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L  (France)

Initiale  (2011,  41.30)  ***

Raphaële "L" Lannadère's Initiale is a quietly beautiful album of mostly piano/vocal pieces, with minimal accompaniment, at its best on opener Mes Lèvres, Petite, closer Les Corbeaux and special edition bonus track La Pluie. Someone calling themselves Babx is credited with Chamberlin, but the strings on Jalouse and upfront repeating string part on Petite don't quite ring true to my ears.

L'Altra  (US)

Different Days  (2005,  42.47)  *½

Chicago's L'Altra have been described as indie, electronica and even chamber pop, but, to my ears, their third album, 2005's Different Days, is a straight post-rock/pop crossover. And yes, that's as bad as it sounds, to the point where I am entirely unable to pick out anything even remotely resembling a 'best track'. Joshua Eustis is credited with Mellotron, amongst many other instruments, but I seriously doubt whether a real one came anywhere near their recording studio. In fact, I'm not even convinced they used samples: are those background choirs on It Follows Me Around? Flutes and/or strings here and there? This dismal record really is to be avoided at all costs, unless dreary, long-winded modern pop sounds like your bag.

LEAK  (Sweden)

The Old Teahouse  (2001,  55.50)  ***

Sweden's LEAK, led by Danjel "Tolufim" Eideholm, also featuring In the Labyrinth's Peter Lindahl and another, entirely unrelated Peter Lindahl (!), tend to be described as 'dark ambient', or similar. Their debut album, 2001's The Old Teahouse, is a dark, meditational record, seemingly utilising a real Buchla synth for many of its sound effects (Don Buchla was a synth pioneer, along with the better-known Robert Moog and Alan R. Pearlman). All nine of its tracks are titled simply Untitled, a sure sign of avant-gardeness, if ever there were one. Although it occasionally raises the energy levels, the bulk of the album sounds like a malfunctioning analogue synth in a wind-tunnel; that's actually a recommendation, in case you weren't sure. Someone calling himself Dr. B. Uhno plays 'duo-Mellotron', whatever that means, with strings on track three that are most likely sampled.

L.E.O.  (US)

Alpacas Orgling  (2006,  35.54)  ***

L.E.O. are probably best described as powerpop, although the usual influences are largely missing. Alpacas Orgling (er, huh?) contains a mixture of styles, with the funkyish Ya Had Me Goin' (spot the Clavinet) and the slightly rocking Make Me contrasting sharply with the near-psych of Goodbye Innocence and Distracted, which sound like a superior E.L.O. as much as anything. Er, L.E.O.? E.L.O.? Is there something we should be told? Of course, Jellyfish established the E.L.O./powerpop connection in the early '90s, but it's rarely as overt as here, in my experience; I mean, just listen to those backing vox and (real) strings on Don't Let It Go... The album features several nice production touches, not least the reverbed baritone guitar on Private Line, although the overall effect is a little on the sweet side, as you'd expect from faithful followers of Jeff Lynne. Turns out it's all quite deliberate and they're a pick-up band featuring Bleu and Jellyfish's Andy Sturmer, amongst others, not to mention their 'hidden' version of Don't Bring Me Down...

Maclaine Diemer plays 'Mellotron', but going by the obvious Chamberlin samples on Make Me, it's probably fake throughout, which shouldn't really come as that much of a surprise. Anyway, strings and cellos on brief opener Overture, with a little more of the same on Goodbye Innocence and that Chamby solo male voice on Make Me, plus upfront strings (too smooth! Too smooth!) on Nothin' Will Ever Change and Sukaz Are Born Every Minute (is that the MkII 'moving strings' I hear on the latter?). So; a decent-enough record in its chosen genre with some reasonable Mellotron/Chamby samples. All a bit too 'decent' and 'reasonable' enough for me, though. More dirt next time round, please, although I'm fully aware that that's entirely beside the point. Whatever.

L.S.E.  (Germany)

Ruhm Kennt Keine Gnade  (1994,  44.40)  ***

Ruhm Kennt Keine Gnade is a diverse album of German pop/rock, at its best on the gentle E Stöck Nöher Dran and the Eastern-flavoured Hallebad, although novelty efforts such as Jede Morje Ess Ich Ene Hungk would improve the whole by their absence. Rolf Lammers plays obvious samplotron flutes on E Stöck Nöher Dran, probably from eMu's then-new Vintage Synth module.

