acoustic guitar pieces, although Nights Like These is all mournful piano and cello. Although country is mostly a style sitting just over the horizon here, his Americana roots erupt (quietly) in the countryish Two Doors. Best track? Possibly haunted closer I'll Tell Him Tonight, just Hayden's voice and guitar. Notorious sample user Steve Fisk produces a handful of tracks, including Instrumental With Mellotron, not-very-good sounding flutes (albeit with key-click intact) superimposed over a mid-paced, er, instrumental. Overall, then, a decent enough effort, probably a 'grower', were I able to give it the time, with one fairly unspecial fakeotron track.
He is We are the Tacoma, WA-based duo of Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly, who, going by their first full album (ignoring 2009's Old Demos), 2010's My Forever, play unbelievably twee indiepop, full of vocal 'oh-ah's and other infuriating indie tropes. Taylor's harsh, characterless voice helps matters not a whit, so with not one single song that transcends their incredibly narrow genre boundaries, this is an album to avoid at all costs. Dan Romer (Ian Axel, Ingrid Michaelson) seems to play almost everything on the album, including alleged Mellotron and Chamberlin, with (Mellotron?) flutes and (Chamberlin?) strings on opener Forever & Ever, Chamby strings on All About Us and what I take to be more of the same on Happily Ever After, Prove You Wrong and Fall. God, this is awful.
Dave Einmo's Head Like a Kite play entirely generic indie, interspersed with an occasional hip-hop influence on Random Portraits of the Home Movie, at its least irritating on A Dime And A Cigarette. Einmo plays wafty samplotron strings on the delightfully-titled Your Butt Crack Smile. Whatever.
I've seen French (but English-language) copycat alt.rocksters Headcases compared to Alice in Chains, which sounds about right. Welcome the Intruder isn't awful, but does absolutely nothing new, especially in 2004. I really have no idea why bassist Laurent Paradot is credited with Mellotron.
The Headstones were a hard rock/punk crossover outfit, at least going by their fourth (and penultimate) album, 2000's Nickels for Your Nightmares, which actually probably features as many acoustic tracks as electric, although I'm not sure the band's talents really lay in that direction. Best track? Little Lies, I'd say. Why? It's the only thing here that successfully marries the heavier and more melodic sides of the band's personality. Guitarist Trent Carr allegedly doubles on Mellotron, with background strings on Blonde & Blue and the murkiest choirs ever on My Perspective Fades, making me quite certain it's all sampled; I mean, listen to the low string note at the end of Blonde & Blue... Anyway, not exactly the most exciting thing you're ever going to hear, real Mellotron or no real Mellotron.
Imogen Heap began writing songs in her early teens, releasing her debut album, 1998's I Megaphone (or iMegaphone, an anagram of her name), aged twenty. It's far from a typical singer-songwriter effort, Heap's personal material augmented by electronica, 'found sounds' and the like, drawing comparisons with other, less 'standard' songwriters (K*te B*sh occasionally springs to mind). It's difficult to isolate any standout tracks; the album's strength lies in its diversity, the common factor being Heap's intense, sometimes falsetto vocalising, never less than intriguing. Heap plays background samplotron strings on Oh Me, Oh My and stabbed strings on Whatever, although the album's other string parts sound real. Did I like this? Not really, no, but I hope I can identify talent when I hear it and not merely slate something for not conforming to my taste. Despite minor overuse of late '90s musical clichés, I Megaphone is streets ahead of your usual, identikit wispy female artist.
In 2010's Acid Country, Paul Heaton (ex-Housemartins) has made, would'ja believe, an album of (slightly) psychedelic country. Just like it says on the tin. Actually, make that (slightly) psychedelic country with a superbly British bent, largely on the lyric front; he even sings 'bollocks' in the title track. Best tracks? Probably opener The Old Radio and closer A Cold One In The Fridge, but it all seems to be in the lyrics rather than the music. Christian Madden allegedly plays Mellotron, but the polyphonic flute part on the title track fails to convince on the veracity front, I'm afraid. Well, I suppose this does what it does perfectly well, but the only thing that might make me wish to revisit it is the occasional witty lyric, which probably isn't enough.
