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Scene Aesthetic  (US)

Brother  (2010,  48.00)  *

The Scene Aesthetic are the Seattle-based duo of Andrew de Torres (of Danger Radio, whoever they are) and Eric Bowley, who took a break in 2008 for the latter to travel to Argentina as a Mormon missionary. Does that tell you everything you need to know about them? Their third album, 2010's Brother (also issued with the companion Sister EP as Brother & Sister, predictably), is the blandest heap of dross to land on my desk since, well, the last album I reviewed actually, but it hasn't been a good day. Every song vies with every other to outdo its companions in the wet stakes, replete with insipid twin-lead vocals, lighter-than-helium melodies and offensive-in-their-inoffensiveness, happy-clappy (though not noticeably religiously so) backing tracks. Zac Rae allegedly plays Mellotron, with background flutes and strings on Humans and strings on Katy (Give Me A Shot), although all other strings appear to be real. Christ, this is nasty; each member of the duo, rather like their songs, compete to sound wetter and more fragile (and not in a good way) than each other. Vile.

Scenic  (US)

The Acid Gospel Experience  (2002,  73.12)  **½

The title of Scenic's The Acid Gospel Experience probably tells you more about where the band are coming from than their name. If I'm going to be brutally honest, these hour-plus albums of ambient whatever bore the crap out of me after a while; no doubt I'm not doing the right (or any) drugs. It seems to be good at what it does, but please don't ever make me listen to this again. Wrong generation, I think. Alleged Chamberlin from Robert Loveless and James Brenner, with strings on opener Year Of The Rat and occasional choirs and strings on (deep breath) A Journey Through The Outer Reaches Of Inner Space, the strings on Lightspeed and others carrying on long enough to give their sample origins away.

Noel Schajris  (Mexico)

Uno No es Uno  (2009,  50.26)  **

Nahuel Schajris "Noel Schajris" Rodríguez, ex-Sin Bandera, is actually Argentinian by birth, relocating to Mexico in the '90s. 2009's Uno No es Uno is his first solo album, mixing Latin balladry with more upbeat styles in a way that is unlikely to appeal to a Western rock audience. Like he cares. To absolutely no-one's surprise, Schajris' 'Mellotron' appears to be sampled, the attack portions of the notes being too long and regular. Anyway, we get strings and flutes on No Importa, flutes on bonus track Regresar and a reprise of No Importa's strings and flutes on the bonus Solo Noel version. Are you going to bother to hear it for yourself? Shouldn't think so, no.

Rocko Schamoni & Little Machine  (Germany)

Rocko Schamoni & Little Machine  (2007,  37.09)  **½

Rocko Schamoni plays a form of German-language indie featuring a strong '60s influence on Rocko Schamoni & Little Machine, at its least tiresome on the jazzy You Can Have What's Left Of My Heart and The Silence Of The Snow. Jonas Landerschier plays blatantly sampled Mellotron strings and choirs on Leben Hei├čt Sterben Lernen, Weiter and Jugendliche (spot the bogus pitchbends), amongst others.

Graziella Schazad  (Germany)

Feel Who I am  (2010,  45.26)  **½

Graziella Schazad is a German English-language singer-songwriter, whose second album, 2010's Feel Who I am, is far less appalling than I'd been expecting, which isn't to say that it doesn't largely consist of mainstream fare; it does. Somehow, though, it mostly manages not to offend, although I feel the country material (Everybody, Miracle, Désolé) is a bit of a mistake. Top track? Probably her radical reworking of A-Ha's Take On Me, preserving all the song's elements while making it her own. Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams) plays background samplotron flutes on Miracle.

Luca Scherani  (Italy)

Everyday's Life  (2007,  45.02)  ***½

Luca Scherani is a sometime member of Finisterre and their offshoot Höstsonaten, as well as playing on Zuffanti & Heward's Merlin project and has found time to record a solo album, Everyday's Life. It's an eclectic mix, going from 'straight' prog, through electro-tinged jazz (Anonimous) to an almost lounge feel on parts of the title track, not to mention a soundtracky feel on several tracks. Disconcertingly, it frequently switches styles within songs, but then, isn't that sort of experimentation what progressive rock should be about? Almost entirely instrumental, the only vocals (not to mention the only guitar solo on the former) are on Solo Chi Ha Sofferto and Soli, so don't panic; no terrible neo-prog singers here. Luca has generously not only sent me his album, but has owned up to using Mellotron samples, which he employs with considerable taste, rather than the usual 'do 'em to death' approach. Most tracks feature some strings, with the odd bit of choir; if it were real, it would probably get a TT to TT½ rating. So; I'm not saying that I like all of this album, but it's most professionally done and some of the music will appeal to the Italian prog fan. Worthwhile.

