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Sky Architect  (Netherlands)

A Billion Years of Solitude  (2013,  61.11)  ***½

Sky Architect play progressive rock the way it used to be - or do they? Their third album, A Billion Years of Solitude, touches on jazz, metal, ambient, psychedelia... An eclectic record that doesn't always quite hang together, but with so much going on, I'd imagine it would take more listening than I have time for to exhaust its possibilities. Rik van Honk's credited with Mellotron, but it sounds somewhat sampled to my ears, with strings on most tracks plus an unidentified woodwind on opener The Curious One, choirs on Elegy Of A Solitary Giant and closer Traveller's Last Candle.

Sky Cries Mary  (US)

Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves  (1996,  73.46)  ***½

The Sky Cries Mary's Moonbathing on Sleeping Leaves is rather more cohesive than A Return to the Inner Experience, the band seemingly finding their musical feet properly. Although there's still a dance element to the record, it's better described as 'modern psych', its fourteen tracks spread over a long, yet rarely dull seventy-plus minutes. Gordon Raphael plays 'backwards Mellotron' on the curiously-titled An Ant, The Stars, An Owl And Its Prey and indeed, the repeating string line sounds slightly odd. Samples, says I.

Sky Picnic  (US)

Synesthesia  (2008,  32.22)  ***½
Farther in This Fairy Tale  (2010,  46.00)  ****
Lost is Found/Strange Things Are Afoot CDS  (2010,  10.32)  ***½

Sky Picnic are a new, NYC-based psych outfit, dedicated to taking the British model (particularly Syd's Floyd) and giving it a good seeing-to, to the point where if you didn't know they weren't Brits, you, er, wouldn't know. Their Synesthesia EP/mini-album does pretty much what it says on the tin, particularly well on Moons Of Jupiter and twelve-minute closer Sequence IV. Samplotron on the last three tracks, mostly strings with a bit of choir. I won't pretend Farther in This Fairy Tale is perfect; some of its more psychedelic moments (notably Universal Mind Decoder) drag slightly and the drum solo (also Universal Mind Decoder) is a little unnecessary, but I suppose if you want to run the full gamut of psych styles, you gotta take the trippy with the tuneful... The rest of the album falls into the latter category, thankfully, with top tracks including killer opener Hide & Seek, the acoustic Seven and bass-led closer White Plane (Reprise). Guitarist/vocalist Chris Sherman has owned up to using the M-Tron, with some great string pitchbends in Hide & Seek, flutes, choirs and strings on Marker 25, 27 and strings on about half the remainder. Before his admission, I wasn't convinced by the sounds' veracity, anyway; too murky and too smooth, which is an odd, but accurate combination. They followed up later in the year with the Lost Is Found single, a surprisingly 'normal' sounding track, only going all weird on us towards the end, although the flip, the six-minute Strange Things Are Afoot, lives up to its title rather well. 'Mellotronically' speaking, we get discordant stings towards the end of the 'A' and muted choirs throughout the flip, but they're hardly central to its sound.

Skypaint  (US)

Skypaint: A Pop Opera  (2005,  59.38)  **½

Boston's Russell Chudnofsky's Skypaint: A Pop Opera, seemingly released under the name Skypaint, is exactly what it says on the tin, although I'm a little unsure of what its concept might actually be. It's as musically uncohesive as many similar, the lyrics taking precedence over the music, its mix of electronica, pop/rock and Americana clearly struggling to reach a wider audience. Phil Aiken plays samplotron cello on Momma's Warning, flutes on Follow Me Down and strings on Merge As One and Machines.

Skyray  (UK)

Liquid Crystal Display  (2005,  39.54)  ***

Liquid Crystal Display seems to be Paul "Skyray" Simpson's fifth album, a near-instrumental record (its minimal vocals are heavily treated) of, er, mostly downbeat powerpop (!), probably at its best on opener Skyray Is Love, Seduce, Bewitch, Destroy and closer The Way Out Forever Pattern. Henry Priestman (Yachts, It's Immaterial, The Christians) plays obvious samplotron strings on Solarisation, The Acid Mantle and The Way Out Forever Pattern.

Skyscraper Frontier  (US)

Moonlit Behavior  (2009,  28.08)  *½

I've seen Los Angelinos Skyscraper Frontier's debut mini-album, 2009's Moonlit Behavior described as 'uncategorisable'. Let me try: Radiohead-lite-lite for the most undemanding of listeners who haven't noticed vocalist Russ Martin's inability to carry a tune in a bucket. There, does that help? No, it has no best tracks. Raymond Richards supposedly plays Mellotron, but the flutes on Your Hazy Mind sound much too clean for comfort, at least to my ears. Y'know what? It barely even matters, as I'm never going to listen to this again and I can only urge you not to in the first place.