Lacrimosa  (Switzerland)

Echos  (2003,  61.21)  **½

Lacrimosa are the Swiss-based darkwave duo of German Tilo Wolff and Finn Anne Nurmi, formed as far back as 1990. They have apparently shifted through several variants on the goth template over the course of their career, passing through a metal phase in the late '90s, moving on to a more symphonic style a few years later. 2003's Echos bestrides those two approaches, although some of it, lamentably, sounds more like Andrew Lloyd Webber goes metal, I'm afraid to say. In German. I'll admit there are some beautiful key changes on the two lengthy pieces that bookend the album, Kyrie (Overture) and Malina (Bittruf - Part 2), Middle-Eastern scales being used with reasonable subtlety, but far too much of the hour-long disc meanders through various goth and symphonic metal clichés, saying little new in the process. A bassist known as Jay P (also credited as Janet P) is credited with Mellotron, although the strings on Apart (Bittruf - Part 1) are fairly obviously sampled (he said, with the usual frisson of fear that he may've got it wrong. Again). Overall, one for that special person in your life who wears black nail varnish, eyeliner and too much purple. Good at what it does, but too overblown for the rest of us, I suspect.

Ladybug Transistor  (US)

Argyle Heir  (2001,  46.14)  ***

The Ladybug Transistor are yet another Elephant 6 Collective outfit (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Marbles, Apples in Stereo) and, I have to say, one of their more twee examples. Their '60s-pop-just-about-crossing-into-psych schtick works for a few tracks, but quickly becomes tiresome, although Going Up North (Icicles) and Catherine Elizabeth work well enough. No-one's actually credited with Mellotron, which is probably a good thing, as it sounds heavily like it was sampled. We get strings and cellos on Going Up North (Icicles) plus flutes on Catherine Elizabeth, Fjords Of Winter and closer Caton Gardens, but something about the timbres (not to mention the speed at which they're sometimes played) gives the game away. So; good at what it does, if you happen to like that kind of thing, I suppose. I'd stick with some of the other Elephant bands myself.

Ladytron  (UK)

Light & Magic  (2002,  59.28)  ***

Ladytron (from the Roxy Music classic, of course), formed by a pair of Liverpudlian producer/DJ types in the late '90s, play a female-fronted updated take on that Depeche Mode/early New Order electro sound, at least on their second album, 2002's Light & Magic. They're keen on analogue gear, using a range of old Korgs and the like (and a new Moog), using them to produce a series of 1981-style robotic pop songs of surprising quality, highlights including Human League-alike opener True Mathematics, the early Ultravox! of Cracked LCD, the beautifully clunky string synth part that closes Re:agents and the title track itself. Someone plays Mellotron choir samples on Fire and flutes, cellos and strings on Blue Jeans, or at least, I'm pretty sure they have little to do with anything using magnetic tape. To my considerable surprise, this is a very listenable album of its type, a world away from the landfill indie I'd been expecting, even if the Mellotron's sampled.

Andre LaFosse  (US)

Disruption Theory  (1999,  56.27)  ****

In Disruption Theory, Andre LaFosse has produced something impossibly rare: genuinely original music. Of course, it's comprised of familiar elements (nothing new under the sun etc.), but his combination of techno/drum'n'bass rhythms and several flavours of metal/progressive metal guitar is something I've heard nowhere else, which is quite a feat. Impossible to recommend individual tracks; this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. Samplotron? Presumably the strings on the title track.

Natalia Lafourcade  (Mexico)

Mujer Divina: Homenaje a Agustín Lara  (2012,  49.14)  **½

Mujer Divina: Homenaje a Agustín Lara is a thoroughly average Spanish-language, Latin-flavoured adult pop release, of the kind that never transcends its origins. In other words, don't go looking for this at your local record shop, all assuming such things even exist any more. Lafourcade is credited with Mellotron; are those chordal strings on La Fugitiva? Definite flutes on Piensa En Mí - definitely sampled, too.