Heaven Street Seven/HS7's third album, Budapest Dolls, is a bit of a 'local's band' record, combining aspects of alt.rock and last-gasp Britpop, of all things, the latter evident on Good Try, Joe. Not terrible, but not something many people outside Hungary really need to bother with. The album was recorded in Germany, so it's possible Szilárd Balanyi's Mellotron strings on Hatvannégy, Burn, Light Traumas and Under The Weather are genuine, but they lack that all-important ring of authenticity.
John "Heavenly Beat" Peña's second album combines '80s synthpop with more contemporary styles, the end result being fairly hideous, frankly. Obvious samplotron brass and strings from Daniel Schlett on four tracks, for what it's worth.
Some of you may remember cult UK outfit The Heavy Metal Kids (named for the street gang in William Burroughs' Nova Express); I'm quite sure many people bought their albums hoping for a slice of serious heaviosity, instead receiving a dose of sharp, too-cool-for-school rock'n'roll. The band were fronted by the legendary Gary Holton, who went on to become a semi-successful actor (Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) before suffering a drug-related death in 1985, their other (semi-) notable member being keyboard player Danny Peyronel, who left the band in 1975 to join UFO, playing Mellotron on the following year's No Heavy Petting.
Three original members of the band reconvened in 2002, releasing Hit the Right Button the following year, vocals provided by Peyronel. To my great surprise, it's an excellent collection of song-based hard rock, veering towards the commercial, but always staying on the right side of the cheese divide, top tracks including opener Message, Blow It All Away, the title track and Viva New York; actually, there really isn't one bad track here, which is more than you can say for most modern rock albums, frankly. Peyronel is credited with Mellotron, but the far too-clean flutes on closer Voices really aren't convincing me. Y'know, I never expected to listen to this and say 'recommended', but I am; although the album peers down the Bon Jovi/Def Leppard route, it doesn't stray too far in that direction, being more comparable to bands such as Y&T or, dare I say it, UFO. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Maximilian Hecker is a German singer-songwriter who sings in English, making music, if 2008's One Day is typical, of the blandest, wettest, most insipid variety of mainstream balladic pop you can imagine. Admittedly, he intersperses some more upbeat material amongst the sloppy stuff, but his whispery vocals and the Europop origins of his style conspire to make these just as awful, if not more so. As if the album needed any more minus points, it's also available as a two-disc set, over ninety minutes long, when forty of this kind of stuff is already far more than enough. I found the most listenable thing here to be the last track on disc two, Hecker's demo for Daze Of Nothing, although it would be immeasurably improved by removing his horrid voice. Guy Sternberg plays a 'Strawberry Fields'-type samplotron flute part (how original) on Wind Down, while Doron Burstein is credited with 'Mellotron voices' on the same track, although they're inaudible.
Although originally recording as Jetone, Montrealian Tim Hecker now releases his ambient electronica under his own name. His tenth album (between both monikers), 2013's Virgins, concentrates more on the electronica end of his range, most tracks bordering unlistenable to ears more attuned to a more, shall we say, melodic approach, which doesn't make it bad, merely niche. More listenable tracks? Probably Radiance, Live Room Out and the brief Incense At Abu Ghraib, although it all depends on one's perspective, I suppose. Hecker adds raw, sampled Mellotron flutes to Amps, Drugs, Harmonium, although the album's other sampled flutes sound less Mellotronic. An exploratory album, then, though most certainly not one for all tastes.
Tiare Helberg's The Inconsolable Isolation of Intimacy EP contains some of the wettest balladry I've had the displeasure to hear in quite some time. What's more, David Skeet's so-called Mellotron flutes and strings on Tattooed Cards and Matador Of Love are quite clearly nothing of the sort. Rubbish.
Hellbillies are a major name in their home country, their Norwegian-dialect Americana a prime example of Scandinavians doing American music better than the Americans. Their eighth album, Spissrotgang (Run the Gauntlet), is a perfectly pleasant listen, their chosen style tempered with the occasional Norwegian folk element, but I can't imagine they have much of an audience outside their home market. Lars Christian Narum plays samplotron flutes on Drukne Ei Gudinne.
Why is it that Scandinavian bands 'do' American music so well? Bones in the Closet gives us a certain brand of Americana, 'that' surf/spaghetti western guitar sound all over it like a rash, not to mention the more-country-than-thou lyrics and Dag Sindre Vagle's haunted vocal delivery. Vagle's also credited with Mellotron, but all we get is sampled strings on classic death ballad Times Of Trials, Lost Highway Motel and Sixty Seconds To What.