Sleep Station  (US)

After the War  (2004,  47.02)  ***
The Pride of Chester James  (2008,  41.13)  ***

Sleep Station are effectively the one-man band of David Debiak, although some of his/their albums feature other musicians, too. Debiak's schtick is to release what amount to concept albums, although he doesn't use the term himself (wisely), preferring to refer to them as 'thematic'. 2004's After the War is his fourth full release, slotting loosely into the indie/singer-songwriter area, tracks often tied together by snippets of British World War II soldiers reading poetry to their loved ones. While I can appreciate that the album's good at what it does, I have to say that it left me entirely unmoved, though I'm sure the fault is mine. Debiak plays samplotron himself, with background choirs on the title track. After a few-year break, Debiak resurrected Sleep Station in 2008, releasing The Pride of Chester James, telling the tale of the drifting circus worker of the title. More of a band effort this time, the album's also slightly rockier than its predecessor, although the songwriting style remains the same. Brad Paxton plays samplotron on Always In The Fire, with an affecting little flute melody that reiterates throughout the song and a stabbed chordal flute part in closer Our Carnival.

Sleeping Pictures  (UK)

Many Hands Should Throw Stones  (2006,  66.17)  **½

Sleeping Pictures are the London-based duo of Marc Blackie and Gary Parsons, whose second album, 2006's Many Hands Should Throw Stones, throws genres together with abandon, although it's more neo-folk than anything. It might be a lot more palatable were the lyrics sung, rather than intoned. Much as I prefer to hear British as against American accents (sorry, Americans), I find this trick profoundly irritating, for no readily apparent reason. Some of the material would be pretty good were it sung (or instrumental); incidentally and amusingly, The Library Of Babel accidentally rips off Rush's classic Xanadu, doubtless to the duo's chagrin were they to find out. Parsons plays what are ostensibly upfront Mellotron strings on brief opener The Broken City Yawns to good effect, although their sheer regularity makes me think 'samples'. So; one for folk/electronica types who don't mind a bit (or a lot) of spoken poetry, as against sung lyrics. Not my bag, though and that Mellotron doesn't convince.

Sleepyard  (Norway)

The Runner  (2003,  64.18)  **

I suppose you'd call the overlong The Runner a psychedelic album, with heavy drone elements; believe me, they don't call it drone for nothing... Its chief failing, though, is that it's boring. Perhaps listening to it in an 'enhanced state' would improve it. I am not in an 'enhanced state'. Oliver Kersbergen's Mellotron? Possibly the strings on The Big Match, definitely the ones on Aerial Son, definitely sampled.

Don Slepian  (US)

Electronic Music From the Rainbow Isle  (1978/2000,  65.35)  ***

Hawaiian Don Slepian began making electronic and computer music as far back as the late '60s, going on to release a slew of albums in a bewildering discography of original albums, compilations and hybrids. 2000's Electronic Music From the Rainbow Isle began life as a 1978 cassette release of the same name, recorded between 1971-77, the CD issue repeating five of its six tracks and adding another eight, five of which may be new, or, at least, previously unreleased. Confused? Me too. The album fits more easily into the 'new age' bracket than anything Berlin School-related; perfectly pleasant, but (deliberately?) unengaging. A writer on ambientmusicguide.com states, "Note: while wading through his catalogue you may find vastly different versions of some tracks with otherwise identical titles", so the version of Nightwatch here may very well have nothing to do with the one on 1987's Sonic Perfume; its supposed 'Mellotron' consists of no more than a handful of heavily-reverbed flute notes at the beginning that almost certainly have nothing to do with a real machine.

Sloan  (Canada)

The Double Cross  (2011,  34.03)  ***½
Commonwealth  (2014,  58.29)  ***

It seems Nova Scotians Sloan have been around since the early '90s and are considered to be 'one of the most popular Canadian bands of all time', so I'm not sure how I've managed to miss them. 2011's The Double Cross is apparently a pun on the year being their twentieth anniversary (XX), a fine powerpop effort, if slightly lacking in hungrier outfits' joie de vivre. Highlights include The Answer Was You, Unkind, the acoustic Green Gardens, Cold Montreal and closer Laying So Low, but I can't imagine powerpop fans will find much to carp at here. Someone adds sampled Mellotron to a handful of tracks, with flute and string parts on The Answer Was You, Your Daddy Will Do and at the end of Traces; good to hear, but nothing startling. 2014's Commonwealth is a good album, if overlong, its seventeen-minute prog/powerpop crossover (there's a first) Forty-Eight Portraits dragging proceedings out to an unfeasible length. Highlights? Three Sisters, the superb Carried Away and the punky 13 (Under A Bad Sign), but it doesn't all work well; What's Inside bangs on for a while to no great effect and, as previously stated, Forty-Eight Portraits does go on a bit. Should've stopped at a dozen, I reckon. Hard to tell how much samplotron, too; we get strings opening, er, opener We've Come This Far, but with a real string section on the album, it's possible that all other string parts are real.