John Lakveet  (Spain)

Building Sequential Stones Vol. 1: Ecclesias Cathedrales Aedificans  (2004,  74.43)  ***½
The Force of Reason  (2009,  69.40)  ***

Despite his not-very-Spanish name, John Lakveet is one Spain's premier EM artists, whose fourth album, 2004's Building Sequential Stones Vol. 1: Ecclesias Cathedrales Aedificans (Vol. 2 appeared later that year) makes a welcome change from the Berlin-School-by-numbers of so many of his contemporaries. As so often in this genre, it's the overall feel that matters, which is more experimental than the average, frequently more textural than melodic, Lakveet's (analogue?) synths often being used as noise-makers, rather than sound sources for a conventional melodic approach. Lakveet uses his Mellotron samples sparingly, a long, slow pseudotron string note comes in towards the end of Exudus 3:14, with a more orchestrated, clearly sampled part on Oratio and a handful of other, brief parts across the rest of the album, although the flute on Voluta and Oratio sounds real, or at least generic samples. 2009's The Force of Reason is not dissimilar, although the element of surprise is lost. Samplotron flutes on Platon In The Cave Of Mirrors.

Lali Puna  (Germany)

Scary World Theory  (2001,  37.26)  **½

Lali Puna's second album, Scary World Theory, is a record of entirely average electronica, German-style, with lacklustre female vocals from Valerie Trebeljahr, who may be enjoying herself, although it's rather hard to tell. In all honesty, I'm finding it difficult to think of anything constructive to say about this album at all; it's sort-of electronic, sort-of gothy and definitely dull. Sampled Mellotron on a few tracks, notably the flutes on Don't Think, where you can actually hear the loop point; extra low marks for using such a low-rate sample - the loop seems to be under a second long. So; Continental electronica freaks may go for this, but I can't imagine anyone much else will.

Barry Lamb  (UK)

...This is  (2007,  47.32)  ***

...This is... not a typical EM album, which has to be applauded, although Barry Lamb's approach may be considered only borderline listenable by more conservative listeners. Samplotron flutes on The Arrogance Of The West, to no great effect.

Shane Lamb  (US)

Disengage  (2009,  49.18)  ***

Shane Lamb's Disengage kicks off as an above-average country rock album, at its best on Someday and To Get You through, although, sadly, the songwriting quality drops off slightly as the album progresses. Casey Woods' 'Mellotron' flutes on On My Mind (and others?) are fairly clearly sampled.

Lambchop  (US)

Up With People/Up With People (remix)/Miss Prissy CDS/12"  (2000)  **½

Kurt Wagner's Lambchop are one of those bands I've always expected to crop up in Planet Mellotron territory at some point, although I didn't expect it to be via a remix. 2000's Up With People is probably pretty typical of their oeuvre, an alt.country/pop combi, basically, UK 'downtempo' electronica duo Zero 7 remixing the track for the flip, alongside Lambchop's own, vastly superior Miss Prissy. Zero 7 add samplotron strings to their remix, their smoothness giving the game away. Do you need to hear this? Depends how much you already like either Lambchop or Zero 7, I suppose; I doubt whether I'll be bothering again.

Ray LaMontagne  (US)

Supernova  (2014,  42.45)  **½

Ray LaMontagne's Supernova bears a passing resemblance to its predecessor, 2008's Gossip in the Grain, although more of a Syd-era Floyd influence makes itself heard here and there, notably on She's The One and Smashing. Sadly, most of the rest of the album sounds somewhat lacklustre compared in comparison; more mainstream, more radio-and-TV-friendly, even when its ups the rock quotient slightly. Leon Michaels (misspelt Micheals throughout) supposedly plays Mellotron on most tracks, although the only audible use is a distant string line on Airwaves; not even the sole track featuring producer Dan Auerbach (Ojai) has anything that might be seriously described as 'Mellotron'.

