Québec's Red Sand are helmed by guitarist/keyboard player Simon Caron, a man clearly in thrall to the likes of Marillion, Pendragon and the turgid Arena, for reasons known only to himself; I mean, look at their sub-Marillion logo: what were they thinking? For that matter, why copy crap bands when you could be influenced by good ones? It's easy, I suppose. All of their albums to date follow the same general template: a handful of tracks, mostly grossly distended epics, broken up by one or two shorter efforts, 'featuring' page upon page of sixth-form poetry (admittedly, written in English by a French-speaker), interrupted by lengthy, relatively tasteful guitar solos. It seems Caron just can't wait to spaff all over the mundane backing tracks, so he wails away every few minutes, seemingly regardless of what's actually going on musically at the time. On their debut, 2004's Mirror of Insanity, they suffer from the standard neo-prog delusion: they actually have something to say that anyone might want to hear. I blame Fish. Appropriately-titled twelve-minute opener Blame starts tastefully (if tediously) enough, but after a few minutes of picked guitar and muted vocal, it kicks into typical neo- gear, with one particularly horrible major-key moment. The ten-minute (see? Told you...) Children Memory again features a sort-of tasteful slow section, this time in the middle, but a serious lack of understanding of how to pace a lengthy piece leaves it dead in the water. Poor Mellotron samples throughout, notably the flutes at the end of Children Memory, the strings in the middle of the title track and the crummy choirs everywhere.
Again, the following year's Gentry doesn't start too badly, but before long, we're into mid-paced hell, guitar solos everywhere you look and awful, pseudo-pseudo-analogue synth leads that just scream '1988'. Caron's wilful lack of musical knowledge helps not one jot, causing him to play a repeated wrong note in his first solo (of several) in Submissive, while his patented Steve Rothery clean rhythm sound is very nasty indeed. Lyrically, all the usual clichés apply; what is it with neo-prog and bad cases of navel-gazing? And all these vocalists obsessed with their useless love-lives? I blame Fish. Usual samplotron stuff, notably the strings and flutes on Very Strange, sounding as fake as everything else here. 2007's Human Trafficking is, unsurprisingly, more of the same, the unmitigated rubbish of the eighteen-minute title track followed by the far shorter Lost, a palatable-enough guitar instrumental; unexciting in itself, it's pure genius in comparison to the dreary, plodding nonsense it follows. Another soul-destroying epic, Regrets, features what has to be one of the worst 'church organ' sounds I've ever heard, while the pseudotron choirs across the album are terrible; guys, there are better sample sets out there if you really have to... 2009's Music for Sharks almost made me cry; not because it moved me, but because it made me despair. No. Progression. Whatsoever. Or is there? Shark Man is the least terrible thing yet recorded by the band, actually utilising a modicum of creativity in the arrangement department, not to mention a previously unused snare-heavy rhythm that at least makes a change. Hurrah! Pity it's so fucking long. The rest of the album's the usual shit, though, as you might expect. Better Mellotron samples, for what it's worth, which is very little indeed. Also for what it's worth (also not very much), it isn't that All You Need Is Love.
You thought it was bad so far? You ain't seen nothing yet... 2012's Behind the Mask raises (lowers?) the game, succeeding in being even more painfully bereft of inspiration than its predecessors, copying Marillion almost note-for note in places. I mean, Mask Of Liberty IS, er, a track from Script for a Jester's Tear (The Web? I neither know nor, frankly, care), the mercifully relatively brief whole bringing me to the edge of utter despair. On the samplotron front, we get awful choir samples all over Behind The Mask and here and there elsewhere, for what it's worth, which is absolutely zero. If I say that the following year's Cinema du Vieux Cartier is a great improvement, it isn't meant as any kind of recommendation, merely an acknowledgement that the album's nowhere near as bad as its predecessor, helped along by several piano segments, dovetailing with the record's film-themed concept. In fact, opener Au Vieux Cinéma actually isn't too bad, although there are far too many sub-sub-Gilmour/Rothery guitar moments and bland, major-chord synth washes for this to ever win any awards for originality. Once again, samplotron choirs here and there. Whatever. What really offends me about this kind (OK, most kinds) of neo-prog is its towering lack of ambition; progressive rock appeared over forty years ago and has now spawned dozens of sub-genres, yet certain bands are happy to produce album after album of simplistic crud, with no attempt made to progress. Big Big Train progressed; why can't Red Sand? No, I cannot recommend any of these on any grounds whatsoever. I blame Fish.