Tomáš Sloboda a Sounds Like This  (Slovakia)

Chobotnica  (2012,  42.48)  **½

I'm having trouble finding any English-language biographical details about Slovakia's Tomáš Sloboda; I know he released an album (Sounds Like This) in 2007, but I've no idea whether or not 2012's Chobotnica is only his second. Although he seems to be most commonly categorised as 'psychedelia', this album is, sad to say, far closer to indie in its execution, the end result being well-meaning yet rather dull, with nowhere near enough sonic or compositional experimentation to be all that interesting to the seasoned listener. Peter "Ďud'o" Dudák is credited with Mellotron on Liliana, but... the sustained string note at the end of the track gives the game away, although it was fairly certain already. This looks like it should be a lot more interesting than it is; perhaps he's better live.

Slow Electric  (UK)

Slow Electric  (2011,  41.51)  ***

Slow Electric consist of Brits Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers and Estonians Robert Jurjendal and Aleksei Saks, with the inimitable Tony Levin (Crimson, Gabriel) cropping up on a couple of tracks. Given Bowness' involvement, it'll come as no surprise to you to hear that their eponymous 2001 debut is best described as 'atmospheric', be it in the form of almost rhythmless opener Towards The Shore/Towards An Ending or the subtly rhythmic Criminal Caught In The Crime. Although Bowness is credited with Mellotron on closer Between The Silent Worlds, not only is it certain to be sampled, but it's also inaudible, making this a double-whammy in the 'no Mellotron' stakes. If you like Bowness' other works, chances are you'll like this. Conversely...

Slowpoke  (US)

Virgin Stripes  (1998,  41.42)  ***

The Dallas-based Slowpoke were generally regarded as being a mid-'90s indie outfit, although their second album, 1998's Virgin Stripes, has a broad streak of rather unfashionable powerpop running through it, not least in the band's insistence on writing vocal melodies and harmonies. What, they don't have a 'singer' who emits his turgid lyrics in a strangulated half-wail of forlorn, hopeless despair? And they expected to sell any records? Anyway, the album starts off in a more 'indie' direction, moving into more listenable territory on Lorraine, other better tracks including Am I Shade? and Belladonna. Dave Gibson plays samplotron, with string stabs on Lorraine and long, held notes on Valentine and Dirty Hands.

Slugbug  (US)

Pointless Journey  (2009,  29.35)  ***

Paul D. Millar's Slugbug (presumably named for an American nickname for the humble VW Beetle) have a sound, at least on 2009's Pointless Journey (originally a highly limited CDR, now a free download), that is strongly reminiscent of Devo, all wacky vocals and angular synths; I've never heard Danny Elfman's Oingo Boingo, but I suspect they, too, are a major influence. I'll freely admit that I'm not a huge fan of this stuff, while acknowledging that it has plenty of musical credibility, unlike the vast majority of recent music I've been unlucky enough to hear. High points? I actually quite like noo wave-ish opener Welcome To My Room, (Fell In Love With A) Potted Plant and the electronica of Someone Trying To Sell Me Something, although I'm afraid Millar's low-fi aesthetic ends up merely grinding me down. Samplotron? Fairly obvious choirs on the title track, although that would appear to be it. Well, this isn't going to cost you anything, so if 'Devo played on Casios' (er, did Devo actually use Casios themselves?) sounds like your bag, go for it.

Slychosis  (US)

Slychosis  (2006,  53.32)  **½

Slychosis metamorphosed out of Karma-Kannix, releasing their eponymous debut in late 2006. The band's website details their various travails; Slychosis's recording was not so much low- as no-budget, the end result sounding surprisingly professional, all things considered. Style-wise, the band sit firmly in the 'modern neo-prog' bracket, mixing vaguely symphonic sections with elements of various eras of hard rock, albeit not in an especially original manner (note the very Yes feel on Innerspace, amongst others, not to mention the straight Floyd copy/tribute on Until Then). Better tracks include Galactic Wormhole, with its early '70s-inspired guitar work, the ethnic influences on Wild Night In Calcutta and the acoustic instrumental Glass ½ Full, but the deletion of several others might have actually improved the album's overall feel.

Gregg Johns is credited with Mellotron, but the muted choir and string parts heard on most tracks (notably the strings on Cyber-Evil and flutes on Glass ½ Full) clearly have zilch to do with a real machine (see: no-budget, above), which at least makes them easy to identify and quarantine. I'm sorry to be so harsh on this album, as the band have clearly put a huge amount of effort into it, but it's only really going to appeal to fans of contemporary prog who haven't delved too far into the genre's history, I suspect. And that album sleeve? The band freely admit it was an 'ill-advised' attempt at humour: the butterfly is comprised of manipulated photos of the band members' heads, which works about as well as you might expect.