Everything's OK is a decent enough powerpop album, albeit one with few real highlights, at its best on the energetic Week Of Days. Producer Henrik Krogh Christensen (presumably not the noted opera singer) plays blatant samplotron flutes on What Holds The World Together.
Tom Helsen's third album, 2004's More Than Gold, is the wettest, most insipid singer-songwriter/pop dreck you can imagine; even if any one track starts off as if it might be listenable, it quickly descends into a morass of keening vocals, heartfelt acoustic guitar and soaring strings. Horrible. Closer Hotellounge (Be The Death of Me) is listed as a 'bonus track', although I rather doubt whether you can buy a version without it. Some bonus. David Poltrock plays the faintest of faint 'Mellotron' strings on Don't Let Them Get You Down, but they could've been produced by almost anything, to be honest. Maybe they were.
Love Songs for Angry Men is an album of dark, raw Americana, Nick Hensley's rough-hewn voice delivering his careworn lyrics with aplomb, sounding like diary entries from the edge. The music? Good, but this is about the songs. Tom Bard plays blatant samplotron flutes on Get Off The Fence.
I was expecting limp indie from a band with a name like Her Vanished Grace, so it's a nice surprise to get an energetic, actually quite rocking, er, indie album in Soon, at its best on Valhalla, Sink Or Swim and Monitor, not to mention the King Crimson kind-of borrow in Home Again (Red, for what it's worth). No Mellotron credited, although I've seen references in the past. They were wrong. Colors Vols. 1 & 2 isn't dissimilar, although its outrageous running time becomes a real listening chore. Edit, please. Best track? The twelve-minute The Grand Staircase. Charlie Nieland's credited Mellotron turns out not to be (big surprise), the Mellotronesque strings on Dreamskate featuring a chord sequence ripped straight out of Genesis' Supper's Ready. What is it with this lot? More of the same on Snake Charmer and The Grand Staircase, plus choirs on Ozone and flutes on set closer Sooner Or Later Diana.
Texans Herd of Instinct began as a guitar synth/Warr guitar (similar to a Stick)/drums trio, releasing their eponymous debut on Djam Karet's Firepool Records in 2011, featuring guest appearances from Karet guitarist Gayle Ellett and drummers Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel), Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson) and Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), amongst others. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like a conflation of its collaborators' day jobs, particularly Discipline-era Crimso (Warr/Stick players mostly end up sounding like Tony Levin), although the sequencer line on Hex stands out from the pack. Ellett is credited with Mellotron on Blood Sky, although the handful of string chords here and there don't really convince, despite his use on earlier Djam Karet releases.
By 2013's Conjure, Ellett had become a 'regular' member, bringing the band up to a quartet. The album shows considerable progression from their debut, material like sparse opener Praxis, the slightly neo-proggish Dead Leaf Echo and the rhythmic Alice Krige Pt. 1 standing apart from Herd of Instinct's relatively unvarying approach. This time round, the 'Mellotron' string, choir and flute on Mother Night and strings on Vargtimmen are clearly sampled, especially obvious on the melody string line on the former. So; two good albums, but what has happened to Djam Karet's Mellotron? I think we should be told.
London-born Dutch jazz saxophonist (and leader of New Cool Collective) Benjamin Herman's style is apparently 'rooted in bebop'; I'm afraid my knowledge of jazz sub-genres refuses to expand as the years pass. 2008's mostly instrumental Hypochristmastreefuzz covers quite a lot of ground, from the mad 'Christmas jazz' of the opening title track, through his duet with guitarist Anton Goudsmit, Kwela P Kwana, to the mellow De Sprong O Romantiek Der Hazen. The last-named features Willem Friede's 'Mellotron' strings and flutes, although I'm afraid they just don't cut it, to my ears. 2012's Deal is actually a film soundtrack, which figures, given that (DUH!) it sounds like one. Kind of Bernard-Hermann-meets-Lalo-Schifrin in its funk/jazz (note: not jazz-funk) moves, highlights include A Man With A Plan and the full version of the main title, while closer Cat is especially good. Whither Fried's alleged 'Mellotron'? Who knows?