Brandon Schott  (US)

Release  (2003,  41.57)  **½
Golden State  (2007,  41.24)  **

Plasticsoul's Brandon Schott's Release starts well, with gentle opener Sunday A.M., other better material including One Man's Poison and Still Life, but the bulk of the album's too poppy for this reviewer's taste. Schott plays sampled Chamberlin flutes on Afterglow and possible strings on One Man's Poison. Four years on, Golden State is a far more subtle record although, sadly, less interesting. I'm not even sure why Schott gets a Chamby credit this time round; the something-or-other on Hourglass?

Janne Schra  (Netherlands)

Ponzo  (2015,  37.53)  ***

2015's Ponzo is Janne Schra's second album, although she had considerable success a decade earlier with Room Eleven. It sits somewhere between jazz, pop and indie, although the end result is more pleasing than that unpromising description might suggest. Not, you understand, that I'll be returning to this any time soon (read: at all), but it does what it does with vigour and skill, which immediately elevates it above the vast majority of current pop albums. Torre Florim and Jonathan Brown are variously credited with Mellotron, but, despite being credited on four tracks (Ship, Everything I Do Ooh Ooh, The Show and You Are Still New), it only turns up on the last-named, with obviously sampled low flutes and strings. Just to confuse the issue, the flutes also turn up, uncredited, on City. Who the hell wrote the sleeve credits?

Greg Schroeder  (US)

Schroeder  (2011,  35.44)  ***

Greg Schroeder plays pretty straightforward Americana on Schroeder, possibly at its best on gentle closers I'll Wait and Lullaby and at its most generic on Won't Do You Wrong's by-numbers rock'n'roll. Chad Stockslager's Mellotron? Inaudible.

Sébastien Schuller  (France)

Evenfall  (2009,  47.34)  **½

Sébastien Schuller is a French singer-songwriter, working mainly in English, who's been involved in film soundtracks alongside his solo career. 2009's Evenfall is only his second full album in a decade, ignoring several EPs, an unfortunately typical-sounding modern effort within its genre, crossing over into that rather tedious 'transcendent indie' sound, only successfully translated onto record by Sigur Rós. Better tracks include opener Morning Mist and New York, but that isn't saying that much, I'm sorry to say. Schuller plays samplotron himself, with strings and inaudible choir on Balançoire, including a heavy pitchbend at the end of the song, background flutes on Awakening and maybe faint flutes on Battle.

Idde Schultz  (Sweden)

Vad Man Gör (och Inte Gör)  (1997,  44.01)  **½

Eva Ann-Ida "Idde" Schultz' Vad Man Gör (och Inte Gör) (What One Does (and Does Not)) kicks off with the propulsive powerpop of opener Hunger, after which, sadly, it slumps into a morass of mainstream pop/rock of the likes of Riktigt På Riktigt or Faller. Schultz and Dag Lundquist are credited with Mellotron, but the strings on Riktigt På Riktigt and complex flute part on the title track fail to ring true.

Klaus Schulze  (Germany)  see:

Klaus Schulze

Schwarz  (Spain)

Hard Listening  (2000,  66.44)  ***
Cheesy  (2002,  46.31)  **½

Although Schwarz are often lumped in with the modern psych/space-rock crowd, the overwhelming influence on their second album, Hard Listening (LOVE it when bands from non-English speaking countries pun in English!) is post-rock. Yup, this basically sounds like Mogwai with some psych/prog bits thrown in, not least the Theremin on Sun And Moon Vibrations, although Narcotic is definitely more late-'60s than late-'90s. Band leader Alfonso Schwarz, also known as Alfonso Alfonso (real surname unknown) seems to have a pretty coherent vision for his band and as long as you accept said vision, you'll probably enjoy what they do. Sadly, I don't really get it, but it seems to be passably good at what it does (he said, grudgingly). María "Ma" Dolores González (and, reputedly, Alfonso himself) play 'Mellotron', although its veracity has to be considered suspect, to the point where I've put it in 'samples' until/if anyone proves it's real. Anyway, there's some rather murky flutes on Travels Without Moving and the same, low in the mix, on Outsider, only surfacing as the other instruments die away, although the flute runs at the end of Tsunami are presumably generic samples, as no-one's credited with a real one. A high string line on Through Your Eyes is trumped by the full-on strings in Moonsickness, but it all sounds a bit fake to my ears. Go on, prove me wrong.