Small Town Workers  (US)

The Right of Way  (2003,  47.10)  **½

Small Town Workers are best described as 'alt.rock', which doesn't help very much, but I've probably never heard half of their influences. The Right of Way's, y'know, OK, not terrible, nor that good, at its best on Without You, So Much More and closer Dirty Boots. Brandon Bush's Mellotron? Vague background strings and cellos here and there. Maybe not.

Smashing Pumpkins  (US)  see:

Smashing Pumpkins

April Smith & the Great Picture Show  (US)

Songs for a Sinking Ship  (2010,  33.43)  ***

It seems April Smith suffers (if that's the right word) from 'late last child' syndrome, forcing her to become precocious simply in order to be noticed by her elder siblings. Now all grown up, her second album with her Great Picture Show, 2010's Songs for a Sinking Ship, is a wonderful concoction of '30s and '40s swing stylings filtered through Tom Waits, taking in the drama of Queen, Nancy Sinatra and (according to her MySpace page) Tim Curry along the way. Best tracks? Entirely down to taste, of course, but What'll I Do and Dixie Boy are my personal faves. Brandon Lowry plays Mellotron and Dan Romer Chamberlin, with vibes and strings on Dixie Boy, although I'm not sure which provides which, plus flutes on bonus track Bright White Jackets, although all sound sampled to my ears.

Jami Smith  (US)

Bravo God  (2005,  39.59)  *½

Upon checking biographical information for Jami Smith, alarm bells began ringing at phrases such as 'a seasoned worship leader'. Mind you, I'd have thought that the title of her eleventh album in thirteen years, 2005's Bravo God, should have given the Christian game away... Surprisingly, the album isn't as full-blown awful as I'd expected, less unacceptable tracks including breezy opener Love Like You Love, How Great Thou Art (a country-rock version of the well-known hymn) and the rocky(-ish) Way Of The Cross, but things quickly deteriorate into slop such as My King and closer Happy Dying. Believe me, you won't be when you get there. Chad Copelin plays samplotron, although the real strings on several tracks rather confuse the issue, to the point where the only definite sightings are the flutes and possible strings and vibes on Best Tries and flutes on Your Child. So; yes, bravo, God; bravo for existing and making the world such a truly wonderful place where no-one dies in agony or is shot by some nutjob gun-freak. Yeah, bra-fucking-vo.

Matthew Smith  (US)

All I Owe  (2006,  39.07)  **

All I Owe is, in many ways, your standard-model CCM record, at its least bad on opener Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing, quite certainly because it turns out it's an old folk tune. The rest of the album is filled with the kind of breezy pop/rock which would be considered fairly harmless, were it not for the usual lyrical guff. Cason Cooley is credited with Mellotron on Jesus, I Am Resting and All I Owe, with nothing obvious on the former and samplotron strings on the latter.

Meaghan Smith  (Canada)

The Cricket's Orchestra  (2009,  37.24)  ***

Meaghan Smith is a young Canadian singer-songwriter, whose 2009 debut, The Cricket's Orchestra, is an adventurous effort, combining a huge pre-war jazz influence with modern touches, not least the turntablism on A Little Love. The album's default position, though, is swing-era brushed drums, accordions, upright bass and muted brass, all overlaid with Smith's vocals, which somehow manage to portray a combination of freshness and world-weariness, usually at the same time. No, I don't know how, either. According to Smith's website, I Know 'is made almost entirely from a Mellotron sample': MkII rhythms, for what it's worth, with 'moving strings' later on, more left-hand manual flute phrases in A Little Love and a flute part on A Piece For You. It's fairly obviously sampled, chiefly due to there being so few unmodified MkIIs still in existence, let alone easily available, but it's good to hear those lesser-known sounds crop up on a modern album. So; a very listenable record, a (thankful) world away from your typical manufactured 'modern singer-songwriter' guff. More, please.

Michael W Smith  (US)

Healing Rain  (2004,  51.11)  **

It seems that Michael W Smith's default position is big, glossy Christian AOR. Great. For all that, 2004's Healing Rain is only medium-horrid; I've heard far worse in the field, without the interesting chord changes that Smith sticks in here and there. Originality isn't his strong suit; Eagles Fly rips the vocal harmony part from The Doobie Brothers' Long Train Running something rotten, while several other sections have that 'air of familiarity' about them. Lyrically, of course, it's the usual delusional guff about how 'he is coming' (no he isn't), but then, it wouldn't be a Christian album without that, would it? Paul Moak allegedly plays Mellotron, but apart from a vaguely flutey thing on one track, there's nothing here that even remotely suggests any tape-replay involvement.