Herman's Wolf Band are a Bulgarian rock/soul/blues combo (and a remarkably authentic one at that), if you can imagine such a thing. 1999's IV (originally released on cassette) is a sprawling, genre-bending effort, much of it sounding like Stax label outtakes from the early '70s; quite a trick, all things considered. One of its more interesting features is its pair of 'suites', the three-part An Eastern Mood... and the five-part Something Like..., to name them for their initial sections. The six-minute former shifts through psych and folk moods in reasonably pleasing style, while the eleven-minute latter encroaches on vaguely Focus-esque progressive territory, complete with some pseudo-classical moves and virtuoso piano work. Quite bizarre, if welcome. Keys man Hristo Namliev is credited with Mellotron, but if the murky strings on ...Moves The Existension (Of)... turn out to be a real machine, I'll be utterly stunned. The samples (seemingly layered with a pseudo-Vox or Farfisa) are more apparent on Idle Words Written On A Cloudy Sky, with more strings on ...A Hypothetical..., amongst other possible usage.
Bronx native Ari Hest has been releasing records since 1999, 2011's Sunset Over Hope Street being something like his eighth full-lengther. If ever someone fell into the category 'singer-songwriter', it's Hest; although the bulk of the album's material is musically rather dull (occasional exceptions include One Track Mind and the fiddle-driven Swan Song), his lyrics are spot-on, often transcending the usual 'boy-meets-girl' nonsense (SURELY that particular vein has been mined to death by now?), better examples including Business Of America and the title track, all delivered in his best 'Mr. Smoke-too-much' voice. Hest is credited with Mellotron, but the far too smooth flutes on Business Of America yell 'samples!' at me.
Deeds is the limpest kind of singer-songwriter effort you can imagine, David Hetrick's voice over-emoting all over the place. Have any of its contents been used in tedious US TV shows? And if not, why not? Any better tracks? Outro's guitar solo lifts it above its neighbours, but only just. Hetrick's credited with Mellotron on Party Over. Really? I mean, really? FFS.
You could classify Doug Hewitt's Picasso Tomato as jazz rock (as against fusion), but that's only the half of it, as material such as Relativity, prog workout This January Night or bluesy closer Pickled Jam tell another story. Diverse enough to hold the listener's interest, yet cohesive enough to sound like the work of one man. Quite a trick. Vague samplotron strings here and there, for what it's worth.
Led by Mat McNerney, Hexvessel are a multi-member Finnish psychedelic folk outfit, whose 2012 single, Vainolainen (b/w Preacher's Orchard), is a beautiful evocation of that country's forested landscape, reminding me slightly of the quieter end of Anekdoten's early work (similar influences?), although the flip has, at least to my ears, more of an early '70s British 'wyrd folk' thing going on. McNerney is credited with Mellotron on Vainolainen, although a reliable informant tells me it's sampled. Nonetheless, there's a lovely flute part running through the track, which really doesn't suffer from not actually featuring a full-blown, genuine Mellotron. Well worth hearing.
Richard X Heyman (born 1951) has not only drummed for luminaries of the stature of Brian Wilson and Jonathan Richman, but has also played guitar and keys for other major names over his lengthy career. Tiers: & Other Stories is his eighth solo album, a vast, sprawling, two-disc collection of over thirty songs, zig-zagging from powerpop through balladry, rock'n'roll and mainstreamish pop/rock to confessional singer-songwriter material and even hints of medieval music. Quite a ride, frankly, which might be more easily digestible in smaller chunks, but then, it came only two years after its predecessor and two before its successor, so if a man writes thirty-odd decent songs, what's he to do? I'd imagine most fans will pick and choose favourites, but at least Heyman gives us the choice. He credits himself with Mellotron, but the strings on Game Stays The Same and one or two other tracks (and did I hear some Mellotron brass somewhere?) are clearly fake.