Lamp of the Universe  (New Zealand)

Acid Mantra  (2009,  53.36)  ***½

I believe Lamp of the Universe is essentially New Zealander Craig Williamson's solo project; with a name like that, it should come as no surprise to any of you that he/they are psychotropic adventurers of the finest kind. 2009's Acid Mantra is their seventh album, featuring more sitar than you can shake a rainstick at and mucho reverb-drenched (naturally) acid guitar, along with the trippiest lyrics this side of Steve Hillage's long-awaited '70s band reformation. Its one real fault is that it, er, 'goes on a bit'. I'm sure that's the Grateful Dead-esque idea, but if you're not smoking the same stuff as Mr. Williamson (or indeed, anything at all), it does drag in places, docking it half a star. Samplotron from Williamson, with distant choirs on opener Love Eternal (although the flutes on Searching For A Sign are synthesized), while closer Universe Within is smothered in strings, right through its eleven-minute length.

Braden Land  (US)

Stumble & Glow  (2008,  52.37)  ***

Braden Land is a fairly typical Americana artist, making country-influenced folk/rock with none of your horrid Nashville schmaltz. I believe 2008's Stumble & Glow is his second album; it's not a bad record, certainly within the confines of its genre, but, I have to say, I've heard rather better, too. What's wrong with it? Hard to say, exactly, but while I'm sure he identifies strongly with the songs contained herein, few of them impinged themselves on this reviewer, the notable exception being Amy, one of the album's more acoustic tracks, with the heartrending line, "I though she'd filled the bathtub with red wine". Tyson Rogers is credited with Mellotron, with faint flutes and possibly cellos on Silver And Gold, one of the album's better tracks, all sampled.

Lex Land  (US)

Orange Days on Lemon Street  (2008,  43.29)  **½

While Alexa "Lex Land" Holland's debut album, 2008's Orange Days on Lemon Street, sits well within the 'confessional singer-songwriter' genre boundaries, it's nowhere near as bad as that sounds, although she crosses the 'twee' barrier a little too often for comfort. Its obvious highlight is closer What I Want From You, building continually over its five-minute length, complete with relatively psychedelic guitar solo, although nothing else here comes close, to be honest. Peter Bradley Adams supposedly plays Mellotron, but the vaguely Mellotronic flutes on Play in Reverse and orchestral sounds on other tracks are not convincing me. So; better than it might've been, but nowhere near as good as it could be, with no obvious Mellotron.

Land of Talk  (Canada)

Cloak & Cipher  (2010,  48.59)  **

Land of Talk seem to be, effectively, Elizabeth Powell's alter-ego, as against a band 'proper', whose schtick appears to be the most tiresome end of indie-by-numbers, sadly. E.O. Laoghaire (presumably pronounced 'Leary') is credited with Mellotron, but the background chordal flutes on Swift Coin and Better And Closer tell another story.

Lands End  (US)

An Older Land  (1996,  73.45)  **½
Natural Selection  (1997,  74.00)  ***
The Lower Depths  (2005,  136.06)  **

Lands End contribute to:
Cyclops: The Second Sampler  (1995,  8.46)  ***
The Third Cyclops Sampler  (1996,  9.43)  ***

Lands End's second album, '95's Terra Serranum, featured a real Mellotron, admittedly, a rather sick one, which probably prompted the band not to use it again. The following year's An Older Land is, frankly, a bit of a mess, starting off badly (after the brief Ashes) with the entirely tedious Wind Across The Water and Wake To Find Me Dead, although the, er, jazzy Jazz Magic Potion's jamming and the laid-back K are rather better. Unfortunately, the grotesquely overlong (and impeccably-titled) Dross and The Last Word (presented in no fewer than three versions) drag the album back down, to the point where it barely scrapes that extra half star. We get excruciating samplotron choirs on Wind Across The Water and Wake To Find Me Dead and marginally better strings about ten minutes into Dross, but recommending this on any grounds is difficult. '97's Natural Selection features faux-Mellotron on most tracks, with a string part towards the end of its closing thirty-minute epic title track which exposes its fakeness for all the world to hear. The album itself is reasonable US neo-prog, better than the dullsville North Star, but not a patch on Echolyn or Spock's Beard, not that either band actually counts as 'neo-' at all, begging the question, "What exactly do you call something that's newer than new?"