Redbeard is Connecticut's Sam Miller's alter-ego, her self-titled album a somewhat overlong, slightly jazzy alt.folk effort that would've been strengthened by a good edit. As has been noted elsewhere, there's nothing wrong with any of her songs, while her contralto makes a nice change from the Joanna Newsom-style yelps that characterise a lot of the competition, but there's simply too much of it. Highlights? Athena and Red Night, maybe. Co-producer Nick Lloyd is credited with Chamberlin, with a handful of flute notes on The Surprise, although I'm not convinced by their veracity.
Redshift are led by veteran British electronic artist Mark Shreeve (also of ARC), who released a host of solo album in the '80s. They debuted with an eponymous effort in 1996, very typical 'Berlin School' EM, albeit better than many (doubtless due to Shreeve's considerable experience in the field), opening with its probable best piece in Redshift itself, although closer Blueshift finishes with what sounds like an EM take on a famous hymn tune that I'm struggling to place. Shreeve plays Mellotron samples (choir, strings and flute, credited as 'Mellotron') variously on all tracks, in a fairly standard Tangs (Aargh! I said it! I used the 'T' word! OK, the other 'T' word) kind of way, so no surprises here. Have Redshift used those samples again? Probably, as once an EM artist gets hold of a Mellotron sample set, they tend to hang onto them for grim death, whacking them all over everything they do with abandon. However, as I haven't heard any of Redshift's later work, I can't actually tell you for certain (er, see below...).
Unusually for the genre, 2001's Down Time opens with a couple of minutes of solo Rhodes, then as the rhythm gently builds up, a vocal-through-Leslie effect enters the fray, the sequenced synths building into a series of most un-EM-like crescendos. Hey, composed music! Who'd'ha thunk it, eh? As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that this is one of the very best things I've heard from a moribund genre in a long time; Redshift are unafraid to take chances, incorporate elements from other areas (not least the techno rhythms and guitar chords and solo on Mania) and generally do something different. It's robbed of an unprecedented extra half star by its forgettable closing title track and predictably excessive length, neither of which stop this being a rare modern EM delight. Of course, we get the usual samplotron stuff, with string pads, a flute melody, choirs and even some very Tangs-esque string section on opener Nails and a solo flute part at the end of Protoland, amongst other parts. The following year's live Faultline, while a good, dynamic set, lacks Down Time's highlights, despite the occasional piece of storming synth work and some ripping guitar. Samplotron on several tracks, mostly strings, with bursts of choir or flute every now and again, which, I'd be the first to admit, doesn't give you much idea what this album's actually like. It's like a live EM album, I suppose, more inventive than many, but not their best.
The Redwalls mix powerpop with 'rock'n'roll', whatever you take that to mean. Their second album, 2005's De Nova, is entirely unoriginal, but entertaining enough, although few of the songs seem to have the kind of staying power a band of this kind needs so badly, although opener Robinson Crusoe, Love You and the Stonesy It's Alright aren't bad. No-one's credited with Mellotron and indeed, it sounds somewhat on the fake side, with strings on Thank You, Hung Up On The Way I'm Feeling, Front Page and Back Together that are most likely samples. Overall, then, a passable effort in the 'attempting iconic rock'n'roll' stakes, but it all falls rather short, sadly. If anyone knows any more about the Mellotron sounds used, please let me know...
Reformation's female-fronted Fatal Expectation sits somewhere in between progressive, ambient, jazz, post-rock and old-school hard rock, the end result being disconcertingly eclectic, which can work against it. I'm not sure trying to pinpoint 'best tracks' is relevant, but the funky, Clavinet-driven Lady In Red is definitely the oddest thing here. Matt Penco's 'Mellotron' on Fell And Forgotten and its closing reprise? I don't think so.