Mindy Smith  (US)

Mindy Smith  (2012,  38.40)  ***

Mindy Smith's eponymous album shifts between bluesy Americana and a rather twee country sound, to the point where it just scrapes three stars. Best track? Don't Mind Me. Jason Lehning's 'Mellotron'? Background flute samples on Cure For Love.

Steve Smith  (UK)

This Town  (2008,  51.40)  **½

Steve Smith is already a veteran of two successful bands, Higher Ground and Dirty Vegas, producing his first solo release, This Town, in 2008, after moving to the States. It's pretty much what you'd expect from his background: a singer-songwriter record with a distinct influence from whichever part of the dance scene he considered home. The actual material is fairly generic indie, to be honest, although the programmed beats only intrude occasionally. Smith's musical collaborator, Cornershop's Anthony Saffery, is credited with Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's completely inaudible right across the album.

Steve Smith & the Tylas Cyndrome  (UK)

Phoenix Arising  (2011,  69.41)  ***

Phoenix Arising is unusual in its combination of 'typical' EM and, for want of a better phrase, 'cosmic rock', leading to Berlin School sequences and synth washes allied to a full band, complete with much not-especially Froese-ish guitar work. Decent enough, then, but wildly overlong, with occasional samplotron choirs.

Smoke Fairies  (UK)

Sunshine/When You Grow Old 7"  (2009)  ***½
Blood Speaks  (2012,  44.05)  ***½
Smoke Fairies  (2014,  45.04)  ***

The Smoke Fairies (who actually sound like their name) are the duo of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, who met at school and have worked together ever since. After a now-disowned 2006 album, Strange the Things, the first release they'll admit to was 2008's Living With Ghosts 7", followed by Sunshine, a fittingly ghostly folk/blues. To look at the twosome, you'd expect them to have a fey, English sound, but they're actually more acoustic American blues than anything. Leo Abrahams is credited with Mellotron on the flip, When You Grow Old, but the only thing it even might be is a background cello line that could, frankly, come from almost anything, so into samples it goes. This is available on 2010's US-only Ghosts singles compilation, although for some reason, both sides of 2009's Jack White-produced Gastown are missing.

2012's Blood Speaks, their second album (ignoring that debut), continues the haunted Americana/British folk vibe of their early singles, highlights including Awake, Feel It Coming Near and bonus track The Wireless, although I have trouble warming to their more electric side, notably The Three Of Us. Blamire is credited with Mellotron, but if the best she can do is the most un-Mellotronic strings on the title track, this is barely even worthy of the samples section. Although 2014's Smoke Fairies utilises all the same elements as its predecessor, somehow, it fails to combine them so successfully, although the rhythmic, dreamlike Waiting For Something To Begin and Drinks And Dancing are both more than worthy of your attention. The 'Mellotron' is credited simply to 'The Smoke Fairies' this time round, with flute samples on Your Own Silent Movie and closer Are You Crazy and possible strings on Want It Forever.

Smokie  (UK)

Take a Minute  (2010,  42.30)  **½

Most Brits of a certain age will remember Smokie; mid-'70s chart regulars, their long(ish) hair and denim-shirted image promised something considerably more 'rock' than they actually delivered, which was, er, mainstream pop of the era. Unbelievably, the band have never really gone away, although iconically throaty-voiced frontman Chris Norman has long gone (don't worry; replacement Mike Craft is a vocal dead ringer), 2010's Take a Minute being something like their twenty-first studio release. It's a country/pop/rock album of the type guaranteed to appeal to a certain kind of middle-aged record buyer, vaguely akin to Rod Stewart's early '70s work; professional to a fault, 'rootsy' enough to avoid accusations of (complete) blandness, most of its material being catchy enough to stick after a few listens, while never challenging their heyday in any meaningful way. Keys man Martin Bullard allegedly plays Mellotron, but I'd love to know where, as it's utterly inaudible, all violin parts being real, unless they're referring to the clearly sampled strings on Nothing Hurts (Like A Broken Heart)? If so, I can barely even call them 'Mellotron samples', as they sound entirely generic. The band's website modestly states, "great music, great band", but all I hear is something that can only aspire to be middle-aged dadrock. Harmless, yet ultimately unsatisfying.

Smoking Trees  (US)

TST  (2015,  39.52)  ***
The Archer & the Bull  (2016,  37.24)  **½

The Smoking Trees have contracted to the duo of Martin "Sir Psych" Nunez and Al "L.A. AL" Rivera, whose second album, 2015's TST, is a mildly infuriating combination of West Coast '60s-esque psych and a more contemporary indie feel, often on alternate tracks. Highlights? Home In The Morning, She Takes Flight With Me and Victoria's Garden. Samplotron flutes on It's Only Natural and Through Your Reflection, plus flutes and vibes on Victoria's Garden. Unfortunately, their follow-up, 2016's The Archer & the Bull, dispenses with the bits that made its predecessor reasonably good, ending up sounding like an indie outfit trying to be a psych band. Only one obvious samplotron track, with flutes on Lifetime Experience from Sir Psych.