By all accounts, the members of this multinational outfit haven't all been in the same place at the same time since the late '90s, which hasn't stopped mainman Fred Hunter from writing, recording and releasing 2005's The Lower Depths. As far as I can work out, its second disc, ...Plundering the Depths, contains reworked outtakes from across the band's career (plus a leftover from disc one, ...The Lower Depths), but with the disappearance of their website, I can't tell you what with any precision. Basically, it's more of the usual and when I say more, I mean more, to the tune of over two hours'-worth, the worst offender being the fucking interminable Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept (I believe this was the 'source material' for An Older Land's Dross. No comment), while lowpoints include the crummy pseudo-analogue neo-prog synth solo on Digital Signatures, most of the vocal parts and an overall paucity of imagination. Hunter brings in three guests (all Brits): Cathy Alexander from The Morrigan, Bruce Soord from Pineapple Thief and Steve Anderson from Sphere³/Grey Lady Down, although only the last named's guitar work particularly impresses. Samplotron-wise, we get pretty full-on (and slightly more convincing) strings on most of disc one and Eyes Of Venus, for what it's worth, which isn't a lot.

Anyway, Natural Selection's a passable enough effort, a statement which belies the enormous amounts of work I'm sure the band put into it; sorry, guys. Unfortunately, I can't even be that kind about either An Older Land or The Lower Depths, both of which bored me rigid. Rather dodgy Mellotron samples, too, though fans of modern US prog may well like these. Incidentally, the band provided exclusive tracks for the second and third Cyclops Samplers, the neo-orientated British Cyclops label probably being their spiritual home. Both Eyes Of Venus and Breathing Deep are pretty typical Lands End fare; not bad, not that good, quite neo-. I'm sure the Mellotron strings on both tracks are sampled; they're far too smooth to be the broken-down relic they used on Terra Serranum.

Lana Lane  (US)  see:

Lana Lane

Mark Lanegan (Band)  (US)

Field Songs  (2001,  42.17)  ***½
Blues Funeral  (2012,  55.53)  ***
Imitations  [as Mark Lanegan]  (2013,  41.20)  ***
Phantom Radio  (2014,  38.10)  **½
No Bells on Sunday  (2014,  26.47)  **½
Gargoyle  (2017,  41.22)  **½

Mark Lanegan broke into the foulness known as the 'music industry' by singing for Screaming Trees from 1985 to 2000, before finally bailing out and carrying on the solo career he'd been running concurrently since 1990. Since then, he's played with Queens of the Stone Age, The Twilight Singers, Isobel Campbell from Belle & Sebastian and no doubt others; a busy man. Field Songs is his fifth solo album, a minor masterpiece of mostly quiet, melancholic, Americana-influenced music from someone who understands the power of understatement. Of course, he knows how to rock out, too, but, by and large, he seems to do that in band situations, appearing to prefer to keep his more personal material for his solo oeuvre. It's difficult to pick out 'best' tracks, as pretty much everything here is good and will doubtless reap further rewards should I ever find time to play them more often. There's nothing here with the raw power of Because Of This, the last song on 1998's Scraps at Midnight, although Fix (also the last song) has a shot at it, in a more restrained fashion. Samplotron on one track from Keni Richards, with a nice upfront string part on No Easy Action.

Mark Lanegan continues to plough his very singular furrow with 2012's Blues Funeral, a typically murky, Laneganesque release, better tracks including propulsive opener The Gravedigger's Song, the ultra-distorted Quiver Syndrome and epic closer Tiny Grain Of Truth, although I'm sure he wouldn't thank me for comparisons with U2 on a few tracks, notably Harborview Hospital. Alain Johannes plays keys, including sampled Mellotron, with flutes (?) on Bleeding Muddy Water, Phantasmagoria Blues and Deep Black Vanishing Train, strings on Ode To Sad Disco and Tiny Grain Of Truth and cellos on Leviathan. 2013's Imitations is Lanegan's covers album (well, they're obligatory, aren't they?), apparently influenced by his parents' easy-listening and country record collection, alongside the gloomier end of his own taste. The approach really works on his takes on Chelsea Wolfe's Flatlands, John Barry's Bond theme You Only Live Twice (originally by Nancy Sinatra) and (Gérard) Manset's Élégie Funèbre, although I'm rather less enamoured by the three (!) Andy Williams songs. Two credited Mellotron tracks: Bill Rieflin's massed strings and choirs on I'm Not the Loving Kind and Alain Johannes' distant flutes on Élégie Funèbre, but neither sounds at all authentic, I'm afraid. Overall, I concur with the NME's website, who said that he 'just about gets away with it' due to being a 'classy bastard'. Worse things to be, I'd have said.