The band released two discs in 2002, the Plays Christian Music EP and the Cheesy album, recorded at the same sessions but regarded as distinct releases. I don't believe there's anything Mellotronic on the EP, but the album sounds a lot like its predecessor, only for some reason it outstays its welcome even sooner, despite being shorter. It's not that it's a terrible record, just that (for me, at least) it goes on and on and on... The post-rock of opener Gasoline, the uptempo The Impossible Dream, the psych-out title track and the overlong Peppermint... Sorry, guys - I was bored. The 'Mellotron' sounds even less real this time round, with a distant string part on Peppermint, rather clunky flutes on Glad Of Being Sad and more flutes and strings on closer Say Goodbye With A Kiss. I think we're talking samples.

Patti Scialfa  (US)

23rd Street Lullaby  (2004,  52.52)  ***

Patti Scialfa had been singing professionally for a while when she came to the attention of Bruce Springsteen, singing backup on his 1984 tour. By the end of the decade, they were associated personally as well as professionally, marrying in 1991. It won't come as any great surprise to hear that her second solo release, 2004's 23rd Street Lullaby, sounds quite a bit like one of hubby's albums, although her vocals make a huge difference to the feel of the record. Various NYC alumni play (John Medeski, Marc Ribot, Jane Scarpantoni), not to mention Nils Lofgren and The Boss himself (wonder if she calls him that at home?), adding to the 'substitute Bruce' effect; suffice to say, if you like his albums, you'll probably like this. Clifford Carter plays samplotron on the title track, with a nicely audible flute part, although I can't honestly say that it particularly enhances the track.

Mauro Scocco  (Sweden)

Ljudet av Tiden Som Går  (2007,  43.09)  **½

Ljudet av Tiden Som Går is a so-so acoustic singer-songwriter album, at its best on its sparsest material, notably Mellan En Far Och En Son and Bara En Drink Till, although too many tracks hit the 'boredom' button. Johan Lindström plays bogus background 'Mellotron' strings on Innan Min Sol Går Ner.

Scoldees  (US)

Nightcap World  (2003,  50.10)  **

Nightcap World is a rather turgid, mainstream pop/rock album, at its least dull on Better Day and Rain, which isn't actually saying much. Peter Adams' 'Mellotron' is no more than the obviously sampled cellos on opener Cocoon and Come To Me.

Scorfina/Nickeson  (US)

Wag  (2009,  40.21)  **½

Guitarist Steve Scorfina and keyboard player Tom Nickeson played in the legendary Pavlov's Dog in the mid-to-late '70s, teaming up again for 2009's Wag (ho ho), although recording actually began in the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, I have to report that the bulk of the album consists of rather undistinguished AOR/mainstream rock, with some especially tedious balladry in the middle of the record. Best tracks? Probably instrumental Pavlov's-esque opener Old Dog, New Trick (ho ho again) and closer You May Not Know, which has something of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross about it. Nickeson plays Mellotron samples on a couple of tracks, with strings on After Running and strings and flutes on closer You May Not Know, actually enhancing the latter, despite their inauthenticity. I can't really recommend this, sadly, but get to hear its two best tracks if you get the chance.

Alison Scott  (US)

Chinese Whispers  (2010,  49.56)  ***

Chinese Whispers straddles the bridge between soul and singer-songwriter, groovy without descending into slush; not my personal bag, but of undeniable quality. Peter J. Sands is credited with Chamberlin; surely not the strings in Just For Us?

Claudia Scott  (Norway)

Soul on Soul  (1999,  38.40)  **½

Soul on Soul is a pretty dull singer-songwriter/pop/rock effort, nothing even standing out enough to comment upon. Vidar Iveland Ersfjord is credited with Mellotron on Mother Of All, but the background flutes and upfront, uncredited ones on Desert Highway appear bogus.

Jamie Scott  (UK)

Park Bench Theories  (2007,  51.10)  **

Park Bench Theories starts off as a passable-enough singer-songwriter effort, but quickly descends into sentimental mush. Andreas Olsson plays fairly obvious samplotron strings on Changes and Two Men, as against the real strings elsewhere.

Scout  (US)

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time  (1999,  44.33)  **½

I'm sure it did seem like a good idea at the time, but this album is a dreary, US-indie-by-numbers effort, at its least bad on the rare occasions when Scout ramp the guitars up a little and stop sounding like a tenth-rate Velvets ripoff. Anita Bath's Mellotron credit? I have absolutely no idea.

Scrote  (US)

Never Let the Little Man Down  (2012,  19.15)  **

It seems Scrote is a solo artist, not a band - amusingly, it's a word I'd hear during my adolescence in London, meaning 'miserable old sod'. Does Mr. Scrote know this? Is it relevant? Anyway, his Never Let the Little Man Down is an EP of grungy, low-fi indie, with no obvious redeeming features. Rob Shrock plays Chamberlin on She Goes Quickly, supposedly, with string and flute parts. I know the instrument's difficult to tell apart from samples, but I don't think so...