Snow Patrol  (UK)

When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up  (2001,  47.34)  *½

Maybe surprisingly, Snow Patrol formed as far back as 1994 and while usually referred to as Scottish, are actually comprised of Northern Irish guys who were at university in Dundee at the time. They fit neatly into the Coldplay/Travis area of 'insipid indie', characterised by ineffectual vocals and rhythmically- and harmonically-poor music, all infused with a kind of low-level misery that's no doubt a hangover from the inexplicably massively influential Smiths. Oh dear, I seem to have come down on one side of the fence, haven't I? Again. That isn't to say that everything they do lacks energy; they frequently pick up the pace, but still manage to sound like complete wusses while doing so.

When It's All Over We Still Have to Clear Up is their second album and their last pre-major label release and you can see why Polydor went for them. Dull, lifeless, stuffed full of fake 'emotion'... A surefire success in what passes for the UK's crummy music scene. I'm sure the label execs could already see the stadiums full of confused teenagers of the 'arty' variety sobbing into their plastic cups of piss-weak beer over Gary Lightbody's over-emoting voice and 'sensitive' lyrics and that's just the boys. Believe me, AC/DC they are not.

"But what about the Mellotron?", I hear you cry. Well, both Lightbody and now ex-member Mark McClelland are credited with playing it, but I'll be buggered if I can hear where. An Olive Grove Facing The Sea, the title track and Firelight could all possibly have some secreted away, but then, they could be actual strings (there appear to be some on the album) or synths - who knows? Anyway, nothing obvious, so it gets a big fat zero on the Mellotronometer. It should probably get one for the music, too, but I've been generous and given it a whole *½; count yourself lucky, boys, it's more than it deserves.

Snowglobe  (US)

Doing the Distance  (2004,  44.23)  ***

Snowglobe's second album, 2004's Doing the Distance, contains an intriguing mix of powerpop, mainstream '70s rock and Americana, plus elements of mariachi, of all things (it's all in the brass), their eclecticism actually recalling the experimental mindset of the mid-'60s Beatles. I imagine they'd be quite pleased by the comparison... Highlights? Ms. June, the brief, gentle Calculating Fades and the is it?/isn't it? joyous Rock Song, although the six-minute Medium goes on a bit. Actually, although it isn't that long, as albums go, they could've lost a few tracks and improved the overall feel, albeit possibly at the expense of the aforementioned eclecticism. Tim Regan is credited with Mellotron, but the dodgy strings on Ms. June and upfront choirs on Changes are fooling no-one. (Cue outraged e-mail from band etc.) Can I recommend this to powerpop fans? Cautiously, yes, but don't expect to immediately like the whole record. One to dip into, perhaps.

Social Code  (Canada)

A Year at the Movies  (2004,  35.42)  *½

Social Code's first album under that name (they released their debut while still known as Fifth Season), 2004's A Year at the Movies, is a painfully mainstream 'alternative' (to what?) effort, post-punk without being, y'know, post-punk. The nearest the album comes to 'good' is Whisper To A Scream (Birds Fly), because... it is, of course, a cover of Ian McNabb's Icicle Works' classic, while particular horrors include the awful Miss You and I Was Wrong, although, if truth be told, there's little (read: nothing) about this album that makes me want to revisit it at any time in the near (or even distant) future. If Greg Collins' 'Mellotron' consists of the vague, background strings on Everything's Fine, all I can say is: don't take the piss; that's nothing like a Mellotron. This album's one saving grace is its brevity, but that's not saying much.

Social Tension  (Japan)

Macbethia  (1989,  47.20)  ***½
It Remainds Me of Those Days  (1990,  35.46)  ***½

Social Tension were an ELP-ish Japanese progressive trio, operational in the late '80s, towards the end of that country's strangely decade-late prog period. They only made two albums, the first being 1989's Macbethia, a mostly instrumental effort with a couple of unfortunate vocal tracks; is it an accident that no-one's credited with vocals? Better tracks include opener Go On My Way (subtitled 'Dedicated to Mr. K's Picture', presumably referring to Kazuhiko Kishi's vibrant fantasy cover art), Bolero and the lengthy title track, but there's nothing really horrible here, while the playing's as excellent as you'd expect. Nobuo "Kodomo" Endoh's full equipment list (thankfully in English) on the sleeve tells me that his Hammond was a later, solid state version, although there's some analogue gear dotted amongst the digital stuff. No Mellotron, though, meaning that the strings on Inner Vision are possibly the earliest example of someone sampling a Mellotron, in this case, presumably onto a Roland S-550 sampler. Surprisingly good samples, all things considered, to the point where they'd almost fool the ear, although I'd imagine a good deal of care was taken over getting them right.