2014's Phantom Radio returns to the feel of Blues Funeral, only more so, sheets of electronica (some of the drum parts were written on an app on his phone and sound like it) underlying most of its tracks. The end result is an uneasy compromise between his earlier style and a more contemporary electronic sound, but I'm far from convinced that the unlikely combo works. Best tracks? Opener Harvest Home holds the synths at bay, while Judgement Time and I Am The Wolf sound more like the old Lanegan, but too many pieces of cheap electronica (Seventh Day, Waltzing In Blue) only serve the drag the album down. Of course, this is missing the point, because this is what he's doing now, but I can't say I'm blown away by his 'this is my new direction'. Mellotron? Johannes is credited on Waltzing In Blue, but the track's string part doesn't even sound that Mellotronic this time round. The same year's No Bells on Sunday EP is available on its own or as part of a two-disc set with Phantom Radio. It takes what seems to be Lanegan's new style and runs with it, at its most listenable on Jonas Pap and its least on opener Dry Iced and tiresome, repetitive eight-minute closer Smokestack Magic. Supposed Mellotron from Johannes on two tracks, but the strings and flutes on title track are clearly sampled, while there's nothing obviously Mellotronic on Smokestack Magic anyway. 2017's Gargoyle shows little change on the stylistic front, better tracks including Beehive, with its 'honey just gets me stoned' refrain and Emperor, but it's all rather slim pickings for fans of Lanegan's earlier work. Johannes' 'Mellotron' on four tracks, with nothing obvious on Nocturne, chordal strings on Blue Blue Sea, high strings on Sister and more chordal strings on First Day Of Winter. If the thought of listening to several albums of what Pink Floyd memorably referred to as 'quiet desperation' sounds like your idea of fun, Mark Lanegan's yer man.

Doug Lang  (Canada)

Crooked: The Norway Sessions  (2006,  55.05)  ***

Saskatchewan native Doug Lang's self-explanatory Crooked: The Norway Sessions is an album of superior Americana, at its best on The Luck, Summer Of St Augustine and the title track. Harald Værnor's Mellotron consists of the obviously sampled flutes that open the album, extending all the way through their parent track, Scarecrow.

k.d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang  (Canada)

Sing it Loud  (2011,  42.09)  ***

Kathryn Dawn "k.d. lang" Lang (note lowercase, possibly inspired by e.e. cummings) is one of Canada's most fêted country singers, while simultaneously a gay/animal/Tibetan etc. rights activist. Subversion, I think it's called. Her thirteenth album (in a near thirty-year career), 2011's Sing it Loud, credited to lang and the Siss Boom Bang, is a long way from full-blown country, being more a little bit country/little bit jazz collection of slightly torchy ballads; difficult to fault, although this listener also finds it difficult to like. lang has collaborated with Ben Mink, once of the mighty FM, but not only is he not present here, but he's hardly going to persuade her to cover City Of Fear, is he? No, he isn't. Joe Pisapia plays samplotron on two tracks, with background cellos on The Water's Edge and the title track.

Mads Langer  (Denmark)

Behold  (2011,  49.06)  *½

Mads Langer's second album is a sloppy, pseudo-American singer-songwriter effort, of the 'would like to be used on mainstream US TV shows' variety, shifting into a particularly unpalatable form of indie when it kicks up a gear. Just what the world needs. Nikolaj Torp and Claes Björklund are both credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Fact-Fiction simply... aren't.

Lani Singers  (West Papua)

Ninalik Ndawi  (2008,  40.51)  ***

Benny and Maria Wenda were granted asylum in the UK after fleeing the disputed West Papua territory, illegally annexed by Indonesia in the late '60s. Ninalik Ndawi tells their story, although without a translation of the lyrics, I'm afraid their message is largely lost on an English-speaking audience. Their harmonies are an acquired taste, having little in common with Western ideas of intonation, which I regard as my problem, not theirs. Musically, most of the album is much of a muchness, two voices riding over acoustic guitar and ukulele, the one stand-out being Yieouwai, a piece for treated vocal. Roger Harmar plays credited samplotron flutes on Elegeniro.