Regan Sprenkle's Coming or Going? (backed by Agents of Good Roots) is an indie-end-of-singer-songwriter album, harmless, yet deadly dull, only scraping that extra half star due to its overall inoffensiveness. Stewart Myers's Mellotron? Surely not the strings on Carry On and closer Nickel? Really?
Stylistically, Jon Regen's Revolution shifts between piano balladry and a more upbeat pop/rock approach, neither especially interesting, despite some nice Wurlitzer work. The energetic Fighting For Your Love is rather better, although I'm less convinced by the soul/pop of closer Run Away. Regen and Matt Rollings's 'Mellotron'? Sampled flutes on She's Not You (But Tonight She'll Have To Do), possible choppy flutes on the opening title track.
The first and best of the UK Genesis tributes started life in 1994 as Geneside (ho ho), dropping the name a year later after having it consistently misspelled by promoters and deciding it sounded 'a bit metal'. At the same time, they took on yours truly as roadie/driver/general factotum, a working relationship that lasted six years, giving me a fairly unique view into what made the band tick. And it wasn't a pretty sight... I only missed one gig in those six years, which was, of course, the one they recorded for their first album, ReGenesis Live (never did work out the inspiration for that one), with a much sought-after video also receiving a brief release. Despite a slightly murky sound (straight to DAT from the desk), it captures the energy they put out gig after gig (150 in six years - pretty good going for a bunch of guys in full-time work...), with the strongest numbers from their set at the time. Keyboard man Doug Melbourne had just purchased a Roland M-VS1 module (identical to the 'vintage synth' expansion board for their JV1080 rack synth) and made good use of it on four of the five live tracks. To explain... tracks six and seven are two of the three tracks from their original '94 demo for getting gigs, their 'Mellotron' parts rather less, er, Mellotron-like.
Here it Comes Again... was a more professional affair all round, recorded onto digital 24-track, the difference immediately apparent. It features the best of their repertoire that didn't make it to the first album, although a couple of less obvious choices might've been nice; to my knowledge, there's no (official) live version of Can-Utility And The Coastliners available anywhere, by Genesis or otherwise (although there are probably good musical reasons why it didn't make it here) and ReGen never released their storming take on The Fountain Of Salmacis, either. Anyway, good versions all round here, with four of the eight tracks featuring Doug's M-VS1 again in its usual role, along with his rather gorgeous Prophet V for all the lead synth parts.
ReGenesis played their biggest gig yet in March 2001, to well over a thousand people at G2, the Second UK Genesis convention, unveiling their complete 'Lamb' show, which was, of course, filmed and recorded onto multitrack. Lamb for Supper - Live 2001 is an edited version of the show, although the entire thing's available on video, I believe. New-ish singer Tony Patterson does a pretty good Gabriel impersonation and plays the flute and, in places, the band actually fool your ear into thinking it's the real thing; you can't give a tribute band much higher praise than that, I suppose. By this point, Doug was using a combination of his Roland module and some super-high quality samples (for the choirs), with Chamber Of 32 Doors and Los Endos being 'Mellotronic' highlights. It has to be pointed out that there's some rather dodgy playing here and there; the contrast between Dance On A Volcano (new to the set) and Los Endos (been played for years) is startling, but then, when did Genesis ever play a perfect gig?
ReGen actually used my own Mellotron twice, at the same venue, the Putney Half Moon (back room of a pub, basically), once in summer '96 and again in February '01, but, sadly, neither was professionally recorded, even from the desk. Doug left the band after their '01 autumn tour and I've no idea what his successor uses on the fakeotron front, although unlike a tribute to another famous British prog outfit I could name, at least he uses Mellotron samples, not just generic string and flute patches... Should you buy these albums? Search me - despite working for the band, I never entirely saw the point of releasing albums of Genesis covers, played identically to the originals, other than as a good way of bumping up gig profits or, in some cases, making any profit at all. After the release of Genesis' own Archive box sets, there's nothing on any of these three albums that doesn't have an 'official' counterpart, which is why Can-Utility would've been such a good idea. Then again... There's a handful of other tracks that ReGen played at one point or another for which there are no official versions (The Battle Of Epping Forest and a couple of post-Gabriel songs I believe they've introduced to the set more recently), so it's up to you whether or not you reckon these albums are worth hearing.