The following year's It Remainds [sic] Me of Those Days is almost as strong as their debut, particularly the side-long title track and closer Out Of March, although the presence of vocals on almost every track is a minor problem, as is the occasional heinous digital synth patch. More of Endoh's sampled Mellotron, with flutes on Purple-esque opener Evil Intention and strings and flutes on the title track, although all other string sounds appear to be generic. Neither of Social Tension's albums were released outside Japan, although Musea released a compilation in 2000, It Reminds Me of Macbethia, that includes their entire debut plus two tracks from the follow-up, giving you the chance to hear a worthy yet almost-forgotten outfit.

Maria Solheim  (Norway)

Frail  (2004,  36.37)  ***
In the Deep  (2012,  37.28)  ***

As a Norwegian singer-songwriter, it's no great surprise that Maria Solheim's chief audience is Scandinavian, although her English-language material would easily translate to a wider market. Her third album, 2004's Frail, is a decent enough effort, if lacking any particular individuality, at its best when she drops the alt.rock stylings of the likes of Mr Iceman and Restless Girl and concentrates on more acoustic material (Kissing Me, closer Because I'm Dead), allowing her fragile (frail?) voice to sit more naturally in the mix. David Wallumrød is credited with Mellotron, but the flutes on The Snow Has Killed and Restless Girl and strings on Mr Iceman are clearly sampled, particularly the strings. Eight years on and Solheim seems to have discovered her own voice on In the Deep. It's a rather guileless one, her love songs as straightforward as they get, but the end result of her emotional honesty is an album that is better than it has any right to be. Alan Brey's 'Mellotron' credit is for the blatantly sampled strings on Run Away.

Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore  (US)

Dear Companion  (2010,  36.42)  ***

Ben Sollee is that most unusual of rock instrumentalists, a vocalist/cellist, whose second album, 2010's Dear Companion, is a collaboration with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore, produced by a third, My Morning Jacket/Monsters of Folk mainman Jim "Yim Yames" James. Essentially a rather mournful singer-songwriter effort, the duo are at their best when keeping the tempos lethargic, as on My Wealth Comes To Me and Flyrock Blues, although there's nothing here that would've been better off left on the cutting-room floor. 'Yames' is credited with Mellotron, but the strings on closer It Won't Be Long are far too clean for their own good, in my humble opinion, so 'samples' it is until/unless I'm informed otherwise. A good, trad American folk album, then, with the addition of cello to keep things interesting, but almost certainly no real Mellotron.

Something Completely Different  (Germany)

Megacatz  (2001,  53.47)  ***½

Boele Gerkes has opted to name his EM project Something Completely Different; in homage to Monty Python, perhaps? Stranger things have happened... I believe 2001's Megacatz is his debut, a surprisingly varied effort that shifts through almost Jarre-esque poppy EM (opener Microwaves 1999, Heavenly Thoughts), through quiet, reflective pieces (Dawn, Languages) to dancey material (S.O.S.) and ambient piano work (Megacatz IV, closer Love), not to mention several more 'typical', loosely Tangs-esque things. Gerkes plays fairly rotten Mellotron string (and flute?) samples on Dawn, Languages and The Cross, of the 'never going to convince you they're real' variety. This is quite a pleasant surprise; properly composed EM that isn't just the usual 'improvise over a sequence' stuff. Recommended.

Peter Sommer  (Denmark)

Alt Forladt  (2013,  43.52)  **½

Since his run of albums in the 2000s, singer-songwriter Peter Sommer has taken a turn for the electronic, in a 'shitty vocal and synth effects' kind of way, which does his music no favours at all. Perhaps it was a producer's decision? After his apparently real Mellotron work on previous recordings, Palle Hjorth doesn't so much use samples, as, despite a credit, seemingly uses nothing at all.

Somnambulist  (US)

The Paranormal Humidor  (2001,  54.30)  ****

It took Somnambulist five years to follow their eponymous debut, The Paranormal Humidor, leading many observers to think they'd split up. It's a worthy effort, with just a touch of neo-ism creeping in, notably on Troy Built Helen, though they redeem themselves with the gorgeous melody on Pathos Of Least Resistance (v.droll, chaps). Mellotron use largely as per Somnambulist, almost all strings, although it's sampled this time round; some lengthy notes here and there and is that portamento I hear creeping into the sound on the title track? Not to mention the unfeasibly speedy part on opener In The Mindwarp Pavilion.