Anyone remember Haircut 100? Nick Heyward was their slightly unlikely heartthrob singer, though, let's face it, nowhere near as unlikely as ex-Undertone Feargal Sharkey... Seems he left the Haircuts as early as '83, after just one album, kicking off his sporadically successful solo career the same year, releasing his fifth solo effort, Tangled, in 1995. It's a major move away from that '80s pop sound, having more of a '60s influence about it, in line with the then-current Britpop movement, albeit without the naffness of Oasis et al, while still capturing some of that '90s zeitgeist. It's also not terribly exciting, but then, I don't think 'exciting' was where Heyward was coming from at the time, more 'well-crafted' and 'very listenable'. There's a surprising rockiness about several of the tracks, not least opener Kill Another Day and Carry On Loving, which would doubtless have appalled his jangly early-'80s self. 'Melatron' (aargh!) credited on one track, with Phil Taylor (not that one, stoopid) playing a faint, sampled flute part on London, but there are also uncredited flutes on Kill Another Day, actually more audible. Heyward followed up in '98 with The Apple Bed, similar to its predecessor in its bright'n'breezy pop stylings. It's the kind of album that, even if it doesn't particularly grab you, plays along well enough in the background, although I'm sure Heyward would rather I listened closely to his (admittedly thoughtful) lyrics. Once again, he rocks it up on a handful of tracks, although Goodbye Man's Beach Boys harmonies and the vaguely Squeeze-esque Reach Out For The Sun are more typical. Taylor's back on samplotron, with flutes on The Man You Used To Be.
Cracker's guitarist Johnny Hickman's solo debut, 2005's Palmhenge, is, at heart, a singer-songwriter album in alt.rock/Americana clothing, Hickman shifting through various country-related styles across the record. Top tracks include The Great Decline (Palmhenge II), the acoustic Little Tom, the rocking Harvest Queen and redneck bromance paean Friends, but little here offends. Martin Pradler plays samplotron, with a flute part on Lucky.
Alive With Pleasure is a singer-songwriter album of the 'does a bit of everything' variety, Dylan Hicks shifting between several varieties of mainstream rock, funk (City Lights, My Best Friend), blues/soul (Playing With The Boys In Willie's Band) and jazz flavourings (The Secret Of Life, closer Emma's Moving To Chicago). Perhaps surprisingly, the record retains a measure of cohesion, possibly at its best on Pushin' My Car and I Wanna Be Black Sometimes. Hicks plays obvious fakeotron strings on My Best Friend.
David Blazye, a.k.a. The High and Lonesome, is a serious young man from south London with a wispy beard, who seems to be under the impression that if he makes an album that sounds like the awful David Gray, or the quieter (quietest?) bits of Coldplay, he will be every bit as successful. Unfortunately, the success of these artists seems (to my ears, anyway) to be based less on their songwriting than on... I dunno, actually - what IS it based on? Image? Nope. Personality? NO! Sheer fluke? Maybe. Anyway, whatever it is they have, it would seem that Blazye doesn't, although From the Playground doesn't sound any worse to me than the debut efforts by the above-named artists. Maybe that's the problem - while exceedingly bland, maybe Blazye isn't quite bland enough. Anyway, an album full of string-laden ballads is enough to send me off the deep end, so at least I'll (hopefully) never have to hear it again, although the pace does pick up just occasionally (Riders On The Line). Samplotron on Out In The Longtime from Tim Oliver, with an arpeggiated string line cropping up here and there, along with real strings.
Billy Surgeoner was keyboard player/vocalist/guitarist with The Mynd, one of many club-level British progressive acts of the '70s who never scored that all-important deal or released anything in their lifetime. Twenty-five years later, High Chair are his ambient solo project, sitting somewhere in between the quieter end of Tangerine Dream and any number of new age synth albums, its probable highpoint being lengthy closer Saturn Return, featuring a discordant part that makes it stand out from its neighbours. Unsurprisingly, Billy assures me he used Mellotron samples, his own machine having been sold decades ago; Over The Moon opens with a samplotron flute part with more of the same on the title track and choirs on Saturn Return, all used to reasonable effect. Is this worth buying? Saturn Return aside, it's immensely relaxing and far better at being so than most albums specifically made for that purpose, while its final track is well worth hearing for EM fans, managing to sound like no-one else in particular, quite a feat in that genre.