I haven't heard 2002's Melbourne-less 2002 Tour Official Bootleg, but 2010's Live at the Empire is an excellent, edited version of their 2009 show, finally giving us both Salmacis and Get 'Em Out By Friday, not to mention Stagnation and versions of some previously-available tracks. It highlights something I'd never really noticed before: using modern emulators for vintage sounds, not least the Mellotron strings, choir and flute heard here, even when they're genuine analogue synths, produces a sound that's too clean for its own good, with no dirt under its fingernails. Impeccably performed, but the discerning ear can spot the difference.
My big question is: why does Jim Reilley feel he has to vocally ape Bob Dylan, hardly the world's best singer? Admittedly, one of the most iconic, but not someone many of us would claim had anything even remotely approximating a... voice. The trouble is, if you don't like Saint Bob's dulcet tones, Reilley's spot-on impersonation might actually put you off his actually rather good songs. Anyway, with naught but inaudible samplotron, this isn't one for Planet Mellotron readers anyway.
Megan Reilly's Let Your Ghost Go is a melancholy singer-songwriter album with a touch of the gentle end of alt.rock about it, at its best on the organ-led Boy As A Bird and her cover of early Thin Lizzy ballad Little Girl In Bloom. Eric Morrison's Mellotron flutes on closer The Husband at first sound genuine, until it becomes apparent that they're most likely samples manipulated to sound like the Real Deal.
Oh shit - another American Idol finalist (not even a winner). In fairness, some of Listen Up! is relatively harmless, but getting some hip-hop dude in on opener Oh My! does it no favours. About the best this overproduced mess manages is 'tiresomely mainstream'. Chris Seefried's 'Mellotron' on Wonderland? Isn't.
LA-based film score composer Brian Reitzell's debut album, 2014's Auto Music, features a host of collaborators, from My Morning Jacket's Jim James to My Bloody Valentine's semi-reclusive Kevin Shields and Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, a host of others). The instrumental end result is, unsurprisingly, soundtracky, the only piece even featuring a recognisable hook being personal favourite Oskar (runner-up: closer Auto Music 2). Last Summer, Gaudi and Honeycomb all sit in the 'ambient' area, both parts of the title track are closer to space-rock, while Ozu is textbook post-rock, so, despite the disc being a little overlong, at least it features a variety of styles. Reitzell and Dave Palmer are credited with Mellotron, but, despite the involvement of vintage gear freak Manning, it all sounds sampled to my ears. Anyway, we get Reitzell and Palmer doing something inaudible on Last Summer, Reitzell on exceedingly background flutes on Gaudi, suspiciously-nimble echoed flute and string lines from Palmer on Auto Music 1 and upfront strings and flutes, combined and apart, on 2. More for post-rock and ambient fans than soundtrack or electronic music buffs, I'd have said, with some decent samplotron parts.
Relient K are a Christian rock band, as against a CCM act, although they still have that irritating CCM habit of churning much of their material into cheese, as against leaving it as merely music. Five Score & Seven Years Ago is their fifth album in seven years, partly explaining the title (it's also a play on Abraham Lincoln's opening to the Gettysburg Address, apparently), particularly infuriating for its moments of real passion, linked by endless minutes of sloppy, over-emoting nonsense. In fairness, the God aspect isn't too explicit, but it's there. Worst track? Has to be the pretty-damn'-tasteless, not to mention toweringly solipsistic Faking My Own Suicide. Is this a joke? We can only hope so. Best track? Eleven-minute closer Deathbed, despite its 'Jesus will come to take me home' not-so subtext. Deathbed is also home to the album's only samplotron work, with a brief flute part from Matt Thiessen.