Scumbucket  (Germany)

Batuu  (1998,  42.17)  **½

Charmingly-named German trio Scumbucket (frontman Kurt Ebelhäuser also plays in Blackmail) fit into the 'melodic yet fucking heavy' category, which is another way of saying that they're influenced by Nirvana. Their second album, 1998's Batuu, gets the requisite quiet parts in amongst the noisy ones, but all to relatively little effect, I'm afraid. A few tracks of this stuff is genuinely exciting; a whole album is just dull. Someone (Ebelhäuser?) adds Mellotron samples to a few tracks, with strings on Spot Parts, slow, interweaving flutes on Atomic Gun and strings all over elegiac closer Wimp. I can't honestly say that I'm too keen on this stuff, but it clearly has its audience. No real Mellotron, though.

Sea & Cake  (US)

The Fawn  (1997,  40.54)  ***

I'm not exactly au fait with The Sea & Cake's previous albums, but I'm told The Fawn is the one where the 'electronica' started to take over. It's certainly fairly heavily-laden with sampled beats and suchlike, although the band rarely forget the importance of melody, making this a pleasant enough listen, even if the style isn't up your street. There are no specific credits, but due to his Mellotron use elsewhere (including several solo albums), I suspect Archer Prewitt is the man responsible for the album's alleged tape-replay work. We get airy flutes on Sporting Life and There You Are, background strings on The Argument and both, quite upfront, on Bird And Flag, plus background choirs on Black Tree In The Bee Yard, leaving Do Now Fairly Well as probably the album's major samplotron track, with a melodic string part slotting in perfectly with its melancholy feel.

Sea Goat  (Germany)

Tata  (2017,  47.41)  ****

Sea Goat, fronted by Torsten Hartmann, formed in 1973, named for one of the more whimsical tracks from Pete Sinfield's Still. For doubtless all the usual reasons, they failed to record at the time, reforming several decades later to finally capture their sound onto (virtual) tape, the end result being Tata, named for the small Hungarian village where they recorded. This is progressive rock in song format, none of its ten tracks as long as seven minutes, at its best on opener Book Of Liberty, the (relatively) heavy Fire Wheels and beautiful acoustic guitar piece Cloud, although, to be brutally honest, it slacks off a little towards the end. Matthias Wolfgarten plays samplotron strings on Book Of Liberty and Fire Wheels, the latter alongside Klaus Schulz. No, you fool, not that one.

Seahorses  (UK)

Do it Yourself  (1997,  45.35)  ***

I originally described The Seahorses as, "more Britpop detritus, rising like a rather shabby phoenix from the ashes of the overrated Stone Roses" (John Squire's first major band, with whom The Seahorses are frequently compared), but after a couple of listens I can confidently state that they're actually rather better than that, being more concise than their forbears, albeit less trippy and iconic. They only made one album, Do it Yourself, although apparently a follow-up was recorded, but languishes in the vaults somewhere. Anyway, opener I Want You To Know has a Hendrixy vibe about it, the album carrying on in a largely '60s-ish vein, the other obvious highlight being The Boy In The Picture. Legendary producer Tony Visconti (Bowie etc.) is credited with 'Mellotron/tambura/Theremin' and, indeed, the latter can be clearly heard on I Want You To Know, but given Visconti's comment that 'the only good Mellotron is a sampled Mellotron', the strings on I Want You To Know have to be considered suspect.

Seal  (UK)

System  (2007,  47.20)  **½

Seal (Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel) hit the peak of his popularity in the early '90s, although he's actually released more music recently than at the time. Sadly (yet inevitably), his fabulous voice tends to be added to mainstream pop/dance stuff, 2007's System being no exception, its disappointingly generic dance production presumably designed to appeal to the sector of his gently ageing fanbase who still wish to appear 'hip' without actually having to listen to any new artists. Is that a bit harsh? Sorry, but does the world need another dance/pop record? I think not. The album does have its moments, notably Dumb (unfortunately ruined by its ubiquitous programmed beats) and Rolling. Bill Bottrell plays a rather distant samplotron string part on Just Like Before. Seal's voice would sound fantastic doing almost anything, so how's about a subtler, more acoustic album of the kind of heartfelt stuff he does so well? It could still be loosely classified as 'soul', just without all the programmed nonsense. Go on, you know you want to... Oh and for what it's worth, great sleeve; if only more artists would take artistic risks with their covers.

Sealion  (Ireland)

Spirit Live  (2002,  28.10)  **½

Irish reggae, anyone? Egyptian, maybe... This isn't even Police-style white reggae, just a rather faceless, generic variety. Despite online references to Mellotron use on Liberation, with nobody even credited, it's hardly surprising that there's none to be heard.