Despite being largely English-speaking, The High Dials actually formed in Montréal, Québec. Often described as 'indie', their sound is more powerpop, although their previous psych tendencies seem to've been largely reined in, sadly, on their fourth full-lengther, 2010's Anthems for Doomed Youth. The one obvious exception is the jammed-out Mysterio, other decent tracks including opener Teenage Love Made Me Insane and I'm Over You (I Hope It's True). Guitarist Robbie MacArthur is credited with Mellotron, with flutes and strings on The Rich Die Too... and strings on Snowed In, but the too-fast flute trill on the former and the general murkiness of the latter, not to mention the way-over-eight-seconds-long notes make it highly likely that we're occupying Sample City here. For their fifth album, In the A.M. Wilds, The High Dials shift away from their powerpop roots into an indie/electronica hybrid. Does the transformation work? No, frankly. It's not that they've written songs that would fit onto Anthems... and played them in their current style; the song structures are completely different and not in a good way. Any high points? Desert Tribe, perhaps, Yestergraves, with hints of early U2... Not many, no. Eric Dougherty's credited with Mellotron, but the strings on On Again, Off Again are clearly sampled, making for a big, fat, 'don't bother'.
Abel "El Hijo" (The Son) Hernández is a Spanish singer-songwriter, whose second album, 2007's Las Otras Vidas, showcases his relaxed, semi-ambient style on material like Vals De Los Besos, Conmigo A Tu Vera and Cabalgar, although he loses his way slightly when he tries to inject any energy into the proceedings. Best track? Has to be the 'hidden' instrumental that closes the album, all drones and tinkling somethings. Raúl Fernández plays samplotron, with a very nice, full-on flute part on Los Reyes Que Traigo.
Hikashu were never quite as experimental as revisionist Japanese music fans would like us to think, being more of a new wave/synthpop act than anything. Saying that, 1990's Teichona Omotenashi is actually a quirky pop/rock album, far better than their early '80s work, highlights including the lengthy Daikoukai, the choppy Waga Kuni and the atmospheric Chimera. Someone (probably Makoto Inoue) plays what are, for the time, excellent Mellotron samples on several tracks, with lush strings on Daikoukai, a string line on Chimera (samples obvious from the low notes and the overly-stretched one on the fade) and dark chordal strings on Inori, plus chordal flutes on closer Utaenai Uta. If you feel the urge to delve into Hikashu's catalogue, while this may not be your best starting-point, it's certainly a better bet than their better-known albums.
Hilotrons' (named for the Gretsch Hilotron pickup) indie take on pre-psych '60s pop is fine for a couple of tracks, but quickly becomes wearing, to the point where even a half-hour album had me having to restrain myself from repeatedly hitting the 'next' button. Michael John Dubue plays a monophonic samplotron choir part on Lost You In My Eye.
Apparently, Peter Himmelman is Bob Dylan's son-in-law, not that it has (or should have) any relevance to his music. Love Thinketh No Evil is a singer-songwriter's pop/rock album, sometimes shifting into more Dylanesque material like Checkmate or Made For Me, at its best on Lifetime Too Late, maybe. I'm not at all sure why Himmelman is credited with Mellotron.
As far as I know, Portland, Oregon's Hindi Guns released just the one, eponymous album, in a kind of female-fronted, indie guitar vein, doing their level best to channel 1965. Not a bad effort, if unoriginal, better tracks including Immigrant, Goin' To Portland and Honey, the last-named also featuring samplotron flutes and choirs from an unnamed band member (or not).
Micah P. Hinson (real name, folks) is a startlingly young Texan singer-songwriter, releasing his first album, Micah P. Hinson & the Gospel of Progress in his early twenties. It's a strangely timeless work, relying on 'traditional' instrumentation to make its impact, along with Hinson's careworn voice and downbeat, yet oddly hopeful material. You could call this 'Americana', but that might be missing the point; that style is probably better seen as one of the weapons in Hinson's musical armoury than his entire raison d'être. The album contains precisely no bad tracks, although highlights include opener Close Your Eyes, Patience and lengthy closer The Day Texas Sank To The Bottom Of The Sea. Christian Madden supposedly plays Mellotron strings and flutes, with the first sound on the album being the tentative flutes that open Close Your Eyes, with flutes and strings on The Nothing, but it's all a bit sampled, to be honest.
2008's Micah P. Hinson & the Red Empire Orchestra bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, but is somehow a lesser album, although you wouldn't say that Hinson's style has changed in the interim. Perhaps it's not different enough? Better tracks include the brief When We Embraced and the folky Throw The Stone, but it all seems to lack something on the excitement front. Hinson is credited with Mellotron this time round, but there's nothing obvious, all the strings appearing to be real.