Remy Stroomer is a surprisingly young Dutch electronic musician, in a genre where the average age of 'second wave' EMers is somewhere in the late forties. 2004's Different Shades of Dust is something like his fourth release (depending on what you count), standing out from the pack by concentrating on melody as much as the genre's 'traditional' elements: rhythm, texture and improvisational ability. Opener Following Differences is eighteen minutes of well-constructed EM, possibly not definable as 'Berlin School', Shades In Darkness has a faint techno feel, while Moving Through Dust features several instances of true composition, as against the usual 'let the virtual tape run and start playing'. Samplotron on all three tracks, mainly heavily-reverbed choirs that are never going to fool even the untrained ear. 2006's Sense is a very different album, far more experimental, although, sadly, rather less listenable as a result, with considerable use of sampled dialogue and even singing, more sub-techno moves and considerable use of synths as they were originally intended: producers of sound, rather than as actual musical instruments. More samplotron this time round, with choir on most tracks and a lengthy, repeating (clearly sequenced) string part on Mortality. So; ambitious? Yes. Different? Definitely. A good listen? Hmmm...
Canadian actress Colleen Rennison's debut album, 2014's See the Sky About to Rain, is a covers collection with a difference: while the artists covered may be (partially) familiar, the songs, by and large, are not, at least to the casual observer. Leonard Cohen's Why Don't You Try (from '74's New Skin for the Old Ceremony), Joni Mitchell's Coyote ('76's Hejira), The Band's All La Glory and the title track from '70's Stage Fright, Neil Young's See The Sky About To Rain ('74's On the Beach). I should know them, but, to my chagrin, I don't. And I own a copy of the last-named... After a slew of 'heard it all before' covers albums, it's refreshing to encounter one compiled by someone with a real knowledge of and love for the covered artists, rather than the usual 'this'll do' approach. Steve Dawson does his usual 'inaudible Mellotron' trick on Coyote. The vibes? Or is that the track's Wurly piano? Quite certainly not a real Mellotron, either way, as with every other Mellotron credit of his, as far as I can ascertain. Anyway, a decent set of relatively trad.country, without the schmaltz and with an impeccable set of songs.
The Absent & the Distant is one of the most passively/aggressively miserable albums I've heard in a while, quietly screaming Corrina Repp's sadness to the world. Her 'Mellotron' credit is for the obvious samplotron flutes on I'll Walk You Out.
The Reputation were formed by Elizabeth Elmore while she was at college, backed by a revolving-door set of musicians. Their first album (of two), 2002's The Reputation, has various influences quoted in online sources, none of which mention powerpop, the overriding one across much of its length to my ears. Admittedly, typical indie, generic singer-songwriter and even punk (US '80s version) are to be found somewhere in the mix, but the first half of the album leans heavily on the melody-with-oomph brigade. Elmore plays samplotron, with strings all over the lengthy For The Win.
Rescue are a Detroit-based indie outfit, whose fourth album, 2006's Paranoid (er, hasn't somebody else already used that title? Perhaps it's in homage, eh?), might make a decent EP if you collated its best tracks together and did some serious editing, but an hour-plus album? Frankly, this goes on and on and on... Less bad tracks include We Bond (were it heavily edited) and the vaguely angular Through/Suit, but we're really clutching at straws here. Alan Scheurman and C(hris) Lazlo Koltay supposedly play Mellotron. Really? Where? The strings on We Bond? Flutes on the untitled track seven? Nah... Sorry, guys, this bored the crap out of me and I can't even hear any real Mellotron. That's a 'no', then.
The Beat Tales Guy is an indie/pop/rock album that occasionally transcends its influences, notably on the sitar-driven Right By The Way You Are and closer You're What I Want. Nick Saya's Mellotron credit? Those background flutes on opener Northwest Train or the strings on several tracks? I think not.
I only know of one Retox Panic album, 2011's This City Burns, a rather tiresome orchestral-ish indie effort, at its least dull on Remember This Way Up and Barfly Highs, possibly. Nikolaj Torp Larsen is credited with Mellotron on several tracks, but, as with several other credits of his, although the samples are good, I'm pretty sure they're samples.