Seaweed  (US)

Spanaway  (1995,  40.36)  **

Seaweed's career is both boundaried and defined by the '90s; playing a punky version of grunge clearly seemed like a good idea at the time, although history is unlikely to be overly kind to their fourth album, 1995's Spanaway. In fairness, it isn't terrible, but nor is it even remotely memorable; I mean, I managed to forget most of its songs while they were playing, which isn't a good sign. Vocalist Aaron Stauffer supposedly plays Mellotron, but if the squally strings on Saturday Nitrous are supposed to be a real machine... I've heard an awful lot worse albums than this, but that's only because I've heard some utter, utter shite. Dull and pointless. No wonder they split up.

Sebastian  (Denmark)

Gøgleren, Anton og de Andre  (1975,  44.07)  **½

Knud "Sebastian" Christensen has, to date, had a near-fifty-year career, 1975's Gøgleren, Anton og de Andre being his fifth release. It's a thoroughly mainstream, mid-'70s, Danish-language pop/rock album, at its least tedious on La Dolche Vita. Sebastian is credited with Mellotron on Venedig, to which I can only say... cobblers. Vague synth strings doth not a Mellotron make.

Guy Sebastian  (Australia)

Like it Like That  (2009,  47.49)  **

After hearing Guy Sebastian's fifth album, 2009's Like it Like That, it should come as no surprise to discover that he was the first winner of Australian Idol, back in 2003. The album is a highly tedious collection of faux-soul/R&B dross, having little, if any, of the authenticity of the genre's progenitors. Is this Sebastian's fault? Possibly not, but he might note that sometimes it's worth ignoring the more recent years/decades of a genre's development and going back to its roots. David Ryan Harris is credited with Mellotron on three tracks, but the squeaky-clean string line on All To Myself fails to convince, ditto the mellow flutes on Fail To Mention and string chords on Never Be You, although he used real Mellotron and Chamberlin on an album of his own in the late '90s. I'm sure Sebastian is a genuine soul fan, but his (or his musical director's) vision is seriously askew. Just don't.

Second Decay  (Germany)

La Décadence Électronique  (1992,  36.49)  ***½

Second Decay were the late-period German electropop duo of Andreas Sippel and Christian Purwien, whose first full album (after a cassette-only release and a 12"), 1992's La Décadence Électronique, is synthpop as it used to be, the band proudly proclaiming, "This album was produced without MIDI. It is dedicated to our beloved Synthesizers". A cover of John Foxx's Burning Car gives the game away, as does the Trans-Europe Expressness of closer Laboratorium II; not the Soft Cell/Depeche Mode end of the genre, but the Kraftwerk/early Ultravox! one. Hurrah! Admittedly, the Foxx number's the best thing here, but the band's own material isn't bad, just not outstanding.

The gear list is magnificent; allow me to reproduce part of it here:

And that's leaving out some of the other drum machine/sequencing gear and effects... And believe me, they use them to the full. OK, this stuff was easier (and cheaper) to pick up in the mid-to-late '80s (wish I'd bought more myself), but it's still a pretty impressive selection... Either Sippel or Purwein plays the alleged Mellotron, but can it be heard? Can it fuck. Is it actually here at all? The female choir on Poisoned Water? Background strings on Chronomatic or Close My Heart? None seem likely, so I'm afraid it's a bit fat zero on the Mellotron front, unless someone out there would like to enlighten me. Great album within its genre, though, recommended for synth nuts.

Ed Sedan  (US)

Ed Sedan  (1999,  24.58)  **

Ed Sedan plays a very American form of vaguely rootsy pop/rock on his eponymous mini-album, although, sadly, his jerky vocal delivery, like a pound-shop Mike Scott, isn't up to the challenge. Someone (Sedan?) plays obvious samplotron strings on opener Sky and Walk With Purpose, plus choirs on Goodbye.

Marianne Segal featuring Circulus  (UK)

The Gathering  (2007,  45.51)  ***½

Marianne Segal was vocalist with folk-rock trio Jade, whose sole album, Fly On Strangewings, appeared in 1970, while Circulus are the UK's premier (OK, only) medieval folk/rock/psych outfit. Despite knowing the band, I don't know the full story, but Segal sings and plays guitar on Circulus' version of her composition, Swallow, on their first full-length album, 2005's marvellous The Lick on the Tip of an Envelope Yet to Be Sent, essentially making them her backing band for the track, a function they performed again two years later on an entire album of her material, The Gathering.