Lanky  (US)

Inner Onwriter  (2002,  38.30)  **½

New Jersey's Frank "Lanky" Stabile's Inner Onwriter is a commercial-end-of-singer-songwriter album, every bit as unexciting as that sounds. Wayne Dorell's credited Mellotron must be the cello samples on closer Bonus; yes, that's its actual title.

Karen Lano  (France)

My Name is Hope Webster  (2009,  33.51)  **½

Going by 2009's My Name is Hope Webster, Karen Lano writes melancholy folk/pop infused with more than a hint of her French heritage, despite singing in English. In fairness, it's a perfectly good album of its type, neatly avoiding the 'slush trap' of trying to appeal to crummy US TV shows by writing the kind of dross that everyone else writes, ending up sounding more like, say, Rickie Lee Jones than anyone contemporary. Kudos, incidentally, for a decent Neil Young cover, Don't Let It Bring You Down. Michael Leonhart is credited with Mellotron (as well as mellophone, confusingly), with a chordal flute part on The Clearing, doubtless sampled.

Lanzetti Roversi  (Italy)

Quasi English  (2015,  44.04)  ****

After the relative disappointment that was Cavalli-Cocchi, Lanzetti, Roversi's self-titled release from 2011, 2015's Quasi English (without drummer Gigi Cavalli-Cocchi) is a revelation: full-on Italian progressive rock, with no middle-aged Mediterranean balladry. The duo keep it varied, the gentle Heartsick Clever contrasting sharply with the prog-with-riffs of the first two tracks and the jazzy Latitude Aloud, although the album manages a cohesion denied to many lesser practitioners. They even cover Gentle Giant's Convenience (Clean And Easy), from 1980's underrated Civilian; to my embarrassment, I didn't recognise it... Roversi's credited with Mellotron, but I suspect he's back to his bad old ways, after using a real machine briefly, although... I could be wrong. The presumed samples turn up on most tracks, with distant choirs on the opening title track, more upfront ones (and what the hell are those strings?) on Worn To A Shine, strings all over Latitude Aloud... I think Heartsick Clever's the only track entirely free of it, though I could be wrong. Anyway, a fine effort, vastly better than its effective predecessor.

John Laprade  (US)

World-Class Faker  (2010,  40.38)  ***

John Laprade's World-Class Faker opens with the dirty blues-rock of Soul Shaker, although lighter efforts such as Blind or Infinity do him no favours. The album turns out to be a little inconsistent overall, although other highlights include the fiddle-driven country hoedown of Last Time and the raucous Knock You Down. Andrew Hollander's Mellotron credit consists of vague background strings on Knock You Down and flutes on Before There Was You; who knows, they might even be real.

Large Number  (UK)

Spray on Sound  (2003,  37.48)  ***

To call Spray on Sound an electronica album would probably be to miss the point. It's a collage of found sound, seemingly random samples and eccentric production decisions, while attempting to pinpoint any 'better tracks' would be futile; this really is one of those 'listen to in one hit' kind of records. Pierre Duplan plays samplotron string and flute lines on Autumn On Electris.

Patty Larkin  (US)

Red = Luck  (2003,  45.46)  **½

Patty Larkin plays medium-awful mainstream singer-songwriter pop/rock on Red = Luck, at its most listenable on its sparser material, including Normal and the title track. Mellotron use only ever rumoured; good job, as whatever we're hearing on opener All That Innocence has nothing to do with one.

Marit Larsen  (Norway)

Under the Surface  (2006,  36.55)  **½
Spark  (2011,  43.54)  **½

Marit Larsen is a Norwegian singer-songwriter at the poppier end of the spectrum, produced by Kåre Christoffer Vestrheim (Gluecifer, Morten Harket), whose first two Scandinavian albums, 2006's Under the Surface and The Chase, from two years later, have been cherry-picked for 2009's worldwide compilation If a Song Could Get Me You. While perfectly good at what it does, Under the Surface is a desperately unsatisfying listen for anyone interested in music below the surface, being no more than vapid adolescent pop; efficient pop, yet still pop. Vestrheim is credited with Mellotron, although the flutes on Only A Fool and The Sinking Game fail to convince. Spark is no more exciting, I'm afraid, probably at its best on the slightly overblown Fine Line. Vestrheim on 'Mellotron' again, with absolutely nothing audible on either I Can't Love You Anymore or Have You Ever.