Retroheads were formed by Tore Bø Bendixen, who, according to some spiel about the band that's plastered all over the 'Net, "Had been working several years as a commercial music- and sound-producer for radio and TV". Well, I'm afraid to say, it shows. Retrospective opens well enough, but before long, a mainstreamish neo-proggy feel kicks in, only letting up occasionally, with various other rock clichés rearing their ugly heads on a depressingly regular basis (see: the guitar arpeggios on opener Earthsong). That isn't to say that this is a bad album, just a rather generic and average one, that could've done with some heavy editing and total removal of the female backing vocals. Of course, you the listener may totally disagree and, in fairness, there are many good moments, although none are sustained for long enough to really hold the attention. The aforementioned spiel contains a very noticeable caveat; "They use the latest available technology and VST instruments to emulate the real thing. After all; It's not the way you create music that matters: It's the way you think". Roughly translated, this means, "We use a load of sampled sounds which don't quite cut it, rather than making the effort to sound really good". Glad that one's cleared up, then. The Mellotron samples aren't bad, as samples go, but they're far too 'smooth' to pass muster as the real thing. Strings all over the place, with a side helping of flutes, making for a decent enough (fake) Mellotron album, as long as you ignore much of the actual music.
Two years on and they follow up with Introspective (I can see this thread running out before long). It's an improvement on its predecessor (if still overlong), although most tracks still infuriatingly mix good bits with bad bits, opener Rainy Day being a prime example. A heavy bout of editing would've improved this no end, I'd say. Once again, samplotron strings and flutes on several tracks, sounding about as good as samples are going to get. To be perfectly honest, something about the whole concept of a band calling themselves Retroheads and releasing an album called Retrospective just sticks in my craw, I'm afraid. Did Änglagård need to call attention to their 'retro' tendencies in this way? I think not, although Introspective's an improvement, if no classic. Sorry to be so harsh, but their debut really is quite disappointing.
I believe 2004's Pure is German guitarist Markus Reuter and British synthesist Ian Boddy's fourth collaboration, definitely and defiantly 'ambient' as against 'Berlin School'. Its eleven relatively short tracks seem to consist largely of Boddy's manipulations of Reuter's various touch guitar excursions, the end results working better on some tracks (opener Presence, Glisten) than others (Clearing, the techno-lite of The Level). It's only one man's opinion, but had the duo chopped some of the more dance-influenced material (I use the term extremely loosely), the album might have been more concise and cohesive. Boddy is credited with sampled Mellotron, which makes a nice change from the usual fakers, adding 'infinite sustain' choir to Immersion, in a manner that's unlikely to fool even the least experienced sample-spotter. So; is this any good? In places, yes, but too much of it left me cold for me to really be able to recommend it.
Reverend & the Makers are a Sheffield-based indie outfit, led by Jon "The Reverend" McClure, whose second album, 2009's A French Kiss in the Chaos, is a strange mixture of mainstream indie, original psych and mid-'60s pre-psych. Maybe its songs take a few listens to sink in, but initial listens indicate a pretty typical indie approach, albeit one far more palatable than the likes of the 'where are they now?' Arctic Monkeys. Laura Manuel is credited with Mellotron, but the background strings on a couple of tracks and flutes on closer Hard Time For Dreamers sound somewhat inauthentic to my ears. Anyway, unless you're a fan of current UK indie, you're most unlikely to get much out of this, fake Mellotron or no fake Mellotron.
I don't know whether Glen Reynolds has made more than the one album; if he has, let's hope it's nothing like In Between Days. This is the worst kind of indie/singer-songwriter guff, tailor-made for attempting to shoehorn itself onto the soundtrack of some crummy US TV show, all winsome major-key stuff with no obviously better tracks. Trey Pendergrass plays grungy samplotron strings on Wonderland and Hitchhike To Nowhere, for what it's worth, which isn't much.