To be honest, the album's a slightly mixed bag, stronger material including opener September Song, Lapis Wings, the slightly medieval-ish Saints On Tapestry and Dreamers, although I'm not entirely convinced by the band's attempts to 'rock it up' on a couple of tracks, even though they're perfectly capable of doing so on their own records. An unusual feature of the album are the four Little Lucy Vignettes, brief instrumental pieces consisting of (in order) Will Summers' medieval woodwind, Oli Parfitt's harpsichord, Oli's lute and Ian Catt's fakeotron, all leading up to final, hidden track Little Lucy (presumably), a terribly cutesy song about a puppy owned by Marianne as a child. Yes, it's easy to be cynical about such things, but it's actually very sweet. No, really.

Ian Catt plays what I'm fully assured is sampled Mellotron on three tracks, with flutes and choirs on Saints On Tapestry, flutes opening and throughout Dreamers and strings and flutes on Little Lucy. To be fair, they almost sound real, but, er, aren't. While not up to the standard of Circulus' own albums (in my humble opinion, of course), The Gathering's still a very listenable record, well worth the effort for those who've rediscovered Jade in recent years.

Il Segno del Comando  (Italy)

Il Segno del Comando  (1996?,  48.46)  ****

There seems to be some confusion over exactly what or who Il Segno del Comando are or were, but I've had it confirmed (hi Mauro) that they're most definitely a '90s outfit, taking their name from a cult '70s Italian TV series, translating as 'the sign of command'. Il Segno del Comando has a doomy, early-'70s sort of vibe about it, like so many of Black Widow's more contemporary releases and the guitar work gives its recent origins away; no-one played like that thirty years ago. Mellotron credited on one track only, with guest musician Osvaldo Giordano playing strings on the lengthy title track, seemingly sampled.

Richard Séguin  (Québec)

Lettres Ouvertes  (2006,  57.32)  **½

Richard Séguin's a bit like a French-language Dylan crossed with U2 on Lettres Ouvertes, which, as you might imagine, only works sporadically. Alain Bergé is credited with Mellotron, but all we get is the obviously sampled flutes on La Maison Brûle.

Seks Bomba  (US)

Operation B.O.M.B.A.  (1999,  38.30)  ***½
Somewhere in This Town  (2001,  42.36)  ***

Seks Bomba's schtick lies in playing (mostly) instrumentals in a '60s style. Not psych, not beat, more spy thriller themes, surf and easy listening; imagine mini-skirted girls go-go dancing to The Ventures while Bond and Blofeld reminisce and sip martinis at the bar. Shaken, not stirred, of course. Don't know about the martinis, though. 1999's fake soundtrack album, Operation B.O.M.B.A., is loads of fun, reminding you what's so good about the era's 'grown-up' music, as against all that Beatles rubbish. It'll all be over by next year, eh? George Hall plays Mellotron, amongst other keyboards, with string parts on Theme From "Mondo Edgar" and Do You Know The Way To San Jose?, with some most unnatural pitchbends on the latter, obviously sampled. Two years on and Somewhere in This Town has a few more vocal tracks and, somehow, is marginally less appealing than its predecessor. Too much of a good thing? Dunno, but it didn't conjure up the same mental images as Operation B.O.M.B.A., or, indeed, any at all. While Hall is credited with Mellotron again, there's none obviously to be heard, so no idea what that's about.

Self  (US)

The Half-Baked Serenade  (1997,  35.33)  **½

Tennessee's Self could probably be described as 'pop/rock' without libelling them too badly. Of course, it's up to the listener to decide how well they do it... The Half-Baked Serenade is their second album and, I'm afraid to say, it largely bores me, with, well, half-baked excuses for songs like Joy, The Mechanical Boy or Cinderblocks For Shoes, although KiDdies is an amusing Marilyn Manson piss-take. The Mellotron is allegedly played by Chris James, although band leader Matt Mahaffey tends to play most instruments in the studio, with a few seconds of strings on Crimes On Paper and Cinderblocks For Shoes, most likely sampled.

Philip Selway  (UK)

Weatherhouse  (2014,  37.07)  **½

Phil(ip) Selway is Radiohead's drummer, whose second solo album, 2014's Weatherhouse, sits somewhere in between Eno-esque ambient and the lighter end of indie pop, for better or worse. I can't even really name 'best' (or, indeed, 'worst') tracks; they're all pretty much of a muchness; if you like one, chances are you'll like all. Any one on its own is fine, but stick ten of them together and the overall effect becomes soporific. Katherine "Quinta" Mann is credited with 'mellotron' (why is it that samples users never use the capitalised proper noun?), but, amongst the actual string quartet and other instrumentation, whatever's being used is entirely inaudible, anyway.