Nathan Larson  (US)

FilmMusik  (2005, recorded 1998-2002,  45.33)  ***

Since Shudder to Think's dissolution, Nathan Larson has concentrated on scoring indie films, including Prozac Nation, Dirty Pretty Things and The Woodsman. FilmMusik is a compilation of, I presume, what he considers to be his best work in the genre, stronger on instrumental material such as opener Prozac (Prozac Nation), Mommy, Are Angels Dead? (Lilja 4-Ever) and Walter (The Woodsman), although the vocal tracks could quietly have been sidelined, to be honest. Mellotron? What, the chordal flutes and strings on Storytelling's Fiction? I don't think so...

Last Hard Men  (US)

The Last Hard Men  (1998/2001,  52.36)  **½

The Last Hard Men (named for the 1976 film) were a bizarre, one-off conglomeration of Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Jimmy Flemion (The Frogs), Kelley Deal (The Breeders) and Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin. Their sole, eponymous album is even more eclectic than that lineup suggests; possibly the oddest thing about the project is that they presented the finished product to Atlantic Records and were presumably surprised when it was turned down. It crept out on Deal's Nice Records in '98, subsequently re-sequenced and reissued in 2001 on Spitfire, the version reviewed here. And it sounds like...? A very knowing send-up of various '90s styles, complete with odd, between-song interview snippets with band members, all of whom are asked the same set of questions, subsequently explained as their views on themselves, sex etc. Hmmm. Musically speaking, odder tracks include a peculiar version of Alice Cooper's Schools Out, Deal's sardonic rendering of Rogers & Hammerstein's I Enjoy Being A Girl, Deal and Chamberlin's If You Want To Rock, Go To The Quarry and, possibly above all, an effectively straight cover of the Scorpions' deathless In Search Of The Peace Of Mind (from their 1972 debut, Lonesome Crow). Someone adds what are quite clearly samplotron string and flute parts to The Most Powerful Man In The World, but you really aren't going to bother tracking this down for one track of sampled Mellotron, frankly. I have no idea what persuaded the participants to record this; a sense of humour, probably, although at whom it might be aimed can only be a matter for conjecture. Fans of The Frogs?

The Last James  (Norway)

The Last James  (1993,  48.36)  ***
Kindergarten  (1996,  40.46)  ***½

Lars Pedersen (also of experimentalists When) formed the superbly-named The Last James during the '80s, releasing three albums over the course of the following decade. Their calling card was psychedelically-influenced powerpop, sitting somewhere in between (at their best) The Beatles and Syd's Floyd, although, to be brutally honest, their compositional chops weren't quite up to those of their mentors. Their second release, 1993's The Last James, is a decent enough album of its type, if a little unexciting in the cold light of day. Its relatively lightweight psychedelia is typified by material such as Goodbye Lyve, Oh Louisiana, Waiting For Sleep and No No No, although many tracks have an unfortunate tendency to start well, before slipping into mediocrity. In fairness, no-one's credited with Mellotron, as the exceedingly background strings on Oh Louisiana, flutes on Chrisbus Chrissieland and strings on Mama and No No No really don't have that ring of authenticity about them. Is this early eMu Vintage Keys use? Mellotron samples weren't easy to come by at that time, but the eMu module was released that year.

1996's Kindergarten is an all-round improvement, highlights including the opening title track, the powerpop of True Love Fades, the heavily psychedelic Civilization (opening with a brass fanfare over a sitar drone) and the Moody Blues-esque Watery (Part 1)/Drunk/Watery (Part 2)/Kindergarten (Reprise) segue that finished the album. Other notable features include the explicitly McCartney-esque vocal melody on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and the string arrangement on the sparse The King Has Left His Castle. Pedersen adds samplotron to several tracks, with queasy, wildly (and inauthentically) pitchbent strings all over the title track, also played too quickly to be real, with more strings on Waiting For The Day (played by Vidar Ersfjord), low string notes on Explore This Thing 'Bout Her and background strings on Watery (Part 1), Drunk, Watery (Part 2) and Kindergarten (Reprise).