30,000 Little Adventures is a superior pop/punk album, at its best on Dry and the humorous No Cheese, maybe, while hugely extended closer This Is Ours Reprise sees the band jamming out in psychedelic mode. Jay Pulliam is credited with Mellotron. If you'll allow me... Their Facebook page features a link to a new mix of This Is Ours, stating that they "...discovered a nice Mellotron part that wasn't used". Upon following the link to Soundcloud, you find a reference to a Korg 01/W. Let that sink in for a moment. A Korg 01/W. I mean, it sounds like a fucking Korg 01/W, so I'm not the slightest bit surprised. 'Mellotron'? This is clearly some modern usage of the word, meaning 'keyboard strings'; actually, it was exactly the same in the '70s, albeit with string synths. What goes around clearly comes around. Not a Mellotron, then.
The oddly-spelled Johnathan Rice is a pretty typical modern singer-songwriter, all over-emoting musical drool and blander-than-bland arrangements, assuming his debut, 2005's Trouble is Real, is anything to go by. The album's so faceless that most of it slipped past without me even noticing, including his take on Gram Parsons' Hickory Wind, so any attempt to say anything more about its contents would be fruitless. Mike Mogis plays samplotron, with a jaunty flute part all over Stay At Home.
Miranda Lee Richards' third album is, sad to say, as dreary as her 2001 debut, its indie/Americana so low-key that it's almost nonexistent. She's credited with Mellotron, but I've no idea where. The strings on That Baby?
The Richies are one of Australia's top powerpop bands, comprising members of other fêted outfits. Their debut, 2003's Forever & Today, is an immaculately produced record, highlights including I Wanna Make It With You, Little Petty Things, Today (Part 2) and the two 'backwards' sections, although, in truth, there isn't a bad track here. There also isn't anything of any great originality, but how many older genres really have anything new to say, anyway? Most 'genre' outfits settle for writing material as well as they can within the confines of their style; we can argue 'til the cows come home whether or not this is inferior to producing original rubbish. Drummer Michael Carpenter and guitarist Eddie Owen both play samplotron, with strings on Every Little Thing and Little Charms, plus flutes and strings on My Love Is True.
I've seen Jolie Rickman optimistically compared to Rickie Lee Jones, but her fragile voice and sparse arrangements on the somewhat overlong Suffer to Be Beautiful are not so much 'subtle' as 'hollow'. Rickman plays barely-Mellotronic choirs on Chicago and strings on Silence. Tragically, she died of ovarian cancer a few years after this album's release, aged just thirty-five. R.I.P.
Now boyz'n'gurlz, we're going to play a guessing game. Have a look at titles such as God Of All Glory, Hallowed Father, Call To Praise and God Moves In A Mysterious Way and tell me in which genre Jeremy Riddle operates. Nope? Sure? OK, I'll let you in on a secret: Jeremy Riddle is a Christian artist. Shocking, eh? You'd never have guessed, would you? OK, enough sarcasm already. Riddle's debut album, 2007's Full Attention, crosses (pun intended) his lyrical awestruck reverence with a sub-U2 approach, which is possibly even worse than it sounds. Without his infuriating, breathy vocals and his stuck-in-a-groove subject matter, this would merely be a fairly bad modern pop/rock effort, but factor those in and it's truly, truly horrible. Fully vom-worthy, in fact. Ben West and Bob Hartry allegedly play Mellotron, but the sub-'Strawberry Fields'-esque flute part on the title track and the strings on a couple of others sound distinctly un-Mellotronlike to my untrained (but reasonably experienced) ear. In fact, I'm not even sure they're samples, but generic flute and string sounds credited as 'Mellotron', for some strange reason. Anyway, an utterly hideous album with no obvious real tape-replay. Destroy, destroy, destroy...