Semente  (Brazil)

Semente  (1999,  41.53)  ***

Semente's lone (at least to date) eponymous album is something of a mixed bag, to be honest; the opening title track is quite reasonable, but the band seem to run out of ideas as the record progresses, until the tired jamming of Novas Forças and Mundo Guerreiro makes you rather glad it's all over. A shame, as they have some good ideas in places, but they don't seem to be able to sustain them. Sérgio Benchimol and Pedro Kosinski are both credited with 'Melotron' on different tracks (Kosinski on the title track and Ninfa Azul, Benichimol on Mundo Guerreiro), but the only thing I can hear that approaches it at all is some indeterminate strings on Ninfa Azul which must be, at best, fairly poor Mellotron samples. Of course, I've been wrong before... So; a rather uninspired record with some decent moments and very little Mellotron, real or otherwise. Incidentally, Benchimol's 2004 solo album, A Drop in the Ocean, an Ocean in a Drop, is supposed to contain 'Mellotron', too, but I couldn't even hear samples this time round. Not a bad record, however.

Alan Semerdjian  (US)

The Big Beauty  (2009,  55.09)  ***

The Big Beauty is a folky Americana/singer-songwriter album, full of accordions and fiddles on the quieter tracks and big electric guitars on the louder ones. Highlights? You Can Run, the crazed Everything (She's The Best) and AM Radio, perhaps. Michael Bloom plays samplotron flutes on Melody, maybe elsewhere.

Semisonic  (US)

Great Divide  (1996,  45.42)  **½

Semisonic's debut, Great Divide, let everyone know where they were both coming from and going to, that is, weedy American indie pop/rock, at its least dull on Down In Flames and The Prize. Despite (apparently) using a real Orchestron on In Another Life, Jacob Slichter's Mellotron credit appears to be a dud, although he played one on their obscenely successful follow-up, Feeling Strangely Fine.

Tony Senatore  (US)

Holyland  (2004,  53.35)  ***

Tony Senatore is a session bassist, in some ways the four-string equivalent of yer GIT guitar guys, only with far more taste. Although its sleeve pic is enough to put the fear of God into all non-bassists, 2005's Holyland (which appears to be his only solo album to date), is more 'jazz' and less 'bass wankery', notably the flute-led It Was Love, the album's only vocal track, which could easily have been extracted from a mid-'70s New York soul/jazz effort. Best tracks? To my ears, they're clustered in the album's second half and include Lord Of The Subtones, Senatore's fuzz-bass lead on Apostrophe and the Baroque-esque Because. Tom Brislin (Yes, Camel) plays a samplotron string part on Lord Of The Subtones, although a long, sustained note at one point gives the sample game away.

Senjahopen  (Norway)

Tåra, Pess og Blod  (2013,  45.49)  ***

Norwegian-language pop/rock, leaning towards that odd 'Scando-Americana' thing. Perfectly pleasant, if a little unengaging, unlikely to appeal to anyone much outside the band's home territory. Didrik Lund plays a samplotron flute line on Carl Edvard.

Sense  (Québec)

Madness  (2002,  53.22)  **½
Out of Range  (2004,  43.08)  **½
Stone in the Sky  (2005,  46.26)  **
Going Home  (2007,  46.45)  **½

Sense are a modern Québecois neo-prog outfit, led by guitarist/bassist/keyboard player Stéphane Desbiens (how do they do this stuff live?), who confuse the issue by throwing in the occasional interesting bit. Their debut, 2002's Madness, is largely generic neo-, with a smattering of prog metal thrown in for good (?) measure, although the band occasionally manage something slightly more original, not least the acoustic-based 'hidden track' that closes the record. All of the album's string and most of the choir parts are generic samples, although some 'proper' Mellotron choir samples crop up in I Was There. 2004's Out of Range is weirdly schizophrenic, in that one minute it's trying to be standard neo-prog and the next it's flying off at an interesting tangent, sounding more like Guapo, or anybody else with a dissonant turn to their music. Unfortunately, it tends more towards the former than the latter, with most of the interesting work being in lengthy opener Out Of Range/Out Of Line, while a burst of jazzy piano in Nightmare keeps the listener on their toes, although the occasional Celtic interlude serves only to confuse. Desbiens' credited with Mellotron, which is a bit naughty, as he's become known (around here, at least) as a sample user. Their use is intermittent, with a couple of credited tracks having no more than a few string chords, but Out Of Range/Out Of Line has a fair chunk of string work, with a medium helping of choirs on Nightmare.

2005's Stone in the Sky is an odd one: two studio tracks, around ten minutes in total, plus several live ones, the disc being paired with a DVD that partially overlaps the CD's live tracks. Confused? Me too. Once again, although the band default to a form of tedious, clichéd neo-prog, every now and again they confound us with a properly 'out there' section, like the one several minutes into Out Of Range. I'm not sure about those covers, though... Steve Howe's Mood For A Day on clean electric guitar and bass? An atrocious version of Genesis' I Know What I Like, with loads of wrong chords and outrageously-accented vocals? No thanks. Their latest effort, 2007's Going Home, is basically more of the same, albeit with more of a Yes influence this time round. Stranger Coming Home is reasonably nice, if a bit bland, but everything else here makes me want to hit the 'next' button. On the samplotron front, we get strings all over one of the album's better efforts, Stone In The Sky (a different version to the one on the album of the same name) and the Yes-ish title track, although that's pretty much it.