Son, Ambulance  (US)

Someone Else's Deja Vu  (2008,  59.51)  **½

Son, Ambulance are led by Joe Knapp, who has also worked with Bright Eyes, his own band's first release being a split LP with that outfit, 2001's Oh Holy Fools. For some reason, I'd expected them to have a modern Americana sound, but I'd forgotten about the Bright Eyes link. 2008's Someone Else's Deja Vu is actually an unholy cross between US indie and '70s soft rock, many of its tracks too long for their musical content (although maybe not the lyrical), while the album, at just under an hour, is quite interminable. Better tracks include the acoustic Constellations and mildly experimental closer Requiem For A Planet, but they're nowhere near enough to rescue this rather dull record. Knapp plays samplotron on Awakening, with a unison flute and cello part.

Sonic Weekend  (UK)

Sonic Weekend  (2007,  63.35)  ***

Sonic Weekend were a one-off British project, seventeen musicians from various backgrounds gathered together over the course of the titular weekend, the end results edited and produced by Pierre Duplan and Add N to (X)'s Anne Shenton. Unsurprisingly, the album's contents are a little uncohesive, although common threads include science fiction and indie experimentalism, the whole possibly at its best on acoustic guitar piece Interstella Choir and closer Home. David "Feline1" Davis is credited with Mellotron on opener Intro - Space Spatular, but the raucous cello and distant choirs (not to mention the uncredited strings on Transmission Duet (Extra)) fail to convince. Reason? The actual Mellotron cellos turn into double bass below bottom C; the line played here goes from low B flat to C, with no obvious change in timbre. Ipso facto. Also, one of the contributors owns up on the label's website.

Sonicflood  (US)

This Generation  (2005,  41.28)  *½

Sonicflood (or, irritatingly, SONICFLOOd) seem to be at the most uncompromising end of the CCM spectrum, often described as a 'praise and worship band', meaning that their lyrics, already one-dimensional in their scope due to their genre, narrow down to 'praise the lord praise the lord praise the...' Entirely tedious to non-believers, but what did you expect? 2005's This Generation is the most appalling piece of shite, frankly; it doesn't start too badly (the opening title track and Prodigal hint at King's X), but the album quickly slumps into a slough of musical despond of the kind that makes, say, Michael W Smith sound relevant. Terrifying. Dan Muckala plays samplotron strings on All I've Failed To Be. This really is a vile album; do myself and yourself a favour and forget that I've even written about it. I wish I could.

Sons of Bill  (US)

Sirens  (2012,  51.25)  ***

Three of Sons of Bill are, indeed, sons of Bill (Wilson), a roots-rock outfit who shift, in classic style, between raucous, country-tinged rock and pretty much pure country. Sirens' best tracks? Storming opener Santa Ana Winds, Angry Eyes, as much for lyrics and music and Turn It Up. Alan Weatherhead may very well be credited with Mellotron on Radio Can't Rewind (is that still the case? You can rewind TV now [irrelevant ed.]), but... it isn't.

Sons of Hippies  (US)

Griffons at the Gates of Heaven  (2013,  40.51)  ***½

Floridians Sons of Hippies (not to mention a daughter) are apparently 'neo-psych', which seems to mean psychedelic, but current, making it quite a large sub-genre, I reckon. Their fourth album (depending on how you're counting), 2013's Griffons at the Gates of Heaven, powers along nicely, highlights including Dark Daisies, the punky Blood In The Water and the propulsive Minute × Minute. Billy Sherwood (Yes) guests on Moog and samplotron, with strings all over opener Forward, Rose, Spaceship Ride and Magnets, flutes on Mirrorball and flutes and strings on Whatever We Spend.

Sore  (Indonesia)

Ports of Lima  (2008,  58.30)  **½

I have no idea how Indonesian outfit Sore actually pronounce their name, although strongly suspect it doesn't rhyme with 'more'. Their second release, 2008's Ports of Lima, sounds, more than anything, like an early '60s pre-psych album, incorporating elements of doo-wop, Phil Spector's legendary productions and even The Beach Boys (notably on Ernestito, one of its better tracks). To be honest, this isn't one of the more interesting albums I've heard lately, but it's as difficult to fault as it is for me to like it. Ramondo Gascaro is credited with a wide range of instrumentation, including, of course, Mellotron, but are those really supposed to be Mellotron strings on Merintih Perih, Essensimo, closer Karolina and (particularly) Vrijeman? They're at their most convincing on the last-named, until we get to hear them duetting with the vocalist, at which point their fakeness becomes apparent. Am I/are you surprised? The chances of there being a real Mellotron in Indonesia (there's a first for this site) is somewhere in the region of zero, although it might've been recorded abroad, I suppose. Anyway, south-east Asian pseudo-early '60s pop, anyone?