Stan Ridgway is known in Britain, if at all, for his one-off novelty 'Nam hit Camouflage, but is best remembered 'round these parts for his first band, the Wall of Voodoo's classic Mexican Radio, as later covered, in truly surreal fashion, by Swiss avant-metallers Celtic Frost. 2002's Holiday in Dirt is a collection of outtakes, b-sides etc, several of them seemingly finished off for the compilation and none, repeat none of them third-rate rejects left off previous releases due to a lack of quality. Highpoints include Garage Band '69, Whatever Happened to You? and Beloved Movie Star Redux, not to mention the superb unlisted track, a version of Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors sung as if by some bitter, twisted shadowy management figure, jealous of his client's talent. Killer. One samplotron track, from Ridgway's wife Pietra Wexstun, with flutes on Operator Help Me. The following year brought a full collaboration with Wexstun, Mark Ryden: Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow & Fear, a companion piece to a friend's exhibition, I believe. Little like the above, this is an album of quiet beauty, frequently bordering ambient, without that genre's insistence on completely fading into the background. Wexstun's credited with Mellotron and Ridgway with Chamberlin, but I've no idea why. 2004's Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs, another excellent set of Ridgway vignettes, credits Wexstun on Mellotron on no fewer than five tracks, clearly sampled.
Bill Rieflin has a largish musical résumé, but is best known for his work on the drum stool for Ministry and the Revolting Cocks/Revco (surely one of the best-named bands ever?) and, after a lengthy friendship with Peter Buck, it seems he's now also R.E.M.'s touring drummer. Birth of a Giant is his first solo album, with considerable input from Robert Fripp and Trey Gunn of King Crimson and yes, it shows. I've seen it described as 'dark, heavy electronica' and that doesn't seem to be too far off the mark; it's a dense, claustrophobic record that still apparently manages to be one of the 'lighter' offerings in Rieflin's discography. Heavily percussive, even the gentler pieces here are quite propulsive, contrasting oddly with Rieflin's half-spoken vocals and the drifting synths that crop up almost everywhere you look. There doesn't seem to be that much variety on offer, at least on an initial listen, but I'm sure fans of the album will take me to task for saying so. Multi-instrumentalist Rieflin is credited with Mellotron, alongside what seems to be almost everything else; the only place it even might be is on overlong closer Outro (Non Intro), clearly sampled.
Musically active since the late '70s, Til the Wheels Fall Off is Amy Rigby's fourth album in a solo career running since the mid-'90s. The music's decent enough, but Rigby's strength lies in her lyrics, notably Don't Ever Change and Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again? She's credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on Shopping Around and Don't Ever Change fail on the authenticity front.
Rilo Kiley were formed in L.A. by former child actors Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett, giving them an instant entrée into the world of TV and film soundtracks. He says, cynically. Going by their third full album, the mistitled More Adventurous, they play the kind of squeaky-clean indie pop/rock that seems to captivate untold millions of young people, for no seemingly discernable reason. Why do people like this kind of music? Its emotional content? It's easy to sing along to? It speaks to them? The only thing it says to me is, "I'm extremely dull, go and listen to something else", but then, I'm not a Young Person and haven't been for a long time, so it'd probably be a bit scary if I did like it. Samplotron from Lewis and Sennett, with a reasonable flute part on Does He Love You? (although the strings are real) and a few notes at the beginning of the oddly-titled Accidntel Deth.
LeAnn Rimes had her first major hit at the tender age of thirteen, making her now a veteran of the country scene in her late twenties. She's found her niche in the country-pop market, although her tenth album, 2007's Family, is no worse than many others in the genre and better than many (the horrible Gloriana spring to mind). LeAnn actually experiments with different approaches on the record, not least the soul/blues of One Day Too Long, which is a long way from what you might expect of a contemporary country singer, although I could've done without the 'bonus' Jon Bon bleedin-Jovi duet Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore. Tim Lauer plays samplotron, with flutes on Fight.
Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin began releasing records as Les Rita Mitsouko in the mid-'80s, in an ironic chanson/folk/punk/electro crossover style. Tragically, Chichin died in 2007, mere months after the duo released Variéty (also released in English as Variety), only their seventh album, which would probably work well as a primer for the band, veering between, er, acoustic synthpop (Rêverie/Daydream), ironic metal (Berceuse/Lullaby) and pseudo-'60s French pop crossed with synthpop again (Soir De Peine/Time You Call). Mark Plati guests on samplotron, with background strings on Badluck Queen.