Quest for Truth is a wildly ambitious, completely OTT concept album, apparently about a battle between good and evil. Top marks for originality, then. Brian Hirsch's keyboards are largely of the horrible digital variety (I know it was 1994. No excuse), while his programmed drums are, like everything else here, overblown to the nth degree. Musically, this sits somewhere in between ELP (particularly on Man's Last Stand - The Total Battle/The Regeneration; the titles really have to be seen to be believed), generic EM and an off-Broadway stage show, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. Hirsch is credited with Mellotron, but the occasional string interjections during opener Quest For Truth - Overture/Why?!!? dip well below the instrument's range. Hirsch bounced back with Indeed, two years later, before disappearing.
His Name is Alive, led by Warren Defever, have apparently shifted through multiple styles (not to mention combinations of styles) in their thirty-odd years of existence, depending on how you're counting. 2014's Tecuciztecatl is something like their fourteenth release, ignoring remix albums and other extraneous works and sits, effectively, in the 'rock end of prog' camp, which is probably something of a shock for long-term fans. Thirteen-minute opener The Examination lets us know how the album will progress (pun intended), shifting through several different sections, managing to reference the early '70s, early '80s and probably more recent decades in one fell swoop. Incidentally, I'm not sure they'd welcome the comparison, but the harmony guitar work on several tracks reminds me of Wishbone Ash's groundbreaking technique. Mellotron? Defever's credited, but the near-solo massed strings in the brief I'm Getting Alone pretty much give the sample game away.
2016's Three Sacred Hymns is a very different beast, being more ambient than anything; is this how the band used to sound? Three lengthy tracks, all very similar: drone-rock, I suppose. Drifting samplotron strings on Two. Patterns of Light carries on the good work, operating in a similar vein to Tecuciztecatl. I'm desperately trying to remember who the opening title track reminds me of... Got it! Heart. No, really. In a good way, mind. Other standout tracks include Thanks A Million, Energy Acceleration, the almost Motörhead-esque Black Wings and eight-minute closer Silver Arc Curving In The Magnetic Field, all drifting strings and ethereal voices. Samplotron on several tracks, utilising strings, flutes and choirs, although it's sometimes hard to tell whether we're hearing Mellotron samples or generic ones. I can't attest to the quality of His Name is Alive's earlier work, but these two albums are both more than worthy of your attention, putting a new slant onto a retro style. Two more Mellotron-crediting albums: 2014's Dark Reflections (also available with some versions of Tecuciztecatl) and 2017's Black Wings, a collection of demos and alternate takes. However, my new 'don't go overboard for samples' policy means that I probably shan't bother to track them down.
Hiss Tracts are the duo of David Bryant (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Kevin Doria, whose first album under this name (they've previously worked together as Growing) pretty much does what it says on the tin: droning post-rock that sounds like an interrupted shortwave transmission, or a malfunctioning industrial plant. I'll be searingly honest and say that I really don't understand where they're coming from, although the instrumental, rhythm-free end result seems to have its own internal logic. Mellotron? Bryant's credited, but the distorted, cut-up choirs on closer Beijing-Bullhorn/Dopplered Light... are not only clearly sampled, but presumably aren't even meant to be taken for the Real Thing. Perhaps Mellotron samples have, by now, become so ingrained in many musicians' thinking as merely another sound source that they'll cheerfully credit 'Mellotron' when it's quite clearly nothing of the sort, without even any attempt to actually deceive? 'Mellotron' simply means 'Mellotron sounds'. Oh, brave new world.
Over a decade after Jewels for Sophia and another five albums later, Robyn Hitchcock released his third album with The Venus 3, his band consisting of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, The Young Fresh Fellows/Minus 5's Scott McCaughey and Ministry's Bill Rieflin, guests including John Paul Jones (mandolin), Nick Lowe (vocals) and Johnny Marr. Propellor Time is a good collection, if not as immediate as Jewels for Sophia, better tracks including Ordinary Millionaire, the title track and closer Evolove. The last-named is the album's only Samplotron track (from Charlie Francis), with flutes, cellos and strings all over.