Serena-Maneesh  (Norway)

Serena-Maneesh  (2005,  58.10)  **
#2: Abyss in B Minor  (2010,  37.40)  *½

Serena-Maneesh are a Norwegian shoegaze outfit, whose eponymous 2005 debut is, sadly, as dull as they come, Sapphire Eyes High and lengthy closer Your Blood In Mine being the only points at which the band's influences come together properly. Emil Nikolaisen allegedly plays Mellotron, but unless I'm very much mistaken, the background strings and flutes on Selina's Melodie Fountain, cellos on Candlelighted and strings on Don't Come Down Here are samples and not especially good ones at that. (Cue anguished e-mail from someone to do with the band to tell me it's real). They took five years to follow-up with #2: Abyss in B Minor, released on their obvious spiritual home: 4AD. Somehow or other, it actually manages to be not only duller, but also more irritating than its predecessor, Lina Wallinder's vocals on several tracks redefining the word 'boring'. Nikolaisen on 'Mellotron' again, with flutes on opener Ayisha Abyss, Honeyjinx and closer Magdalena (Symphony #8), but I'm not convinced they're any more genuine than last time. One day, maybe someone can try to explain to me what they like about this stuff. I know I'm an old fart, but the sheer boredom of this stuff makes me want to beat my head against a wall so I know I'm still alive. Serena-Maneesh is bad, but Abyss in B Minor is awful.

Sergeant Petter  (Norway)

It's a Record  (2002,  53.50)  ***
Monkey Tonk Matters  (2004,  39.10)  ***

Sergeant Petter (ho ho!), a.k.a. Petter Folkedal, is a Norwegian singer-songwriter with a strange countryish edge to his style, though not to the point of offensiveness; his debut album, It's a Record, is reasonably good in an Americana kind of way, although I'm afraid it left me a little cold. Surprisingly for this stuff, the upbeat songs tend to work better, although I noticed what I took to be a faint Richard Thompson influence on a couple of the slower tracks. Folkedal's Mellotron credit is for the samplotron flutes in Perfection. His follow-up, Monkey Tonk Matters, veers in the direction of decidedly eccentric powerpop, at its best on Honky Tonk Rose, Dear Robin and closer Hong Kong Song. Folkedal plays background samplotron choirs on Spooky Spook and flutes on Hong Kong Song.

Serpent Throne  (US)

Ride Satan Ride  (2007,  40.10)  ***½
The Battle of Old Crow  (2009,  43.37)  ***½

After the untimely death of their singer, Randall "Snake Eyes" McDoogan (you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?), Philadelphia's Serpent Throne elected to carry on as an instrumental quartet, releasing a 'soundtrack', Ride Satan Ride, in 2007. As various online reviews have fairly needlessly pointed out, aside from the instrumental approach, this lot cut Black Sabbath so close that Tony Iommi could shave with them, although, given some of the pretenders to the Sabs' crown, I'd rather give it to Serpent Throne, myself. They've got the guitar tone (in duplicate) down pat, the percentile mix of grindingly slow and uptempo boogie (it's often forgotten that Sabbath were a killer boogie band when the fancy took them) and just the right amount of bottom string bending, not to mention a sense of humour: Back Stabbeth, anyone?. Co-guitarist Don Argott is credited with Mellotron, with strings on Veil Of The Black Witch and strings and solo flute on Blood Rites, although something about them tells me they're not real, so until/unless I'm told otherwise...

The band followed up two years later with The Battle of Old Crow, about which it would be fair to utilise the old maxim, 'if it ain't broke...' Stylistically identical to its predecessor, it's every bit as good, assuming instrumental stoner doom is your bag; I have to admit, in smallish doses, this stuff really isn't 'alf bad... It's sort of futile to try to isolate 'best tracks'; the album's strength lies in its overall effect, sensibly limited to 'vinyl length' (I believe both of these are also available on that format). Fakeotron again on closer Thirteen Mountains, with an excellent flute part opening the track plus strings later on. Serpent Throne are, of course, a little bit silly, but isn't most music, or at least, most rock rather silly, when it comes down to it? This lot are searingly honest in their approach; there's absolutely no artifice here, they do exactly what it says on the tin. I'm pretty sure the 'Mellotron' isn't, but if anyone knows better... Recommended for Sabbath fans who think most 'doom' stuff is a load of old cock.